Wayback Machine: Conrad Burns considers ways to rid America of wild horses

Here’s an article we cross-posted on our original website in 2004 courtesy of web archivists, the Way Back Machine.

The seeds for wild horse destruction were already being sown by (the now late) Sen. Conrad Burns, who is no stranger to wild horse advocates. Burns was the mover and shaker behind the notorious 2004 Burns Amendment allowing unadopted wild horses to be sold to slaughter.

By TED MONOSON | Gazette Washington Bureau | April 30, 2004

Lawmakers are skeptical of the Bureau of Land Management’s proposal to increase the amount of money spent on wild horse and burro management.

Western Republican lawmakers and BLM officials say the populations of wild horses and burros need to decrease. Environmental groups say the agency should reduce the numbers of domestic livestock that, like the wild horses and burros, graze on federal lands.

The budget proposal includes the management of the 38,000-acre Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range, about 60 miles south of Billings, which is managed by the BLM, although it also encompasses portions of Forest Service and National Park Service lands.

The agency is spending $29.1 million on the program this year and has offered a proposal to spend $39.6 million next year. The BLM spent $29.5 million on the program in 2003.

Rather than requesting that Congress provide an additional $10 million, the BLM proposed cutting an array of other programs.

Under the agency’s budget proposal, money would be shifted from 21 different programs to the wild horse and burro program.

The rangeland management program would suffer the biggest cut, losing slightly more than $1.9 million. Money also would be shifted away from maintenance, threatened and endangered species management and resource protection and law enforcement.

Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., chairman of the Senate panel that has jurisdiction over the BLM’s budget, is concerned about the agency’s proposal. Burns doesn’t think the amount of money the agency receives will solve the problem.

Burns is thinking of other ways to use the agency’s budget to change the program.

“I think what we should do is put some language in this thing that allows the BLM to sell excess wild horses,” Burns said. “I’d prefer to sell ’em to whomever. Maybe some of them will end up going to slaughter.” (emphasis added)

Under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, the agency is required to protect the animals. It may round up excess wild horses and burros and offer them for adoption but it may not simply sell them.

“Under the law we are provided with two options for handling excess horses,” BLM wild horse and burro group manager Jeff Rawson said. “One is adoption and the other is long term holding.”

The agency is holding about 21,000 wild horses and burros.

Rawson defended the agency’s handling of the animals and said the proposal to shift money from other programs would enable the BLM to get the wild horse and burro populations under control.

Rawson said there are about 38,000 wild horses and burros. In 2000, the populations were estimated to be 50,000. BLM studies say the appropriate population level is 28,000.

The 2005 budget request would enable the agency to begin its plan to remove 10,000 to 12,000 animals for the next two to three years and then 4,000 to 5,000 annually in future years. (emphasis added)

“We are trying to get to our appropriate management levels,” Rawson said.

The Fund for Animals filed a still-pending lawsuit in 2001 stating that the BLM must study the environmental impact of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. The organization’s Rocky Mountain Coordinator Andrea Lococo said the BLM has only done “piecemeal” assessments of the program.

Lococo wants the program to get more money, but she says it needs to be overhauled.

“In terms of what they plan to use the money for, we have some real concerns,” Lococo said. “All they want to do is remove more wild horses.”

Copyright © The Billings Gazette, a division of Lee Enterprises.

See it at the Way Back Machine

1 p, pdf

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