Source: AP
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updated 9:19 a.m. EDT, Mon July 7, 2008
Plan to kill wild horses runs into trouble

Story Highlights
*    Bureau of Land Management last month proposed euthanizing some wild
*    Feds cite high cost of caring for thousands of mustangs that were
rounded up
*    Animal rights groups say feds want "magic bullet" after rounding up too
many horses
*    Ranchers want wild mustangs controlled because they compete with cattle
for food

RENO, Nevada (AP) -- Animal rights activists and ranchers are clashing over
a federal proposal to euthanize wild horses as a way to deal with their
surplus numbers.

A wild stallion looks over a canyon east of Reno, Nevada, last month.

Horse advocates will mount a campaign against the proposal announced late
last month by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, said Chris Heyde, deputy
director of government and legal affairs for the Animal Welfare Institute
based in Washington, D.C.

Federal officials said they're faced with tough choices because wild horses
have overpopulated public lands in the West and they no longer can afford to
care for the number of animals that have been rounded up.

But Heyde maintained the agency is seeking a "magic bullet" for budget
problems caused after it began rounding up the mustangs at an unprecedented
rate in recent years.

He said the roundups left too many horses for the public to adopt, requiring
the agency to contract for more private long-term holding facilities.

The proposal "is killing pure and simple to balance the books for an agency
whose reckless management has caused immeasurable harm to a national
treasure at considerable cost to the American taxpayer," Heyde said.

Ron Cerri, of the Rebel Creek Ranch in Orovada and president-elect of the
Nevada Cattlemen's Association, said ranchers would prefer horses be adopted
but euthanasia may be necessary to keep their numbers down.

"Unfortunately, it's something they'll have to consider," Cerri said. "I
don't know of another solution."

Cerri criticized the federal agency's proposal to stop roundups of wild
horses to save money. Ranchers view mustangs as competition for forage on
the range.

"That would be really unfortunate," he said. "We're starting to get close to
what's called `appropriate management levels' of wild horses on the range.
If we stop the roundups, that number will blow up again."

There are an estimated 33,000 wild horses in 10 Western states. About half
of those are in Nevada.

The agency has set a target appropriate management level of horses at
27,000. About another 30,000 horses are in holding facilities, where most
are made available for adoption.

Last year about $22 million of the entire horse program's $39 million budget
was spent on holding horses in agency pens. Next year the costs are
projected to grow to $26 million with an overall budget that is being
trimmed to $37 million.

Lacy Dalton, president and co-founder of the Let 'Em Run Foundation horse
advocacy group, urged the agency to consider alternative solutions.

They include efforts to step up birth control and legislation to provide tax
breaks to large landowners willing to let horses roam on their property, she

"The American people have spoken -- they want to preserve these wild
horses," said Dalton.

"They are symbolic of the wildness and freedom and independent spirit of the
West. We need to find ways to save them without being a burden on
taxpayers," she added.

Agency officials said they stepped up the roundups in recent years because
of ongoing drought that has left dwindling forage and water for the
mustangs. Horse advocates insist the action was taken to placate ranchers.
The Bureau of Land Management's announcement marked the first time the
agency publicly has discussed the possibility of putting surplus animals to
death. Congress unanimously passed the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and
Burros Act to protect the animals.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may
not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Judy Reed
Speaking For Animals & Their Environment
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