New law legalizes sale of wild horses, burros for slaughter
WASHINGTON – Wild horses and burros could be bought or sold for slaughter under a provision in the $388 billion spending bill that President Bush signed into law on Wednesday.
The new law lets the animals be sold, potentially for use as meat in foreign markets, if they are more than 10 years old or, if younger, after they have been offered unsuccessfully for adoption three times. It also requires any money from sales to go to the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management adoption program for wild horses and burros.
Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., who sponsored the amendment to the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, said he believed most horses would wind up being adopted, not slaughtered, but his intent was to spur the BLM to get serious about its adoption program.
“These animals live in poor conditions that often lead to their deaths, and without proper management this will continue to happen,” Burns said Wednesday.
“And while their sale is a last resort, it is our hope that bringing this problem to light will motivate the federal agencies and horse advocates alike, and offer new opportunities to find these animals proper, caring homes,” he said.
BLM spokeswoman Celia Boddington said the new law had not yet been analyzed by officials there to see how they will comply with it. “Since 1973, we have placed 203,000 animals in good homes, and we’re looking forward to continuing our adoptions with the public,” she said.
Advocates of wild horses described Burns’ provision as inhumane, misguided and likely to reduce the genetic pool.
“There’s going to be less individuals and more chances of inbreeding,” said Karen A. Sussman, president of the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros in Lantry, S.D. “Right now there really is little to no inbreeding in herds.”
Sussman, who manages three wild horse herds, said cattle, not wild horses, are the main culprit in overgrazing of public lands. She called the 10-year-old cutoff for adoptions arbitrary and unnecessary.
Thousands of the wild animals, mostly horses, have been sent to slaughterhouses, sold for a profit and processed as meat mainly for Europeans. But since 1997, that illegal trade has been reduced by making adopters sign an affidavit they don’t plan to sell an adopted animal for slaughter.
Government corrals and sanctuaries around the country hold more than 20,000 wild horses and burros. Another 32,290 wild horses and 4,845 wild burros roam among herd management areas on public lands in 10 Western states: Nevada, Wyoming, California, Oregon, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana and New Mexico.
To save money, the BLM hopes to trim the animals in management areas to 26,000 by 2006.