Advocates say government should save wild horses (US)

By OSKAR GARCIA, Associated Press, 13 Oct 2008

Wild Horse HerdLAS VEGAS – Federal agencies should change the way they manage wild horses on public lands to prevent the animals from going extinct in five years, advocates said Monday.

Karen Sussman, president of the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros, said the group plans to approach Congress within 30 days to plead for the lives of horses that federal officials are considering euthanizing.

“At the rate that the government is reducing these animals, within five years they are going to be extinct,” Sussman said. “Within five years these animals will cease to exist on public lands.”

Wild horse enthusiasts met in Las Vegas over the weekend to discuss solutions to protect the horses and keep them on public lands. Sussman said the groups will suggest lawmakers redistribute federal money to wild horse programs, return wild horses from federal pens to open land and consolidate federal agencies to free up money for wild horses.

“This is our American heritage right here,” she said. “These animals represent the last living symbol of the American west.”

There are an estimated 33,000 wild horses roaming in 10 Western states. About half are in Nevada, with most concentrated in northern Nevada. About 30,000 more horses are in holding facilities, where most are available for adoption.

The federal agency responsible for overseeing the wild horse population has said it may be necessary to euthanize horses to prevent many more from starving to death on overpopulated ranges. The Bureau of Land Management has said it can’t afford to keep growing numbers of horses in federal facilities and that budget drain is keeping the agency from other responsibilities.

The agency has set a target number of wild horses at 27,000.

Last year, about $22 million of the agency’s entire wild horse $39 million budget was spent on holding animals 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.

A spokesman for the BLM in northern Nevada did not immediately return a call seeking comment. The office was closed for Columbus Day.

Sussman said wild horses don’t get treated fairly by government officials, despite laws meant to protect them. She said that the wild horse population has dropped by half since 1971, when BLM began managing the population. >>

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