November 5, 2003
By SCOTT SONNER
Associated Press Writer
RENO, Nev. (AP) - Wild horse rescue groups are raising concerns about the Bureau of Land Management's announcement that it may suspend its horse adoption program and send more mustangs to long-term holding facilities.
''If they mean they'll move the horses to live in sanctuaries in their natural habitat, then yahoo!'' said Jill Starr of the Lifesavers Wild Horse Rescuers Group in Lancaster, Calif. ''But if they mean a feedlot where people feed them then they end up in slaughter, no way.
''Of the current options available, the adoption program is probably the best thing we've got going,'' she said Wednesday.
BLM officials said in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday that the agency will consider setting aside its Adopt-A-Horse program for several years to concentrate on reducing the number of animals in herds of wild horses and burros.
The agency will study the comparative cost of adoptions with the cost of putting a larger number of animals out to pasture at government centers in the Midwest, the Stephens News Service first reported.
BLM officials say they have safeguards in place to help prevent federally protected wild horses and burros from being sold to slaughterhouses, and that any suspension of the adoption program would have no impact on those protections.
''No adoptions have been canceled but it is a recommendation we are going to look at,'' said Maxine Shane, a BLM spokeswoman in Reno and longtime specialist on the horses.
''It is an expensive program. And we do gather horses more quickly than we can adopt them out. The excess animals we are not adopting currently go into long-term holding,'' she said Wednesday.
As part of BLM's effort to reduce what the agency says is an overpopulation of wild horses in the West, BLM contractors round up thousands of the animals in Nevada and the West each year for auction for as little as $125.
BLM estimates it spends $1,400 to arrange a horse adoption, compared with $445 it costs the government annually to house an animal at one of its five long-term holding facilities in Kansas or Oklahoma.
An estimated 45,000 wild horses and burros roamed the 10 Western states when the adoption program began in 2000, about 25,000 of those in Nevada, Shane said.
The BLM wants to reduce the West-wide figure to an ''appropriate management level'' of 25,000 eventually. The last solid estimate in 2001 put the population at 39,000 - 20,000 in Nevada, she said.
BLM rounded up 10,800 horses in 2001 and found adoptive homes for 5,087 horses.
But because of new roundups, combined with normal population growth, an estimated 11,000 horses and burros are currently being housed at the five long-term facilities, Shane said.
Two more such facilities are to be established in the near future to help address the growth, she said.
''We have to gather 4,500 a year just to keep even'' with population growth, Shane said.
''So to get to the target of 25,000 or 20,000, we'll have gathered a lot of horses,'' she said.
The Fund for Animals based in Silver Springs, Md., has been a critic of how BLM administers the adoption program in the past. It sued the BLM in federal court over allegations the agency fails to do enough to ensure horses aren't sold for slaughter and maintains the agency is legally required to work harder to keep the animals free-roaming on the range in the first place.
But a Fund for Animals spokeswoman said Wednesday abandoning the adoption program altogether is a bad idea.
''We're concerned it's just another move on the part of the Bureau of Land Management to get as many animals off the land as quickly as possible and just warehouse them in long-range holding facilities until they can start up the adoption program again,'' said Andrea Lococo, the group's Rocky Mountain coordinator in Jackson, Wyo.
''The adoption pipeline is already filled. It's more a matter of convenience for them. They're trying to say the land can only sustain 22,000 to 27,000 wild horses across millions and millions and millions of acres of public land and yet there are millions of sheep and cattle on those same lands,'' she said.
Lacy J. Dalton, a country singer active in helping protect wild horses in northern Nevada, said Wednesday she thought it was ''horrible'' when she heard the adoption program might end.
''I think it provides a service to people,'' she said.
''It may be expensive but it's worth its weight in gold in terms of publicity for the BLM and getting the word out about this wonderful symbol of the West. It makes the BLM look like heroes.''