A senior Interior Department official called Wednesday for lifting restrictions on sales and euthanasia for wild horses and burros to rein in run-away costs associated with managing growing herds roaming the West’s public rangelands.
The 73,000 free-roaming equines on public land are now triple what these lands can support, costing taxpayers more than $50 million a year to care for another 45,000 held in off-range corrals and pastures, according to Aurelia Skipwith, deputy assistant secretary of Interior for fish, wildlife and parks
“With no predators and lack of management abilities, herds will grow 15 to 20 percent a year. It is decimating the rangelands,” Skipwith said Wednesday told a national conference held in Salt Lake City.
She issued a plea to allow science, rule of law and “common sense” to help solve the vexing wild horse question saddling the Bureau of Land Management. The federal agency is responsible for overseeing horses and burros, non-native descendants of domesticated animals released by European explorers and pioneers.
Utah officials are hosting the invitation-only summit behind closed doors this week in downtown Salt Lake City, drawing a strong reaction from horse advocates who were not invited to attend.
“We are horrified by the [Trump] administration’s plans to gun down thousands of mustangs, who symbolize our nation’s freedom,” said Marilyn Kroplick, president of In Defense of Animals, an animal-rights group based in California. “The ‘Wild Horse and Burro Summit’ is a sham devised to promote the mass killing of icons of the West and turn scientific facts on their heads. …. Horses and burros deserve their legal protections and must be allowed to live wild and free.”
Her organization planned to join the American Wild Horse Campaign and other advocacy groups Wednesday at noon to protest the summit in front of the Marriott City Creek, where the meeting convened with presentations from Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, Reps. Chris Stewart and Rob Bishop and scientific panels organized by Utah State University.
Skipwith and other speakers accused these groups of caring more about fundraising than the horses themselves.
“Why not use your funds you use to fight us and come to the table,” she said. “Emotional rhetoric and lawsuits are not helping anyone. We are continuing to spin our wheels in the same place.”
Horse advocates insist BLM must fully embrace fertility-control measures as an alternative to costly roundups, yet contraception was barely mentioned by Wednesday’s summit speakers.
Immunizing horses against pregnancy seems to work in some areas depending on topography and other factors, according to wildlife biologist Rick Danvir of the Western Landowners Alliance.
“We need to look at permanent sterilization more seriously along with unrestricted sales,” Danvir said at the summit.
Advocates, though, fear such sales would result in “excess” horses being exported to Mexico and other countries that allow slaughter of horses for food.