RENO - Wild horse activists are criticizing U.S. Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey's plans to attend a Las Vegas conference held by groups that support slaughter of the animals for human consumption.
Advocates think it's inappropriate for Abbey on Tuesday to address groups that seek to profit from horse slaughter, said Ginger Kathrens, director of the horse advocacy group Cloud Foundation based in Colorado.
United Horsemen, a Wyoming-based nonprofit pushing for a plant in that state where horses could be slaughtered for human consumption, is organizing the summit to be held Monday through Thursday at the South Point Hotel, Casino & Spa.
"The BLM's significant participation in this slaughter summit is truly troubling," Kathrens said. "The BLM needs to change course and begin listening to the American people who are calling for the protection and preservation of our wild herds, not to those who would profit from their flesh."
BLM spokeswoman Celia Boddington in Washington, D.C., said Abbey has an obligation to talk to all sides of the issue because of the agency's multiple use mandate for public lands. She noted he has talked many times to horse advocates.
"Since he has become BLM director, Bob has emphasized outreach to all different groups on this issue," she told The Associated Press on Sunday. "It's simply inappropriate for one side to say whom the BLM should be talking to. Everybody has a place at the table."
Sue Wallis, of United Horsemen, a Wyoming state lawmaker and rancher, said the purpose of the summit is to find solutions to deal with excess numbers of horses on federal, state, tribal and private lands.
The BLM alone manages 38,365 wild horses and burros in 10 western states. Another nearly 38,000 are in holding facilities in Kansas, Oklahoma and South Dakota.
"We are United States citizens like everyone else and we have a right to have our government officials come and tell us their plans for managing the land and the animals that our lives depend on," Wallis said Sunday.
Groups attending the conference hope to convince Abbey to change his mind and support slaughter as a way to dealing with excess numbers of horses on federal land, she said.
In 2008, the BLM said it was considering euthanasia as a way to control herd sizes and stem escalating costs of keeping animals gathered from the open range. But a public outcry prompted the agency to later drop the proposal.
Boddington said Abbey and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar remain firmly opposed to euthanasia.
"It's off the table. What Bob has heard from the public is that euthanasia is not acceptable," she said.
The U.S. slaughter industry for horses was shut down in 2007 with a congressional ban on spending federal money to pay for inspectors of horse carcasses.
The Las Vegas summit is expected to draw government officials, sportsmen, wildlife advocates, tribal officials, ranchers and horse experts from across the country.
Attendees are concerned about the soaring cost of maintaining horses rounded up from federal land and the growing number of domestic horses abandoned on private, state and tribal lands, Wallis said.
"What the federal government is doing is setting up a welfare entitlement program for horses and we think it's ridiculous," Wallis said. "We want horse processing to come back to the U.S. so we can oversee it and ensure it's done properly."