Once a principal sign of wealth and a primary form of travel, horses in the United States have gone from coveted assets to unnecessary burdens over the course of a single century. In fact, thanks to the Bureau of Land Management, horses are made to suffer outrageous treatment in the 21st century that would likely have spurred violent opposition once upon a time, especially in the Old West.
As reported by the Humane Society in a press release, an advisory panel to the BLM has recently recommended euthanasia for tens of thousands of wild horses and burros – as many as 45,000, to be exact – that are currently in government holding facilities. The reason? Because the masterminds at BLM have singular thought patterns when it comes to “managing” the country’s wild herds of horses and burros.
Holly Hazard, the senior vice president of Programs & Innovations at the Humane Society, said the government’s BLM bureaucrats are less than creative when it comes to managing the herds. She says it is an “abdication of responsibility” to decide to kill the horses and burros instead of taking proper care of them, as they are a national asset.
“The agency would not be in this situation but for their long-term mis-management [sic],” she said, adding that over the past two decades a number of alternatives to the euthanization program have been offered and summarily ignored. In fact, she said, the Humane Society stands ready, as usual, to help BLM implement the alternatives.
Euthanasia first, foremost and always
For 20 years, the animal rights group said, the government has pursued a round-up and removal policy as its go-to management option for wild horse and burro populations on Western rangelands, but that has led to a fiscally unsustainable Wild Horse and Burro Program. By putting so many resources into rounding up and removing horses and burros from the free range, instead of treating them on the range – with a sterilization program, to control population growth, for example – holding facilities around the country are overflowing.
The BLM spent $49 million to maintain animals in off-range facilities in 2015. That constituted nearly half – 46 percent – of the BLM’s annual budget for the wild horse and burro program. Because that is such a large line item expense, it hampered the agency’s ability to properly manage wild horses and burros in their rangeland habitats. Fertility programs that limit population growth have long been an alternative recommendation by the animal rights group.
Nowhere is this battle playing out more than in Nevada, which is entering its fifth straight year of drought. There, the BLM is working to round up and kill off herds quickly, because most of the available water is on privately held rather than government land. (The government currently owns nearly 85 percent of land in the state.)
Controversial sterilization method stopped
There, advocates for the wild horses and burros object to the BLM’s favoring of cattle when it comes to public lands, even though the horses and burros are supposed to be federally protected and free-roaming. They also object to how grazing allocations are decided, according to Return to Freedom, a group that acts as an advocate for wild horses and burros.
One of the BLM’s natural obstacles to carrying out more roundups, however, is money: Because it costs so much to round up horses and burros and then feed and keep them, the agency will round up far fewer this year, Return to Freedom noted in a press release.
But other groups disagree with some forms of forced sterilization. As reported by ABC News, the BLM has dropped controversial plans for surgical sterilization of about 200 mares at the Wild Horse Corral Facility in Hines, Oregon, after opponents sued the agency in court.
BLM was considering three sterilization methods, but the most problematic for horse advocates involved sedating the mares and having a veterinarian go in through the vagina to sever and remove ovaries.