FORT WORTH, Texas — Federal wild horse managers this week rebuffed a call from a citizens advisory board to sell or euthanize thousands of animals removed from Western ranges.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management issued a statement at Director Neil Kornze's request saying that the agency will continue to care for and attempt to adopt out the 45,000 horses and burros it has gathered from public lands.
"The BLM does not and will not euthanize healthy animals," the agency's online statement reads.
The move follows a public backlash against the government-appointed National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board's recommendation earlier this month to humanely kill or sell any unadoptable animals with no restrictions against slaughter.
That recommendation followed the committee's tour of an overgrazed and ecologically barren stretch of horse habitat in northern Nevada. Committee members said they understood that it might be politically impossible to euthanize horses but they wanted to sound an alarm about the environmental destruction.
The government captures some free-roaming horses and burros when range managers determine their herds have grown well beyond what the land can support. Across 10 Western states the BLM manages for a goal of 26,000 but at last count had nearly 70,000 in the wild.
In recent years managers have had to slow the pace of roundups because so many horses and burros are in captivity and unadopted. The government estimates that each one of the 45,000 will cost taxpayers $50,000 over its lifetime.
Horse advocates have pointed to a report by a National Academy of Sciences panel questioning the BLM's counting methods in the wild. They have accused the agency of over counting in an effort to remove more and appease cattle ranchers whose livestock compete for forages.
That agency, though, says it now incorporates the NAS recommendations for extra flights, more spotters and a neutral statistical analysis.
The advisory board includes citizen representatives, veterinarians and livestock producers appointed at the cabinet level and meets twice a year. A member representing wild horse advocates cast the only vote against euthanasia.
BLM officials typically do not respond to board recommendations until the next committee meeting, but they wanted it clear that the suggestion to euthanize is not an idea coming from the agency itself.
That won't change during this administration, said Gus Warr, who leads BLM's horse program in Utah. Even if it did, a congressional budget rider each year forbids killing or selling horses into slaughter.
"We appreciate this recommendation," Warr said, "but (the answer is) no."
Warr was in Fort Worth for the 10th anniversary Extreme Mustang Makeover competition, which the Mustang Heritage Foundation sponsors as a way to encourage wild horse adoptions.
Meanwhile, horse managers estimate that the population in the wild grows by up to a fifth every year.
The Humane Society of the United States issued a statement supporting the agency's response but said it's time to retool the program.
"The Wild Horse and Burro Program is a sinking ship," the animal-rights group said.
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