Sunday, December 6, 2009
Dozens of wild horse advocates plan to go before a federal advisory panel here on Monday to try to persuade public land managers to change their plan to relocate thousands of free-roaming mustangs from the West to preserves elsewhere
By MARTIN GRIFFITH
Associated Press Writer
SPARKS, Nev. —
Dozens of wild horse advocates plan to go before a federal advisory panel here on Monday to try to persuade public land managers to change their plan to relocate thousands of free-roaming mustangs from the West to preserves elsewhere.
They plan to press the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board for alternatives to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's plan to move about 25,000 mustangs to preserves and pastures in the Midwest and East. They insist the plan is based on faulty government data that exaggerates the damage the horses do to the range, as well as the extent to which they are suffering from a lack of forage.
Horse defenders have stepped up their efforts in recent weeks, suing to block a proposed roundup of 2,700 horses in northern Nevada and lining up the support of celebrities such as Sheryl Crow, Lily Tomlin, Bill Maher and Ed Harris.
Crow took her concerns directly to Salazar in a telephone call this past week.
"One of the first things he said was something must be done because the horses are starving. We (advocates) don't believe it," Crow said in an interview with The Associated Press.
"Part of the problem is the information he's getting is skewed," she said. "My main concern is that the horse numbers not be dwindled down to the point where they can become extinct. I think he's very concerned about it as well."
Salazar made no commitment on ending the roundups, but he pledged efforts to have a horse advocate appointed to the national advisory board, which has been less than supportive of the cause in the past, she said.
"I'll still be pulling and working for an end to roundups," said Crow, who has adopted a mustang herself.
Ginger Kathrens, executive director of the horse advocacy group Cloud Foundation based in Colorado Springs, Colo., said advocates believe the BLM's figure of 37,000 horses in the wild is grossly inflated.
Kathrens said their own analysis indicates there may be only 15,000 horses on the range, and she fears herds will no longer be healthy and genetically viable if too many horses are removed.
She's calling for an independent audit to determine the actual number of mustangs both in the wild and in holding facilities.
"I don't think there's anywhere near the horses they're saying," said Kathrens, an Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker.
BLM spokesman Tom Gorey said a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office last year found his agency was undercounting mustangs.
"There's no evidence for the (advocates') position. It's mere speculation," Gorey said. "We're certainly open to refining our counting techniques, but there's no indication an outside audit is needed."
Gorey said his agency removes horses before they become starving as part of its "pro-active management on the range."
"The fact that there would be horses not in emaciated conditions is not surprising," he said. "We're not going to manage them in a way so they can get to that point."
BLM officials said they plan to remove 11,500 wild horses and burros from the range throughout the West over each of the next three years because booming numbers of the animals are damaging the range.
The agency has set a target "appropriate management level" of 26,600 of the animals in the wild, about 10,000 below the current level. An additional 32,000 of them are cared for in government-funded holding facilities.
Madeleine Pickens, wife of billionaire Texas energy magnate T. Boone Pickens, questioned the wisdom of gathering more horses at a time when holding facilities are full. She opposes relocating them far from their natural habitat.
"This proposed gather schedule threatens the very survival of the remaining horse herds in the Western United States and must be stopped," she said.
Critics argue that the real motivation for ongoing roundups of the mustangs - and Salazar's proposal to ship thousands to preserves in the Midwest and East - is pressure from ranchers who don't like the horses competing with their cattle for food.
Salazar has said his plan unveiled last month would avoid the slaughter of some of the 69,000 wild horses and burros under federal control to halt the soaring costs of maintaining them.
The animals are managed by the BLM and protected under a 1971 law enacted by Congress. Soaring numbers of horses and costs to manage them - expected to jump from $36 million last year to at least $85 million by 2012 - have prompted Salazar to propose a new approach.
BLM wild horse and burro program: http://tinyurl.com/3rb6r7
Cloud Foundation: http://www.thecloudfoundation.org