Sunday, July 27, 2008

Let's "re-wild" West Virginia

There are too many wild horses roaming the Western range, an adoption program isn't working well enough and a proposal to thin the herd through euthanasia has animal lovers in an emotional stampede. But there is a solution. Let’s ship our surplus wild horses to West Virginia, where they've found a champion in U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall.

Rahall, a Democrat who chairs the powerful House Natural Resources Committee, has no wild horse problem in his home state -- at least not yet -- but he's helping to create one out here, by repeatedly using his high position to block the Bureau of Land Management from pursuing any solution that animal groups oppose. He several years ago helped end the sale of horses to slaughterhouses, forcing the BLM to keep growing numbers of them penned up in what amount to federally-managed feed lots -- which isn't exactly humane, either -- but the feed lots are overflowing, the range is being ravaged, and the runaway emotions of animal cultists make reasoned debate impossible. BLM recently raised the possibility of euthanasia, which set off the predictable outcry, and Rahall again stepped in, to meddle in BLM's effort to responsibly manage the herd.

"It is a sad state of affairs when we have to fight to prevent the possible euthanasia of thousands of American horses," Rahall has said. "We have a responsibility to preserve these icons of the American West for future generations."

No one's against "preserving" them (despite the fact that they are, technically speaking, an invasive species). But they're proliferating like rats and have to be responsibly managed, in order to mitigate their impacts on the public lands.

If Rahall and his constituents in West Virginia have such a soft spot for wild horses, and if they know better than we Westerners do how to manage them, they should have no problem turning our surplus horses loose in their own backyards. West Virginia, with its lush forests and fertile farmland, would seem ideal mustang habitat -- far better than the sparse and scrubby landscape of the arid Southwest. And when West Virginia's wild horse population grows unmanageable, we could reintroduce surplus reintroduced wolves from the West -- we're trying to cope with that problem, too. And if that doesn't work, we've also got federally-protected grizzly bears we could share with West Virginia.

How Rahall's constituents will react to the re-wilding of West Virginia is unknown. I can only assume, given Rahall's long-distance enthusiasm for re-wilding the West, that they'll be supportive. The newer, wilder West Virginia might even become a tourist draw, diversifying a state economy now largely sustained by strip-mining and congressional pork projects. Now only a Sunday drive away, Washingtonians can experience first-hand the bizarre and unmanageable menagerie their long-distance meddling has created here in the West.

And maybe, just maybe, they'll be shocked and chastened by what they see.

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