Wild horses near Bald Mountain. (Elko Daily Free Press file photo)
Earlier this month at a meeting in Elko the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board voted to recommend to the Bureau of Land Management that it actually follow the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 “by offering all suitable animals in long and short term holding deemed unadoptable for sale without limitation or humane euthanasia. Those animals deemed unsuitable for sale should then be destroyed in the most humane manner possible,” according to the Elko Daily Free Press account.
The recommendation was approved by all the board members except one after the board toured the range land in the area and saw first hand the destruction caused by an overpopulation of feral horses.
The newspaper quoted board member Dr. Robert Cope as saying that after the field trip “it became so obvious there’s an incredible crisis situation out there affecting the resource” and “something has got to be done.”
The current problem is that Congress has for years prohibited using federal funds to follow the law and euthanize unadoptable wild horses and burros or even allow them to be sold for processing into commercial products.
Congressman Mark Amodei, whose district includes much of Nevada’s wild horse territory, remarked, “This is one of those areas where actually Congress has created a lot of the problem with the amendment that prohibits euthanasia as something that needs to be evaluated as part of the solution to managing these folks.”
Budgets since at least 2009 has stipulated that no funds are to used “for the destruction of healthy, unadopted, wild horses and burros …”
“Regardless of where you are at the issue,” Amodei said, “you cannot look in the mirror and look yourself in the eye and say, whatever we’ve been doing is working, because what we have is holding facilities throughout the nation that are within 10,000 animals of being full. We have an annual feeding bill in the 10s of millions, which quite frankly BLM even says is not sustainable.”
The BLM is being crushed under the financial burden of feeding wild horses, he said.
There are an estimated 70,000 wild horses and burros on the open range, 40,000 more than the range can handle, and that number can grow by 9,000 a year without intervention.
“Here’s the last piece of the puzzle that will make your eyes roll, BLM will tell you that the population doubles at the present reproduction rate about every four years,” Amodei noted. “It is an exacerbated problem as we speak and it is only going to grow geometrically.”
Congress has to do something rather than nothing, he said.
“The only reason it’s been allowed to get to this point is quite frankly it’s a Western problem that affects Western congressional districts which are represented by about 22 people,” the congressman reasoned. “If this was an innercity urban problem it would’ve been solved decades ago.”
Coincidentally, on the same day the advisory board recommended euthanizing excess horses, the BLM canceled an experimental program to test sterilization techniques, because it was being sued by some self-styled animal rights groups.
The Congressional Western Caucus responded with a press release saying, “Responsible sterilization could help stem the exploding wild horse populations on federal lands in the West. Yet the BLM dropped the project under the threat of litigation by a special interest group. BLM Director Neil Kornze has said his agency is ‘overwhelmed’ by the growing herds, and described the situation as dire. The wild horse and burro population is nearly triple what the rangelands can support. As a result, the lands are being obliterated and the horses are dying of thirst and starvation.”
Amodei, a member of the caucus, added, “It is discouraging to see the agency has such a low opinion of its own administrative procedures that it won’t even defend them in court.”
He noted that the BLM denied a number of grazing permits in Elko County because wild horses had wiped out the vegetation. If cattle had done that there would have been a hue and cry, he noted.
“The last time this wasn’t a problem was when wild horses were treated like every other animal on the range, every other animal on the range, whether it be domestic or wild. We manage for deer. We manage for jack rabbits. We manage for cows. We manage for sheep. We manage for mountain lions. We manage for bears, but we’re not going to manage for horses,” Amodei said. “That makes no sense.”
Some people want to love the horses to death — a slow, painful, agonizing death.
A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel, Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.