Despite deteriorating conditions, wild horse activists take a victory
Wild horse activists chalked up another victory this month, with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco denying an appeal by the Nevada association of Counties and the Nevada Farm Bureau Federation, seeking a U.S. Bureau of Land Management roundup and sale of the over-populated herd that is damaging rangeland.
The decision upheld an earlier ruling by a federal judge in Reno. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver upheld a similar decision in Wyoming last October. The American Wild Horse Campaign and other animal rights groups argued that the courts have no authority to order BLM to gather horses.
"We're pleased that the courts continue to dismiss attempts by these grazing interests to use the judicial system to rewrite federal law that Congress designed to protect wild horses from capture, not to favor the livestock industry," Nick Lawton, a lawyer for the campaign, shared with the Associated Press.
Comments like this have set the stage, pitting producers against the acclaimed horse lovers, with possible alternative agendas.
Farm Bureau, asking for the sale of older horses deemed unadoptable, without the usual contract that prohibits the horses from being sold for slaughter, said the overpopulation "has severe impacts on the health of the horses as well as the ecological health and sustainability of Nevada's rangelands."
Despite set limits on animal numbers in the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971, which specifically says, "The Secretary (of Interior) shall cause additional excess wild free roaming horses and burros for which an adoption demand by qualified individuals does not exist to be destroyed in the most humane and cost efficient manner possible," the courts and BLM, can't seem to find an agreeable solution that looks at all angles.
Meanwhile, the population grows, and conditions deteriorate. BLM estimates that the population can double every four years without intervention. Last year, BLM estimated that 67,027 wild horses and burros roamed federal land in 10 states, 40,000 more than the agency says the range can sustain. Nevada is home to about half. In 2012, 8,000 horses and burros were removed, but budget cuts and activists have knocked that number down to less than half in recent years (3,320 in 2016). With over 45,000 wild horses in holding pens and pastures, over 60 percent of BLM's $78 million annual budget goes to feeding and care.
Last year, the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board raised the ire of Congressman Vern Buchanan (R-Florida), with discussion of euthanizing or selling, without conditions, up to 45,000 wild horses.
"It is disgraceful that the Board, whose purpose is to provide sound advice on the management of wild horses, would even consider euthanizing these horses as a plausible management technique," Buchanan wrote in a letter to BLM officials.
His acclaimed stance has gained the attention of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), who recently honored him as a "legislative leader" for his "support for outlawing horse slaughter, banning cosmetics testing on animals and protecting endangered species."
"Rep. Buchanan has been a forceful champion for animals again in 2016, as a lead sponsor of the SAFE Act to stop horse slaughter for human consumption and a sponsor of the AWARE Act to bring humane care standards to farm animals used in federal research," said Wayne Pacelle, HSUS CEO.