RENO (AP) - Wild horse advocates say they have no recourse but the courts after federal land managers rejected their request for an immediate moratorium on mustang roundups.
The Bureau of Land Management plans to remove more than 30,000 horses from Western rangelands over the next three years to deal with soaring numbers of the animals and costs to manage them.
The Equine Welfare Alliance, which represents more than 60 organizations, is considering its legal options after the BLM rejected its request to halt the roundups, said John Holland, its president.
The Chicago-based coalition opposes Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's proposal to move thousands of mustangs to preserves in the Midwest and East to protect horse herds and the rangelands that support them. 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 rising costs of maintaining them.
"The BLM continues to say wild horses are overrunning the range, but they have no scientific evidence," Holland said. "We're going to file everything we can afford to, with what resources we can gather."
BLM spokesman Tom Gorey said his agency thinks there's scientific evidence to justify the removal of 11,500 of the animals from the range over each of the next three years.
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 corrals and pastures.
"We're confident that our scientific analysis stands up to scrutiny," Gorey said. "The herd sizes double every four years, so it's untenable to suggest we do a moratorium."
The Equine Welfare Alliance has questioned the BLM's horse numbers and said there was no evidence justifying removal of the romantic symbols of the American West.
Holland said horse advocates now are considering legal action to block certain individual planned roundups, including one targeting 2,500 mustangs near Gerlach in northern Nevada. Nevada is home to about half of the horses in the wild.
"It's very difficult to go after a program like this, and the BLM knows it," Holland said. "You have to go after it piecemeal."
The roundups are coming at a time when there are almost as many wild horses in holding pens than on the range.
The BLM has completely eliminated some herds and left remaining herds genetically unviable as a result of reduced numbers and mares that were given birth control, Holland said.
"The roundups will eliminate the wild herd," he said. "I think they underestimate the feeling of the American people about this wild heritage."
Gorey said some horse advocates' claims that the BLM is trying to "exterminate" the animals is "pure propaganda."
The agency is merely trying to bring horse numbers down to protect rangelands for the mustangs, native wildlife and other resources, he said.
There were 25,000 of the animals on the range in 1971, when a federal law protecting them was passed by Congress.
Salazar's proposal will be considered at a Dec. 7 meeting in nearby Sparks of the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board.
Costs to manage the animals that are expected to jump from $36 million last year to $85 million by 2012 have prompted Salazar to propose his new approach.
The seven preserves would hold about 25,000 horses. Many of the horses remaining on the range would be neutered and reproduction in Western herds would be strictly limited.
On the Net:
Equine Welfare Alliance: http://www.equinewelfarealliance.org
BLM wild horse and burro program: http://tinyurl.com/3rb6r7