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

Wild Horses: Are They Headed for Adoption or Death?

(CNN) -- In the American West, wild horses still run free.

But some worry about the fate of the wild herds, which are being thinned by the government.

By the agency's own admission, the Federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) plan to ship the horses to adoptive owners has had some catastrophic results.

Last month, nine horses died from shock after being shipped from Nevada to Colorado. In Oregon, arson destroyed a horse adoption center, causing $500,000 in damages.

About 10,000 horses, or about a fourth of the population, are rounded up each year for adoption. The problem is that enough homes aren't being found for them.

Thousands of horses are waiting in pens from last year's roundup.

"Some horses will be trucked from place to place until they find a home," said Deborah Ellsworth of the Red Wing Horse Sanctuary.

Some may never find homes.

"A lot of horses that have been designated by law to protect have ended up at slaughter, have died in sanctuaries, have frozen in corrals...," said Jeff Ruch, who represents Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

Part of the problem is that the BLM must operate under two conflicting laws: It must preserve the wild horse herds but keep enough grazing land for paying customers such as cattle ranchers.

"We are directed to do multiple use -- that is provide development opportunities... but at the same time to conserve," said Pat Shea, director of the Bureau of Land Management.

The BLM has hired horses advocates for the first time to give advice to the agency about the wild herds.

"I want to make it clear that this program has my personal commitment," said Shea.

However, Ellsworth -- who adopted two horses, a mother named Whisper and her offspring, Shadow -- disputes the contention that there is a need for the adoption program at all.

"There's not an overpopulation," she said. "If anything, (the horses) need to be left alone."

Correspondent Greg Lefevre contributed to this report.

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