Wild horses in Nevada, Wyoming and Utah have grazed lands reserved for cattle for years. In past decades, the horses have been rounded up by cars and airplanes for slaughter or capture. Ranchers were accused of pouring poison into water holes to brutally kill off the wild horses in an agonizing death. A national campaign was launched to protect wild horses from cruel demise.
In 1971, the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burro Act was enacted by Congress. The act stated that only agents of the Bureau of Land Management could legally round-up the horses. The ranchers complain that the horses are depleting public land of valuable grasses. Many environmentalists believe the Bureau of Land Management acts on behalf of ranchers.
Currently, there are approximately 47,000 wild horses with about half of the horses roaming in Nevada. The bureau believes the land can only sustain about 26,000 wild horses. Environmentalists believe that a further depletion of wild horses could lead to a lack of genetic diversity and eventual extinction of this iconic symbol of the wild west.
The Bureau of Land Management reports almost 50,000 horses in storage. Some of the horses are put up for adoption; however, it is cheaper to store a horse than to arrange for an adoption. Horses are quickly multiplying on the range due to a lack of storage and funds. The agency projects that the number of free range horses will expand to 100,000 by 2019 at the current rate.
Some ranchers are lobbying politicians to slaughter the excess horses. The ranchers believe this would free up storage space to enable the Bureau of Land Management to continue round-ups. Congress has repeatedly refused the proposal.
Environmentalists and horse enthusiasts claim the ranchers are blaming the horses for the depletion of grazing when both wild horses and cattle have contributed to the diminishing grass supply. Horse advocacy groups state, “the horses are vastly outnumbered by cattle.” The advocacy groups agree with the bureau that the present method of round-ups and storage is unsustainable.
According to the bureau reducing the number of wild range horses to 26,000 will ensure the wild horses do not starve and maintain lands for ranchers. The bureau states that approximately $50 million is spent to pay contractors to store the captured horses in feedlots or pastures each year. Round-ups have been cut by 80% in 2014 due to lack of funds. On average, the bureau gathers approximately 9,000 horses each year; however, the goal for 2014 is to round-up only 2,500 wild horses.
*Royalty free photo courtesy of Brian Eager on Flickr's Creative Commons.