Bureau of Land Management board recommends allowing euthanasia for 45,000 wild horses in gov’t facilities

EUREKA, NV - JULY 8: A group of wild horses is rounded up during a gathering July 8, 2005 in Eureka, Nevada. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management wants to reduce herds in the American west, where an estimated 37,000 of the horses roam free, to 28,000 by the end of 2005. The U.S. periodically removes thousands of horses and donkeys in an attempt to ensure western rangelands have adequate food and water for the animals to survive. Those animals are either adopted out or housed indefinitely on government sanctuaries. Currently 24,000 horses and donkeys are housed in government-run facilities. Recently passed legislation allows for the sale for slaughter of wild horses and donkeys older than ten years old and animals that have been unsuccessfully offered for adoption at least three times, eliminating restrictions that had been in place since 1971 which prevented wild horses from being sold commercially. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is considering a plan that involves euthanasia to alleviate the financial burden of housing the more than 45,000 horses and burros held in government-run facilities. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

ELKO, Nev. — A growing problem for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in the western United States has the government agency considering a controversial solution.

A BLM advisory board last week voted in favor of using euthanasia as a tool in managing the 45,000 wild horses which have been rounded up and held by the organization.

For the past 20 years, the bureau has been rounding up and housing wild horses, whose numbers had been so decimated that they received federal protection in 1971. The numbers have since rebounded, prompting BLM’s efforts to capture and house surplus horses and burros as part of a strategy of population control and conservation of rangelands.

BLM is now struggling under the financial burden of the nearly $50 million a year cost to board and care for the animals. The Bureau of Land Management’s National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board voted to recommend euthanasia of all unadopted wild horses and burros now in BLM facilities.

The board’s vote quickly elicited a strong response from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).

“The decision of the BLM advisory board to recommend the destruction of the 45,000 wild horses currently in holding facilities is a complete abdication of responsibility for their care,” Senior Vice President of Programs & Innovations Holly Hazard said. “The agency would not be in this situation but for their long-term mismanagement. Alternatives to this proposal have been ignored for over 20 years. The HSUS stands ready to implement these alternatives at any time.”

HSUS contends that the financial burden from the unsustainable housing efforts have hindered the agency’s ability to implement other population control initiatives, such as fertility control programs.

Euthanasia would be a final means, a National Geographic article noted, after the animals are given a chance for adoption or re-located to public lands or facilities that may become available later.

Ginger Kathrens, director of The Cloud Foundation, an advocacy group for America’s wild horses, said the decision to prioritize federal land for cattle grazing is an underlying cause of the problem.

“Livestock outnumber horses and burros 47 to 1, and livestock are allocated 82 percent of the forage,” Kathrens noted at a June 22 Oversight Hearing on Challenges and Potential Solutions for BLM’s Wild Horse & Burro Program. Kathrens is also an Emmy-award winning filmmaker who spent decades documenting wild horses for PBS.

Animal rights group In Defense of Animals said the board’s decision could potentially result in the loss of a significant portion of the population of the animal that has long been held as an icon of the American West.

“The grim plan would be the biggest horse slaughter in history and wipe out more than half of all wild horses remaining in the U.S.,” the group In Defense of Animals said in a statement Monday.

Since the 1971 protections were enacted, legislation has been passed to allow the sale of wild horses and burros older than ten years old and those that have been unsuccessfully offered for adoption at least three times, virtually eliminating those 1971 barriers which kept wild horses from being sold commercially.

That opened the door for buyers to exploit the horses, animal rights groups have said.

“In 2005, BLM implemented a policy that placed limitations on the amount of horses sold and required buyers to provide good homes and humane care to prevent the horses from being sent to slaughter,” said an investigative report by the U.S. Department of the Interior last year.

That report revealed one notorious Colorado horse buyer who allegedly bought about 1,700 wild horses and burros between 2008 and 2012 and wrongfully handed them over to kill buyers, who sent them to Mexico for slaughter for human consumption.

If the board’s recommendation is approved by the Bureau of Land Management, it then heads to Congress. If passed, BLM could begin taking action on reducing the agency’s numbers of wild horses and burros as soon as 2017.

The Cloud Foundation has compiled a list of resources for anyone who would like to contact officials and voice their opinions on the matter.