Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2008 | 2:03 a.m.
A roundup of wild horses under way in Nevada is once again raising questions about the federal management of these animals that for many people symbolize the spirit of the West.
The roundup — range managers call it a “gather” — is being conducted by the Bureau of Land Management in Northern Nevada, south of Battle Mountain.
A shortage of water and sparse forage are reasons the BLM gives for ordering the gather, which by February will have removed about 2,000 horses and relocated them to fenced-in herd management areas.
One major controversy is these areas throughout the West have become so crowded that the cost of maintaining the captured horses that are not adopted by individuals is exceeding the BLM’s budget. Many wild horse advocates contend the problem is exacerbated by too many gathers.
They say the gathers are leaving so few horses in the wild that their genetic integrity is being endangered.
Another major controversy involves the BLM’s approval of 160 million acres of public land on which about 570,000 head of cattle and sheep graze versus its policy to keep the wild horse population to about 30,000 on 29 million open acres.
These statistics were given in a recent Government Accountability Office report. The report also stated that, because of budget constraints, the BLM is considering euthanizing 2,300 horses that are now managed in HMAs and selling another 8,000 horses for slaughter.
Unfortunately, such actions are permitted under amendments to the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros act of 1971. The BLM has resorted sparingly to such actions out of deference to congressional objections and public outcry.
We are strongly opposed to euthanizing wild horses for the purpose of herd management. We also strongly oppose the sale of horses for slaughter.
Congress should increase the budget for wild horse management, which is a paltry $36.4 million. We also think Congress should study whether more open land could be made available for wild horses. They are, after all, one of freedom’s most cherished symbols.