There are too many people who are intimately familiar with the pitfalls of letting wild horses roam free on public lands to dismiss their assertion that euthanizing some of them is the right thing to do.
Actually, it sounds like it’s the only thing to do, given the current circumstances. There are nearly 50,000 wild horses and burros in holding facilities that the Bureau of Land Management estimates will cost taxpayers $1 billion to care for over their lifetimes.
That many animals in captivity leaves the BLM with few options to manage the ones that are still free. Overgrazing by horses is creating an ecological disaster on tens of millions of acres in the West, affecting numerous other animals.
That’s the opinion of Ben Masters, a member of the BLM’s National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board, which recommended the BLM sell without limitation animals deemed unadoptable. As the Sentinel’s Dennis Webb explained, buyers wouldn’t be prohibited from sending horses to slaughter. Animals deemed unsuitable for sale, should be humanely destroyed, the board said.
Masters says euthanizing horses would require a congressional vote, which would undoubtedly be accompanied by lawsuits and grassroots campaigns to stop the slaughter. The board’s controversial recommendation seems designed to force overdue attention on the issue.
Even if Congress appropriated more funds for effective fertility control, the BLM would still have to figure out a way to deal with captive horses, which lead “miserable lives,” according to Marty Felix, a volunteer with Friends of the Mustangs.
We don’t let deer and elk populations balloon to the point of overgrazing and starvation. Hunting is the game management tool that helps maintain a healthy balance. Euthanizing horses seems to fall within the same approach. Adoption efforts help, but “it’s just a drop in the bucket,” Felix said.
We agree with Felix that the millions of dollars spent on horses in holding could go to improvements on the range or increased use of the PZP vaccine to reduce reproduction, which would reduce the need to round up horses and move them to holding facilities.
If the goal is to keep wild horses on public lands, euthanizing the captive ones that can’t be moved via adoption has to be considered. It frees up resources to manage herds so that they don’t outstrip the capacity of the land to sustain them.