I.G.H.A. / HorseAid's Bureau of Land Management News

Fixing The Wild Horse Program

By Enzo Giobbé (from ANIMAL PEOPLE Magazine)

Does HorseAid agree that 90% of the horses adopted through the Bureau of Land Management go to slaughter, as alleged in a recent expose by Martha Mendoza of Associated Press?

No. We cannot find any evidence to substantiate the 90% figure allegedly tossed out by a BLM official who now denies he said it. Based on years of investigation, recognizing that there are still a lot of "Mom and Pop" rendering houses that do not report brands, and factoring in the unreported traffic in horses for slaughter in Canada and Mexico, HorseAid puts the figure for all the horses who have ever gone through the BLM program somewhere between 35% and 60%.

When it comes to horses, horse people often do things without reason. So yes, some adopters will keep a BLM horse the required year, and then put the horse through auction, taking a loss, because in a year one will put far more into a horse than one could ever get out by the pound. Exceptions are if one has "free" pasture, or does not keep the horse the required year. Short keeping is the least explored avenue to slaughter. It is relatively easy to list a wild horse as coming off of unprotected land: National Parks, National Forests, National Wildlife Refuges, Indian reservations, or private property.

But do we believe the BLM is competent enough to pull off and cover up an agency-wide conspiracy? I think not. More than likely, most of the alleged BLM horse adoption program abuses we hear about have some basis, and some real abuses never get reported--but much that is reported is sensationalized, and some claims are pure speculation.

Most of what I see and hear amounts to disputed versions of events, variously described by some individuals who quit BLM out of principle, some who quit under questionable circumstance but say otherwise, and many lower management employees covering the butts of middle managers, who in turn cover the butts of upper echelon management.

While most critics blame adopters, either for failure to tame horses or for allegedly abusing the program, HorseAid blames the BLM for letting unqualified adopters take horses.

Any horse taken right off the range is basically not adoptable. The horse must be trained, like any other untrained horse, and that's just what a wild mustang is-an untrained horse.

HorseAid receives a lot of horses that are considered "not adoptable," because of similar behavioral problems, usually due to abuse, health problems, or both. They stay in a HorseAid SafeHouse until they are re-trained or nursed back to health. Only then are they are adopted out to qualified adopters.

Unfortunately, the BLM pays more attention to the trailer the horse is to be transported in than to the circumstances under which the horse will supposedly spend the rest of his or her life.

HorseAid has long argued that the 1971 Wild And Free Ranging Horse and Burro Act did not give the BLM a mandate to do horse adoptions, and that the mustangs are the heritage and property of the American people. We say the BLM has no right to do what was in its mandate, nor does it have the right to give away what it does not own.

However, we think that with the BLM cooperation, a fair and happy medium for all interests could be achieved.

HorseAid's immediate goal would be to adopt out the horses in the current BLM inventory as a private contractor. We class these as currently unadoptable companion animals, pending evaluation and training. We believe we can find successful adopters for these animals, over whom we would retain title. Once a HorseAid horse, always a HorseAid horse.

Our long term goal would be to phase out adoptions by managing the herds to a level where the designated Horse Management Allotments can support them, providing for special help in years of severe drought. We would "manage" the herds by a system of humane field sterilization using volunteer licensed vets and high tech field hospitals to geld yearlings.

However, if the consensus of animal welfare groups is that a reformed continual adoption program is good for the future of the mustangs, we could oversee the adoptions indefinitely.

We would also not oppose relocating some horses to more natural areas than the current allotments, and depending on the recommendations of the various animal groups with expertise and concern, we would consider introducing natural predators into these areas, as a more natural means of managing the herds.

All of us concerned about the Mustangs have to work first on emptying the BLM chutes. As long as the chutes are kept full of horses, it will always be "business as usual" in the adoption program.

Next, we all have to work on achieving an agreeable balance of use of public lands. This problem, as a whole, has very little to do with mustangs. But mustangs, like coyotes, can't vote, speak for themselves, or protest their fate, so they are among the parts of the problem most readily "fixed" to their detriment

(ANIMAL PEOPLE is a nonprofit monthly newspaper providing independent professional coverage of all the news about animal protection, from animal rescue to zoological conservation. We have no alignment or affiliation with any particular ideology, other than "be kind to animals," nor are we in any way associated with any advocacy group. If you give to help animals, you'll especially want our annual report on how each leading group spends donations ($3.00). Subscriptions, U.S. or foreign, are $22/year, $35/2 years, or $50/three years, to POB 960, Clinton, WA 98236-0960. We'll send a free sample issue to anyone who provides a postal address.

Reprinted by permission of ANIMAL PEOPLE magazine.

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