Monday, December 21, 2009

President's Editorial

Putnam photo
Animal Rights Groups Attempt to Block Mustang Management
Editoral by Frank Priestley, Idaho Farm Bureau President

Pocatello--Rangelands in several states are overcrowded with feral horses and the Bureau of Land Management is taking appropriate steps to move the animals to pastures and holding facilities in the Midwest.

The BLM plans to gather about 10,000 of the estimated 36,600 mustangs living on western rangelands and transport them to long-term holding corrals where they will be later offered for adoption. The BLM currently holds about as many horses in captivity as are living in the wild, which cost taxpayers nearly $30 million in 2009, about 70 percent of the total wild horse and burro program budget.

Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar told the Associated Press recently that the current program is not sustainable for the animals, the environment or the taxpayers.

Salazar is right. Free-roaming horse populations double every four to five years and they have no natural predators, according to the BLM. In addition, mustangs compete with native wildlife for food and water. However, in spite of overwhelming evidence supporting more aggressive management, the California-based animal rights group In Defense of Animals has filed a lawsuit in federal court to block the plan to gather and relocate the mustangs. The lawsuit is supported by Nevada Author Terry Farley, singers Willie Nelson and Sheryl Crow, and actor Ed Harris. They claim using helicopters to gather horses creates undue stress, the roundups violate the Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act, passed by Congress in 1971, and if the BLM continues there will be no horses left to preserve.

These arguments are hogwash and the federal judge should give this lawsuit a quick dismissal. BLM’s wild horse experts estimate western ranges can sustain 26,000 mustangs. With populations that can double in four years, we have a hard time imagining a scenario that could wipe out the population.

With regard to using helicopters for gathering, it’s really the only effective method. Even expert riders on fast horses are not capable of capturing the numbers of mustangs needed for effective management. One of the goals of the program is to capture mustangs that are adoptable, which means animals less than four years old. It would take an army of exceptional horses and riders to gather 10,000 mustangs. Helicopters are much more efficient.

In our estimation the lawsuit hangs on whether the plaintiffs can convince the judge that gathering mustangs violates the Act. If the judge rules it does, the Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act should be modified to allow roundup and relocation. These animals must be managed in order to protect western rangelands and wildlife and to create a management scenario in which taxpayers’ dollars are managed efficiently.

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