The image of the American west has always been one of scenic grasslands and deserts, complete with wild, free-roaming mustangs. Mustangs were seen as poetry in motion--the embodiment of untamed spirit. Now, they're considered a costly nuisance. Mustang numbers are up, and they are overgrazing and damaging vegetation, leading to malnutrition and starvation of the horses. Damage to native vegetation also results in increased soil erosion and lower water quality. How has the graceful, free-spirited mustang suddenly become a destructive, invasive species?
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) currently maintains a herd of around 33,000 wild horses and burros in 199 herd management areas. The population exceeds their targeted capacity of 27,300, which is based on the estimated carrying capacity of the land. The BLM reports that the herd can double in size every four years and now has more horses than they can handle.
To keep the population within reasonable numbers the BLM removes "excess" individuals and places them in short-term or long-term holding facilities. The horses in short-term holding are then adopted out or sold at auction. As of June 2008, the BLM had more than 30,000 horses and burros in holding facilities and the cost of the program is expected to exceed $26 million. The number of adoptions has dropped significantly from 5,701 in 2005 to 4,772 in 2007, and, with the increasing cost of fuel and feed, the number is expected to decline further.
Tom Gorey, Senior Public Affairs Specialist for the BLM, estimates the budget "will stay static at $37 million and will not be sufficient enough to cover the costs of the program in the future."
The Killing Option
The BLM, who was charged with protecting the mustangs in 1976, is now planning a euthanasia program to maintain the size of the mustang herds under their limited budget. Advocacy groups, such as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) are appalled at the possibility of a euthanasia program. Holly Hazard, the Chief Innovations Officer for the HSUS, speaks for the organization when she says "We are outraged that anyone would suggest the mismanagement of the [BLM's] herds be placed on the backs of the horses."
Hazard says, "The BLM needs to work together with the Humane Society, other organizations and the public." She believes that the BLM should work to enhance the image of these horses. "The public must know that they are adoptable...