The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is tasked with managing wild horses and burros and the public lands they roam in the western United States. That responsibility isn’t cheap, and the new Trump administration budget proposal seeks to save money by allowing American Mustangs to go to slaughter.
The Department is directed to manage wild horses and burros as part of public lands; their population is to be managed to “achieve and maintain a thriving ecological balance on public lands.” With no natural predators in the area, the wild horse and burro populations have continued to increase, and the BLM has managed their wild population through often-controversial roundups. Some of the horses are available for adoption but most will remain in holding facilities; the BLM says that there are currently 46,000 of them in holding and they cost $50 million each year to house and feed.
The administration’s budget proposal for 2018 proposes cutting BLM spending by allowing “humane euthanasia and unrestricted sale of certain excess animals.” This is allowed under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. However, as the Washington Post reports, killing off healthy Mustangs or selling them to commercial slaughter has been prohibited by annual appropriations bill riders for most of the last 30 years and every year since 2010.
Although adoption is considered the preferred method of wild horse population control, fewer than 3,000 wild horses were adopted last year. It’s a drop in the bucket next to the 46,000 Mustangs in holding areas and the estimated 73,000 horses and burros currently roaming the range.
Other options have been proposed, including a 2009 proposal by then-DOI secretary Ken Salazar that would create both federal and private preserves to house horses off the range. In that plan, sterilization would also be used to curb population growth. The department was unable to secure funding for the project.
Last year, the BLM started to pursue a plan to control populations through a fertility-control project using an injectable drug called PZP, which prevents pregnancy in mares for about 22 months. The project was suspended when a group called Friends of Animals threatened to sue the BLM based on the claim that the drug has an adverse affect on horse behavior and health within the herds.
Leslie Potter is a writer and photographer based in Lexington, Kentucky. www.lesliepotterphoto.com