Bill introduced to halt wild horse slaughter; horse lovers rally
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2005:
WASHINGTON D.C., RENO– U.S. Representatives Nick J. Rahall
(D-West Virginia) and Ed Whitfield (R-Kentucky) on January 25
introduced a bill to restore to wild equines the full protection
extended by the 1971 Wild & Free-Roaming Horse & Burro Protection Act.
The Rahall/Whitfield bill, HR-297, would repeal a stealth
rider attached by Senator Conrad Burns (R-Montana), to the
Consolidated Appropriations Act passed by Congress on November 18,
“If allowed to stand, the Burns provision will lead to the
slaughter of thousands of wild horses for human consumption abroad,”
summarized American Horse Defense Fund attorney Trina Bellak.
An impromptu demonstration of the symbolic significance of
wild horses to the American public came on January 21 at Damante
Ranch High School in Nevada.
Fearing that the Nevada Department of Agriculture was
rounding up mustangs to sell to slaughter, 30 to 40 students left
their classes, marched to the temporary corral in two separate
groups, so that if one group was intercepted the other might get
through, and released about a dozen horses who had already been
captured with hay as bait.
The Damante High athletic teams are called the Mustangs.
Nevada Department of Agriculture spokesperson Ed Foster told
Don Cox of the Reno Gazette-Journal that the horses were captured for
relocation, after moving into the neighborhood during heavy snows in
the nearby Virginia Range. Foster said that the students would not
be criminally charged because they “thought they were doing a good
The students acted just under three weeks after more than 100
wild horse defenders from 33 organizations formed the Alliance of
Wild Horse Advocates in Carson City on January 2 and 3, to respond
to the Burns rider.
The Burns rider directed the Bureau of Land Management to
make “available for sale without limitation” any captive wild horse
who is more than 10 years old or who has been offered for adoption at
least three times.
Most of the 14,000 wild horses now held by the BLM may be
sold to slaughter, said International Society for the Protection of
Mustangs & Burros president Karen Sussman.
The 3,600-page, $388 billion spending act was signed into
law by U.S. President George W. Bush on December 6, 2004.
“Despite losing most of the California, Oregon, and Idaho
delegations due to near blizzard conditions over the mountain
passes,” Nevada wild horse enthusiast Willis Lamm said, “the
Alliance of Wild Horse Advocates organizing conference achieved most
of its objectives. In the years that I have been involved with wild
horse issues, I have never before seen such camaraderie. The
conference established a number of working groups, who started
addressing a host of specific issues and objectives. These working
groups will confer via the Internet to develop and implement their
The Alliance of Wild Horse Advocates agreed on a nine-point
statement of common understanding of the issue:
* In 1971, the Wild & Free-Ranging Horse & Burro Protection
Act stated that wild horses were fast disappearing from the American
* Since 1971, the Bureau of Land Management has not
complied with the Act to protect wild horses and burros on public
* Today there are fewer wild horses and burros on public
lands than in 1971.
* The BLM has created a myth that wild horses and burros
* The BLM designation of older mustangs as unadoptable is a myth.
* Because of this myth, the BLM has created a quagmire of
wild horses in long-term holding pastures who rightfully belong back
on the range.
* The Burns stealth rider dismantled the Wild &
Free-Roaming Horse & Burro Protection Act.
* This was done without the knowledge of the American public.
* A majority of Congress were unaware that this last-minute
rider was attached to the federal appropriations bill.
Western beef boycott?
“During TV coverage of the inaugural parade,” Trina Bellak
observed to fellow Alliance of Wild Horse Advocates members on
January 21, “the news anchor described an equestrian group as it
appeared on the screen, and mentioned that they counted amongst
their members some Senators and Representatives –including Senator
Burns. Needless to say nothing was mentioned about his betrayal of
wild horses and burros.”
Increasing public awareness of the plight of wild horses and
burros is the first goal of the Alliance of Wild Horse Advocates.
“While it is not our intent to promote economic sanctions at
this time,” Lamm suggested, “I think it is not a bad idea for those
who are involved with campaigns such as ‘Eat Something Else!!!’ and
‘Quit Beefin” to encourage the development of some kind of
cooperative market for mustang-friendly beef.”
As ANIMAL PEOPLE went to press, both that idea and the idea
of trying to promote boycotts of western range beef and Montana
tourism seemed to be gaining momentum.
“It is fatuous to argue that 30,000 wild horses roaming the
West are degrading the region’s arid lands,” Humane Society of the
U.S. president Wayne Pacelle wrote to The New York Times, “when
there are more than four million livestock grazing on those same
lands. Where population reductions are well justified, nonlethal
strategies like contraception should take the place of costly
roundups, which are now just an antecedent to the slaughter of horses
for export to foreign markets for human consumption.”
But seething rancher opposition to sharing leased range with
wild horses was evident in Elko County, Nevada, on January 10,
when the county commissioners discussed suing the federal government
to seek expanded and expedited wild horse roundups–and the only
reported opposition came from a commissioner who said the county
couldn’t afford to fight the Department of the Interior.
Western States Wild Horse & Burro Expo director Nancy Kerson
meanwhile found that the BLM has already removed older horses from
its online adoption web site. Kerson explained on Lamm’s
<www.KBRhorse.net> web site that she called the BLM wild horse
holding facility at Burns, Oregon to ask what was happening, and
was told that listing older horses for adoption is now illegal,
since “under the new law they can only be sold, not be adopted. But
the BLM is hoping that would-be adopters will be able to buy them,”
“When the American people understand what the [Burns] measure
really means, they will rally to our cause,” predicted National
Wild Horse Association vice president Laurie Howard to Tim Anderson
of the Reno Gazette-Journal.
Birds on hit list too
The Consolidated Appropriations Act also included a stealth
rider that exempts any birds deemed “introduced” and “non-native”
from protection under the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which
animal advocates have invoked several times to stop mass
exterminations of mute swans and non-migratory giant Canada geese.
Many other species may be killed. “We have tried to make the
list as comprehensive as possible,” wrote John L. Trapp of the U.S.
Fish & Wildlife Service, Division of Migratory Bird Management, in
preface to publishing the roster of 113 potential target species.
“It is not, however, an exhaustive list of all the non-native
species that could potentially appear in the U.S. or its territories
as a result of human assistance,” Tripp continued. Any other
introduced non-native species might also be designated for massacre.
The Maryland Department of Nat-ural Resources is preparing to
oil the eggs of mute swans this spring, and has acknowledgd that
adult swans may be shot this summer.
“Federal and state wildlife agencies are once again jumping
the gun in their fervor to kill mute swans,” said Michael Markarian,
formerly president of the Fund for Animals and now executive vice
president for external affairs at HSUS, following a merger of the
two groups that became official on January 1.
Markarian hinted that HSUS would again seek to protect the
swans with a strategy based on the impact study requirements of the
National Environmental Policy Act, a strategy which has had some
“The Maryland mute swan population has been unfairly blamed
for the loss of submerged aquatic vegetation in Chesapeake Bay,”
Markarian continued. “As the court pointed out,” in a previous
ruling that delayed a proposed mute swan extermination campaign,
“the state of Maryland’s own experts have characterized the
‘bay-wide’ impact of mute swans as ‘negligible.’ The waste run-off
from chicken factory farms and the sewage treatment plants on
Chesapeake Bay kill dramatically more vegetation than the tiny
population of swans. Moreover,” Markarian said, “Maryland’s mute
swan population has been declining without lethal control–from
approximately 4,000 birds in 1999 to 3,600 in 2002, the last year
for which data is available.”