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  • Gabrielle Radmore: OPINION

Killing Harmless Animals: Why is the Government Slaughtering Horses?

The beautiful wild horses and burros that roam in the Rocky Mountains are icons of the old wild west. For many years, they have been protected by law, but now many of these animals are about to be slaughtered by the government for no good reason.

Years ago, the horses were nearly hunted to extinction until the government stepped in to protect them, and slowly the animals began to flourish again. Now, they are the target of greedy farmers and businessmen.

In 1971, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) passed the “Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act”; an act that prevents the selling of wild horses to international buyers for meat. This protected the falling population of the national icon, but has since raised the population three-fold.

Part of the BLM’s job is to manage the wild horse and burro population. This department decides on the budget for wild horses and burros, and how it protects them.

Now they feel that murdering the animals is in the best interest of the country. But there is absolutely no reason for slaughter.

The government’s reasoning is that there are too many horses and they are starving to death anyway. However, the BLM has set the legal threshold for horse overpopulation too low.

In 1971, the horse population was 17,000. This was considered a declining amount and was changed to account for only 9,000 more horses, for a maximum of 26,000 horses and burros. This amount is absurdly low.

The BLM estimated that as of March 1st, 2017, there was a population of over 70,000 horses on the public land. This is a bad estimate, however, as the amount of land has become smaller over the decades.

The original amount of the land, according to the first of 5 edits to the 1971 act, was 50 million acres, and now is 31.5 million acres. This public land isn’t only for the horses, as it is shared by farmers and the native animals. However, horses are outnumbered 37 to 1 by cattle, according to Return To Freedom, a wild horse conservation group, located in California.

Because of these estimates, the government has decided to push the BLM to “inhumane” acts of removing the horses, such as euthanization. These horses are healthy, and would just be slaughtered to fit an outdated number. However, the BLM tries to remove the horses in “humane” ways, such as adoption or holding pens.

The amount of horses the land can support is based off fact, right? Not according to the American Wild Horse Campaign’s Myths and Facts About the BLM Wild Horse Program, “The BLM's claims of overpopulation are not based on science, but are arbitrary numbers unsupported by science and contrary to the unanimously adopted law designed to save the "fast disappearing" wild horse population levels.”

The American Wild Horse Campaign also states, “Wild horses are not present on more than 80% of rangelands, which makes the claim that that they are overrunning the range preposterous.”

These statements contradict the ideas that the horses are starving and running out of room in the lands. As the BLM states in their Quick Facts sheet, “As wild horse and burro populations rise, there are serious consequences for the animals and the land. Horses and burros starve, dehydrate and wander onto private property or highways. Land health and habitat for sage grouse and other wildlife is being compromised.” Many advocates travel to these areas and claim no sight of the “starving” horses, and only see healthy animals.

According to the ASPCA’s research poll, over 80% of the general public are against the BLM’s management of the horses and burros, and advocate against its reliance on round-ups, which only cause problems for the management. These problems relate to keeping the population at a peak of reproducing, instead of lowering the numbers.

Many solutions are able to be implemented, but aren’t, such as:

  • PZP birth control

  • The reintroducing of natural predators

  • Sending the non-fertile, captive horses to an empty plot of land

These solutions have been acknowledged by the BLM, but have not been implemented for fear of interrupting the natural herd, and are instead replaced with yearly round-ups, which have also been ineffective after not being able to sell the captured horses.

On November 27th, the Senate went to vote on a 2018 budget, which included a change to kill off the horses. As of November 29th, the Senate has voted to block the euthanization of healthy horses, and hopes that the BLM will turn to more “humane” ways to control the population.

One can only hope that they make the right decision and not kill our treasured wild animals.

Photo: By Rick Cooper (originally posted to Flickr as The Wild Horse Herd) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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