The federal government is considering plans to euthanize 45,000 wild horses if they aren’t adopted.
An advisory board to the Bureau of Land Management voted early this month to recommend euthanizing wild horses and burros being kept in holding facilities across the country.
But, the BLM has not voted on the plan. If the BLM approves the recommendation, it would then have to be approved by Congress.
It costs $50 million a year to care for the 45,000 horses and burros, and the holding facilities are overcrowded.
Wild horses and burros are periodically rounded up and moved to holding facilities to maintain the ecological health of our nation’s public rangelands.
Keeping the wild horse and burro herds at a size the land can support is a big challenge.
Because of federal protection and a lack of natural predators, wild horse and burro herds can double in size about every four years.
The BLM said giving contraception to mares isn’t feasible in most cases.
Soon afterward, the U.S. government said it has no plans to euthanize a large share of the more wild horses and burros, after the advisory panel’s proposal to kill some of the animals sparked outrage.
U.S. Bureau of Land Management officials admitted they struggle to find people to adopt the growing number of wild horses and burros.
The Advisory Board recommended consideration of euthanizing the animals that cannot be adopted, or selling them to companies that might slaughter them.
Tom Gorey, a spokesman for the bureau, said the agency will “continue its current policy of caring for un-adopted or unsold wild horses and burros” and will “not sell or send any animals to slaughter.”
The bureau is expected to formally respond to the panel at its next meeting within months.
Gillian Lyons, wild horse and burro program manager for the Humane Society of the United States, said members of the public were quick to criticize the idea of killing the wild animals.
“The situation has gotten worse. Right now, we have 75,000 horses and burros living in the wild in a very delicate ecosystem that can support only 27,000 horses,” Lyons calculated.
Last year, filmmaker Ben Masters inspired many with his documentary about Texas cowboys who trained wild horses and rode them the breadth of the American West, from the Mexican to the Canadian border.
Along the way, the film explored the plight of America’s wild horse herds, which were so diminished they received federal protection in 1971.
The numbers have since rebounded to the point where rangelands are experiencing degradation from the effects of overpopulation.
Masters became a celebrity in wild horse advocacy and was appointed to the nine-person BLM advisory board on how to run the Wild Horse and Burro Program.
At the recent meeting, in Elko, Nevada, Masters surprised many by joining an eight to one vote in favor of adding the use of euthanasia as a tool for the BLM in managing its overcrowded holding facilities.
By presenting the option, Masters hopes the board’s recommendation will be a wake-up call for Congress and the public about the severity of the situation.
The recommendation, if approved by the BLM, then heads to Congress. If passed, the fate of America’s overflow of wild horses and burros could be decided as soon as 2017.
“I joined the board to help find sustainable solutions for improving rangeland health. For 40 years, all the BLM’s dealings with the skyrocketing wild horse population have been like putting Band-Aids on a broken arm,” Masters said.
“We need every tool available, including euthanasia, to get the wild horse population back to living entirely where they belong: in the wild,” Masters evaluated.