Government’s New Tactic to Get Rid of Wild Horses: Call Them Strays

Wild Horses Saved by Lifesavers Wild Horse RescueThe Bureau of Land Management seems to have a new tactic in getting rid of the wild horses it doesn’t want to manage: just call them strays instead of mustangs. Jill Starr, president of Lifesavers Wild Horse Rescue, wants an investigation of how the BLM, the federal agency in charge of wild horses, decided a herd of 172 gathered near Wendover, NV, were really just abandoned pets. That allowed the BLM to sell them off at auction without the protections against going to slaughter that mustangs get.

If the horses were sold without restriction, they almost certainly went to slaughter in Mexico. While horse slaughter has effectively been banned in the U.S., so far in 2010 (as of Sept. 4) an amazing 32,987 horses have gone to slaughter in Mexico according to USDA data from Las Cruces, NM.

Lifesavers amazingly stepped in, figured out when they would be sold at auction (July 10), rounded up what they call a “wild horse army” and outbid the “killer buyers.” They bought 169 doomed horses. (Three others went to private, non-killer buyers.) The group certainly lived up to its name that day.

The BLM told the Reno Gazette Journal that they know the horses were “estrays” because they had cleared the land of wild horses in 1993.

“The BLM makes the majority of the decisions on estrays based on physical appearance and or brands on the animals as well as history of unauthorized horse activity in the area,” said Bryan Fuell, field manager of BLM’s Elko District Office. “Because of monitoring activities and grazing operator-furnished information, we generally know where estray or unauthorized horses are present.”

Lifesavers says it knows a handful of horses were set free in that area, but that most were probably just wild horses that migrated in.

The distinction is somewhat silly. The wild horse herds that roam America are all of somewhat dubious origin. What we do know is that horses originated in North America. The fossil evidence of them disappears about 10,000 to 15,000 years ago–around the time people show up. Of course, there could have been stragglers whose bones we haven’t found. Horses–descendants of the animals that started on this continent–were brought back by the Spaniards starting in the 1500s. The horse herds were those that somehow escaped or survived on their own after being set free, which could happen anytime someone on the plains died or was overwhelmed. And did happen a lot during the Depression.

Where to Go See Wild Horses

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