Wild Horses: Euthanasia, Changes to Adoption Policy Considered

Bonnie Matton, president of the Wild Horse Preservation League, wasn't happy when the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced that it might consider euthanasia as a means to manage wild horse herds, but she wasn't surprised, either.

"They're between a rock and a hard place," said Matton, whose Dayton, Nev. nonprofit group advocates on behalf of wild horse issues. "These herds need management, but it's expensive and the BLM's budget can't keep up."

BLM Deputy Director Henri Bisson presented the euthanasia option during the June 30 meeting of the Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board in Reno, Nev., as one solution to cope with increasing herds and a shrinking budget.

"We have tried to sell only to people willing to make a long-term commitment. That may change." --Tom Gorey, BLM spokesman
According to BLM spokesman Tom Gorey, wild horse herds double every four years. There are currently 33,000 wild horses on the range, mostly in Nevada. Range managers say an acceptable level would be 27,300. Meanwhile 30,000 horses reside in long or short-term holding facilities, depending upon their age and adoption potential.

"Three-quarters of our budget goes for holding facilities," Gorey explained. "We contract with private ranchers to maintain the horses."

Last year, the BLM spent $22 million of its $39-million budget on holding facilities. Next year's costs for maintaining horses at holding facilities are projected to account for $26 million of the agency's total $37 million budget.

The agency has long had the legal option to euthanize for management purposes, Gorey said, but has been reluctant to exercise it. Instead, it relied on adoptions to reduce herds. But, thanks to the high costs of fuel and feed, adoptions are on the downslide. In 2007 4,700 wild horses were adopted into private homes, a slide from the 5,700 adopted in 2005.

To encourage adoptions, Gorey said the agency might amend its current adoption policy.

"We've always had the right to sell without limitation to anyone," he said, "but we have tried to sell only to people willing to make a long-term commitment. That may change."

Beyond that, Gorey said, the BLM has few options.

"There is no fertility control method we could use effectively, and if we don't manage the herd population, there will be negative environmental impact on forage and on wildlife," he said.

A decision on the euthanasia option is expected in September. Meanwhile, the agency is soliciting public opinion on the issue on its Web site, www.blm.gov, and via phone, 800/710-7597.

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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