BLM talk of killing wild horses coincides with efforts to restart horse slaughter

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2008:


RENO–The September 2008 meeting of the
National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board may
discuss killing unadopted wild horses, Bureau of
Land Management deputy director Henri Bisson
disclosed to Associated Press on June 30.
“There are an estimated 33,000 wild
horses in 10 Western states,” assessed
Associated Press writer Martin Griffith. “About
half of those are in Nevada. The agency has set
the target appropriate management level for wild
horses at 27,000. About 30,000 horses are in
holding facilities.
“Last year,” Griffith continued, “about
$22 million of the BLM horse program’s $39
million budget was spent on holding horses in
agency pens. Next year the costs are projected
to grow to $26 million within an overall budget
that is being trimmed to $37 million.”

A final decision about applying a “final
solution” to impounded wild horses may have been
delayed by critical words from House Natural
Resources Committee chair Nick Rahall (D-West
Virginia). “The BLM can, and should, do a
better job with its entire wild horse and burro
program,” Rahall cautioned, “and should wait
for the General Accounting Office to come forth
[with a review of the BLM equine program due in
September 2008] before moving forward with a
decision that will have a permanent effect on the
lives of these creatures.”
“We won’t make a decision until we’ve
discussed this issue fully with Chairman Rahall
and humane groups,” responded BLM spokesperson
Celia Boddington. “We want to take all our
stakeholders’ concerns into consideration.”
Public opinion tends to favor wild horses
just as much now as when the 1971 Wild
Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act ended roundups
of wild horses for sale directly to slaughter and
put the BLM into the horse capture and adoption
But foes of wild horses tend to have
disproportionate clout in the relatively sparsely
populated western states where wild horses thrive.
Ranchers want fewer horses competing with
cattle for grass and water on leased BLM land,
though the numbers of wild horses at large right
now is just a fraction of the estimated four
million cattle who share the BLM leaseholds.
Would-be bighorn sheep hunters blame wild
horses, in part, for the continuing scarcity of
bighorns to shoot, despite decades of
reintroduction effort.
Conservationists opposed to “non-native”
species insist wild horses are “invasive,”
though horses evolved in North America, thrived
in North America for millions of years, and had
been absent only since the most recent ice age,
a blink in equine history, when brought back by
Spanish conquistadores circa 500 years ago.
The 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and
Burros Act prevents killing wild horses on the
range, but the BLM adoption program has rarely
if ever adopted out more horses in a year than it
collects in the name of herd management, even
when many horses were covertly sold to slaughter.
The last three horse slaughterhouses in
the U.S. closed in 2007, due to a combination of
enforcement of 1949 Texas legislation against
selling horsemeat for human consumption that shut
down plants in Fort Worth and Kaufman, Texas; a
new Illinois state law prohibiting horse
slaughter for human consumption, that closed
Cavel International in DeKalb, Illinois; and a
Washington D.C. federal district court ruling
that the inspection arrangements that had kept
the slaughterhouses open violated the National
Environmental Policy Act.
Cavel International, whose five-year-old
horse slaughterhouse in DeKalb was the last one
operating, in June 2008 ran out of legal
appeals, after the U.S. Supreme Court declined
to hear arguments against the Illinois law.
Horses may still be rendered for animal
consumption, but the higher prices paid for
horses who will be slaughtered for human
consumption are now accessible only if the horses
are trucked to slaughter in Mexico and Canada.
Horse exports to Mexico more than quintupled in
2007, from circa 7,500 to more than 46,000,
while exports to Canada increased 75%, but
rising fuel costs have made exporting horses to
slaughter less profitable in 2008.
Wild horse advocates quickly heard in BLM
deputy director Bisson’s words an echo of the
arguments made from other directions for
reopening the horse slaughterhouses.
The common refrain from horse breeders,
the horse racing industry, and other horse users
is that there are too many horses; horses are
too costly to keep in difficult economic times;
trucking horses to Mexico and Canada is expensive
and inhumane; and not allowing horses to be sold
to slaughter leads to mass neglect and
Mary Zeiss Stange, a professor at
Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York,
recited the whole litany in an August 14, 2008
guest column for USA Today–and pointed out that
“There are, to begin with, too many horses in
the U.S.: 9.2 million as recently as 2005, up
from 5.3 million in 1999. Indiscriminate
breeding leads not just to too many horses,”
Stange wrote, “but also to too many with
physical or behavioral faults that render them
unsuitable for domestic uses.”
Selling horses to slaughter helps horse
breeders and speculators to recoup their
investment in breeding or buying horses for whom
there is no other demand–and thereby helps to
perpetuate speculative breeding and acquisition,
in hopes of hitting the jackpot with the rare
big-winning racehorse or show horse who obtains
five-, six-, or even seven-figure breeding fees
from other speculators.
The ANIMAL PEOPLE files indicate that
cases of severe neglect of multiple horses have
come to light about five times per month, on
average, throughout the past several years. The
only major change involving horse neglect over
the 25 years that ANIMAL PEOPLE has collected
data on mass neglect cases is that the percentage
of cases involving low-end commercial
speculators in horseflesh has declined, while
the number involving self-styled rescuers has
increased. Both types of case typically involve
individuals who gather inexpensive or free
cast-off horses, anticipating revenue from
resales or from adoption fees and donations that
does not materialize.
Both for-profit speculators and
unrealistic “rescuers” tend to acquire and
neglect more horses when economic slumps cause
more people to dump horses to cut personal
The proposal to kill wild horses “goes
hand in hand with this administrations’s quest to
rid the public lands of wild horses,” charged
International Society for the Protection of
Mustangs and Burros president Karen Sussman in an
e-mail to ANIMAL PEOPLE. “They have rounded up
more than 30,000 animals and they are continuing
to round up,” which makes more habitat available
for those who remain at large to fill. “There is
no overpopulation,” Sussman emphasized.
Counting horses who have already been
sold, adopted out, or died in custody, the BLM
has removed about 75,000 horses in all from the
western range since 2001.
By the BLM’s own estimates, there are
fewer wild horses at large now–actually, about
half as many–than at any time since the 1971
Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act took
effect. And some wild horse advocates argue that
the BLM estimates are more than twice too high.
Meanwhile, the campaign to resume horse
slaughter in the U.S. brought the paradox of
horse slaughter advocates helping to publicize
exposés of cruelty at the Mexican and Canadian
slaughterhouses, even as Toronto human rights
attorney Clayton Ruby and the Canadian Horse
Defense Coalition cited some of the same material
at a June 18, 2008 news conference called to
seek a horse slaughter ban in Canada.

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