The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is in charge of allocating and spending tax payers’ dollars to feed and house wild horses and burros. The BLM also governs the population of horses, keeping the numbers at bay in order to control the amount of land and resources the horses occupy. Part of this process means gathering up excess horses for adoption.
Unfortunately, approximately 25% of the surplus horses don’t end up finding a home, as there aren’t enough sanctuaries to house them. Instead, these horses end up in holding facilities owned by the BLM. There are usually around 5,000 horses living in a BLM holding facility at any given time, which is inhumane for such large animals that are used to living freely.
Slaughtering horses is illegal in the U.S., and Congress has provided written confirmation of this in past budget bills, preventing the sale of these horses for slaughter. However, Trump’s budget proposed a “solution” to the environmental issues and population problems regarding wild horses: using “humane euthanasia and unrestricted sale of certain excess animals.” In my opinion, “humane euthanasia” is an oxymoron; humane implies kindness and ethics, whereas euthanasia, in this case, would mean mass murder of wild horses.
Sadly, this concept is not unheard of. An alarming 56% of dogs and 71% of cats that enter animal shelters end up euthanized. According to American Humane, in 2008 alone approximately 3.7 million animals were euthanized in animal shelters across the nation. This is generally seen by animal rights organizations including PETA as a humane practice, though I personally question the ethics surrounding it.
Even some wild horses have been euthanized in the past. The 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act permits the interior secretary to euthanize any horses that are too old, unhealthy, and unadoptable. However, for the past three decades, Congress has made a conscious effort to prohibit healthy animals from being slaughtered or euthanized and didn’t permit any “sale that results in their destruction for processing into commercial products.”
Although there are no horse slaughterhouses in the U.S., they still exist in different parts of the world, including Canada and Mexico, which slaughter tens of thousands of domestic American horses annually. Despite the “strict laws” in the U.S. against slaughtering wild horses, it still occurs.
For example, in November 2015, a Colorado rancher was caught selling the 1,794 mustangs he purchased from the government to slaughterhouses in Mexico.
Nevertheless, this new proposal will change the status quo for the wild horse population in the U.S., but it won’t be passed without criticism.
How Trump’s Budget Will Affect Wild Horses
The BLM currently spends around $50 million annually on wild horses, and Trump’s proposal is estimated to save $10 million per year. Though this seems like a vast sum, it’s far less than what the BLM spends on other livestock and land endeavours. Less than 20% of the land managed by the BLM is allocated for the horses (around 12%); the rest of it is used for privately owned livestock grazing.
The primary issues at hand relate to resources and land. Conservationists and federal officials have reported that the land the horses have been living on has been deteriorating over the years, which is why Trump proposed euthanasia or selling the horses, regardless of the buyer’s intent, in the first place. Wouldn’t just giving the horses more land be a more humane solution? This could easily be done if the BLM simply decreased the share of land used for animal agriculture.
The biggest cost associated with the wild horses is actually dealing with the excess horses and transporting them. Former BLM Director Neil Kornze stated that it costs around $50 million to capture and move every 10,000 horses, and the entire program only gets $80.4m of the BLM’s budget to begin with. Well, fewer horses would have to be captured if they had more land to live on.
Animal rights activists and experts have suggested alternative, more sustainable methods of controlling the wild horse population, including fertility management/animal birth control and federal grazing program reforms.
“This budget proposal is an example of lazy government,” Laura Leigh, Founder of Wild Horse Education, explained. “This is simply one more gift to the livestock industry.”
Let’s keep in mind that livestock covers a shocking 45% of the Earth’s total land, so instead of attacking the horses, perhaps the government should focus on imposing stricter laws surrounding animal agriculture. However, the government has deep ties to the meat and dairy industries, so it’s unsurprising that Trump is delaying the inevitable.
There are so many factors when it comes to animal population control. Do we have the right to remove or kill animals and play “God,” so to speak, because we feel we’re protecting the environment and other species? We need to learn how to live in peace with these creatures and the environment.
Regardless of your personal opinions on euthanasia and animal population control, it’s clear that, in this situation, there are plenty of other, more sustainable and humane options to deal with the issues surrounding the wild horse population. Additionally, livestock wouldn’t occupy so much space if we simply switched to more plant-based diets, giving more room for other animals to roam freely.
If you’re interested in learning how you can make a difference, you can visit some of the wild horse sanctuaries’ websites such as Return to Freedom, or you could take a look at some of the petitions on change.org, like this one that hopes to end the wild horse roundup and slaughter.
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