Wild horses in America could be up against their most deadly predator yet: a budget review for the Department of the Interior.
Millions of wild horses roam free across the United States, but with few natural predators, their numbers grow out of control. Some animal rights activists and politicians disagree on how to keep them from overpopulating, overgrazing and overdrafting the budget that is used to take care of them.
The Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, is a unit of the Department of the Interior, and they spend millions every year managing the wild horses on public land. In 2017, the BLM spent $80.4 million on maintaining the wild horses, up from $36.2 in 2008. That’s from monitoring them, rounding them up, adopting them out, and keeping thousands of them in corrals. A new budget proposal would allow the agency to sell the horses “without limitation,” including to international companies looking to buy the live horses for slaughter.
Why round up wild horses instead of letting them roam free and fend for themselves? Livestock ranchers lease land from the Bureau of Land management to graze their cattle and sheep. When there are too many herbivores on the land already, there isn’t enough water, grass and room to go around.
The spending by the the Bureau of Land Management to round up, adopt out and keep in corrals thousands of horses is considered by some politicians and conservationists as unsustainable. BLM, itself, has used the word “unsustainable” to describe the population. The new budget proposal seeks to address this, by allowing horses to be sold for slaughter.
If put into effect as is, a new budget proposal for the Department of the Interior would “give BLM the tools it needs to manage this program in a more cost-effective manner, including the ability to conduct sales without limitation.”
Currently, the BLM can’t legally sell horses to people for the purpose of turning them into horsemeat, and the slaughter of a horse for such a purpose isn’t legal within the borders of the U.S. either. However, without limitation, the animals could be sold to international buyers who can slaughter them for meat.
While turning unwanted, expensive animals into food might seem like a practical option, animal rights activists believe that there is a more humane way. Experiments with horse contraception could prevent mustangs from overpopulating without killing them or corralling them.
Alternatively, some wild horse advocates suggest that the BLM shouldn’t be leasing the land to ranchers for such cheap prices. With less profits to the rancher, there would be fewer cattle grazing America’s land, and more room for wild animals, like the wild mustang.