Advocates for wild horses and burros are condemning an amendment to a House spending bill that allows for wild horses and burros roaming on public lands to be euthanized.
The amendment, offered by Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, continues the ban on selling the animals to slaughterhouses for processing into commercial products or for human consumption.
Stewart’s amendment, which came up during a House Appropriations Committee hearing Tuesday night, July 18, passed by voice vote. The hearing was on the fiscal 2018 budget for the Department of the Interior, Environmental Protection Agency and related departments.
For years, appropriation bills barred the federal government from killing wild horses and burros that roam millions of acres out West. But officials with the Bureau of Land Management have said the current wild horse population, estimated at 73,000, is more than the land can sustain and the population doubles every four years.
Another 46,000 wild horses and burros are being held indefinitely in off-range facilities. The cost of holding those animals, according to BLM, consumes close to $50 million of the Wild Horse and Burro Program’s $80 million budget, which has quadrupled in size since 2000.
Supporters of euthanasia, including cattle ranchers, maintain the the horses and burros compete with livestock for grazing and threaten the ecological balance of public lands. Stewart held up a photo of an emaciated horse in arguing that it’s cruel to let overpopulation kill horses through starvation.
“It’s like going into a humane society that has euthanized cats and dogs as they do all the time and saying ‘I want you to put them in a cage and starve them to death,’” Stewart said.
Democrats, including Rep. Betty McCollum of Minnesota, opposed the amendment. While agreeing the horse population needs to be better managed, McCollum said no action should be taken until the BLM delivers a report that looks into how horse adoptions could be increased and how contraceptives could be used to control the herd.
In a statement issued after the vote, Suzanne Roy, executive director of the American Wild Horse Campaign, said the appropriations committee “just signed a death warrant for America’s mustangs and it will lead to the wholesale destruction of these irreplaceable national treasures.”
“We will hold these members of Congress to account for this public deception and unacceptable assault on our wild mustangs,” Roy added.
Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, who chairs the Appropriations subpanel responsible for BLM spending, defended the amendment and encouraged the public to adopt wild horses and burros.
“The reality on our federal lands is that the status quo is not working for our wild horses and it’s not working for taxpayers,” he said in an emailed statement.
“Today’s vote was a difficult one, but we simply cannot continue (to) shove more and more wild horses and burros into holding facilities and act as if that’s somehow a good outcome for these animals or taxpayers.”
The draft version of the $31.4 billion spending bill considered by the Appropriations committee Tuesday contained language that barred euthanasia or sale for slaughter as options for controlling the wild horse population.
Wild horse advocacy groups mobilized to preserve that language, saying the equines are an enduring symbol of the West. Advocates question the BLM’s horse population estimates and fault the bureau for not aggressively pursuing birth control vaccines for the animals.