Advocates for wild mustangs and burros on federal land see a window of hope in language in a U.S. Senate spending bill that may keep thousands of the animals from being euthanized. The Senate version of the $32.6 billion Interior spending bill for fiscal 2018, issued Nov. 20, recommends “humane and politically viable options” for dealing with wild horses and burros.
This is a chance for wild horse advocates to keep pressure on the Bureau of Land Management to come up with better policies to manage their wild horse and burro populations, said PBS documentary filmmaker Ginger Kathrens, of Colorado Springs. Kathrens serves as Humane Advocate on the BLM’s National Wild Horses and Burro Advisory Board. She also heads the Cloud Foundation, a wild equine advocacy group named after a Wyoming white palomino stallion she filmed from the day he was born to his death.
Wild horse advocates were devastated in July when the House passed an appropriations bill recommending prohibitions be lifted against slaughtering 45,000 wild animals held by the BLM. The hope is when the two bills are reconciled that the Senate language for the bill ends up in the final budget.
In Colorado, there are fewer than 1,000 wild horses in four herds, Kathrens said. There are no wild burros in Colorado.
The BLM manages about 110,000 wild horses through the National Wild Horse and Burro Program, according to the Government Accountability Office. Of those, 72,674 wild horses and burros live “on the range” roaming federal land in 10 western states. More than 45,000 have been removed from the wild and are kept in corrals or long-term pastured land mostly in Oklahoma and Kansas.
Mustangs conflict with cattle grazing on federal property, where only about 20 percent of grazing allocation is allowed for wild horses, leaving 80 percent for cattle production. The powerful National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn. has spent around $7.5 million for lobbying in Congress since 1998, according to campaign finance website OpenSecrets.org.
“The cattlemen’s associations don’t want to share [the land with wild horses],” Kathrens said. Requests for comment for this article from the Colorado Cattlemen’s Assn. in Arvada were not immediately answered.
But, Ethan Lane, executive director of the national Public Lands Council, representing ranchers with grazing permits on public lands, said in a statement: “The need to responsibly manage these animalsgrows daily as this population and the ensuing animal welfare crisis continues to explode.”
Kathrens said the BLM formerly captured younger mustangs, which were adoptable and could be halter trained, but that ended in the 2000s with helicopter roundups, which she has filmed.
“For 15 years they’ve been rounding up older horses that are un-adoptable,” Kathrens said. “These helicopter contractors make millions, and it’s led to the BLM housing thousands of old horses have no adoption potential, and they cost the taxpayer money.”
Kathrens said photos of starving wild horses used by politicians to encourage the sale of horses to be exported to Mexico and Canada for commercial slaughter are fake news.
“There are no starving horses that we can find,” she said. “That narrative was created as a narriative for destruction. I think the horses are under threat, both on the range and off the range, now.”
Programs to pay horse trainers to halter train young mustangs are very successful in making younger animals adoptable, she said. The BLM holds several thousand mustangs in a short-term facility in Cañon City.
One of these mustang training programs is run by inmates Colorado State Penitentiary near Cañon City.
“Trained mustangs find homes very quickly,” Kathrens said. “There isn’t enough money to pay for these programs, but they are very successful in creating adoptable horses.”
At least one Colorado herd has had success with a form of temporary mustang birth control called PZP, administered by dart gun. Kathrens said using volunteers to inventory mustang herds, and coordinating birth control dart gunning by certified volunteers would help keep the population down. “All of this would’ve to be in cooperation and collaboration with the BLM,” she said.
The BLM has said that birth control for the horses is too expensive and time consuming. Less than $170,000 was allocated for mustang birth control in past budgets, Kathrens said.
She also said some horse advocates have suggested allowing neutered geldings to be released into “zeroed out” herd management areas in Montana and other places where the castrated males could “live out the rest of their lives on the range.”
She believes there may be a movement for specified wild horse range land in every Western state that would take some of the pressure off states like Nevada, which has more than 100 herds and most of the nation’s feral burros.
The new Senate language gives wild horse advocates a chance to recommend these and other policy changes they’d like to see to help the BLM reduce the herds they are now maintaining in captivity, Kathrens said.
“We have to keep in constant contact with our senators, to make sure they know the U.S. public is opposed to horse slaughter,” Kathrens said. “The vast majority think horse slaughter is terrible, 80 percent of Americans don’t support killing wild horses.”
Watch Utah Cong. Chris Stewart urge his colleagues in the House to support BLM slaughter of mustangs held in long and short-term captivity.
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