Salazar wild-horse plan draws cool response

October 9, 2009

By Neil Clarkson


Wild horses in Oregon. © BLM

Proposals for the future management of America's wild horse population has drawn a cool response from the Equine Welfare Alliance's John Holland.

US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar yesterday announced a series of proposals over herd management, including creating seven new horse preservation areas further east where horses treated with contraceptives could be rehomed.

Salazar talked of the aggressive use of contraceptives to help keep horse numbers in check, with the Bureau of Land Management struggling with the cost of keeping 32,000 horses in captivity - just 1000 fewer than the 33,000 estimated to still roam the eastern rangelands.

"The bureau plan is very disappointing," said Holland, whose group was still assessing the full likely impact of the Salazar proposal.

He said the proposals were clearly an attempt to derail the Restore Our American Mustangs (ROAM) bill, which wild horse advocates have been supporting in a bid to get it through the US legislature.

"It [the Salazar plan] amounts to little more than moving the bureau's long-term holding facilities East and letting a few visitors see the non-reproducing horses before they die of old age.

"With the huge numbers of horses being gathered, the bureau would not have had the capacity to house them in their current facilities in any case.

"We remain concerned that our wild horses are being managed into extinction," he told Horsetalk.

Wildlife ecologist Craig Downer said he was disgusted by what he labelled a disingenuous plan by Salazar and bureau director Abbey.

"[It] purports to be for the wild horses, all the while abandoning their duty to defend their right to live in healthy thriving numbers in their legal herd areas throughout the West.

The new plan would clear the way for more eliminations of western herds, he said.

"How hypocritical for them to say this is a turnaround, for it is the same old, same old. So many of the unique populations are being disrupted, destroyed, by these uncaring officials.

"A moratorium on roundups is urgently needed," he said.

Salazar's proposals were announced only days after it was revealed the bureau had plans to remove more than 12,000 wild horses and burros from the wild this fiscal year, beginning October 1.

A majority of the bureau's annual budget for the management of wild horses is now spent on accommodating captured horses.


Two wild horses in a holding corral at Britton Spring in the Pryor Mountain National Wild Horse Range. © BLM
The bureau drew sharp criticism from wild horse advocates earlier this year when it looked at options that included euthanizing some older horses and offering others for sale without limitation - a move that would certainly see many go to slaughter.

Online columnist Fran Jurga, writing in the Jurga Report, congratulated Salazar for admitting that the current system isn't working and for trying to forge new solutions.

"The non-reproducing herds caveat is a big question for animal behaviorists," she said. "Without reproduction, will there still be a herd?"

"But I would direct my questions to the environmental impact of relocating a large number of horses to any area. Who will want them and how will they disrupt the native flora and fauna of such a large tract of land as would be required to truly adequately support a wild and free-roaming herd in a wildlife park setting?

"Wild horses are still protected by federal law so they'd have to still run free on thousands on acres ..."