A sensible editorial in yesterday's Casper Star-Tribune, pasted below, explains why the proposed creation of a private wild horse refuge, while well-intended, just doesn't deal with the underlying problem. But you can bet papers on the East and West coasts, as disconnected as they are from the reality of such things, will be gushing over this "Pickens plan" even more than they gushed over the other one.
Public lands policy must be dictated by realism and rationality, not romanticism and emotionalism. But when and where nature and animals are concerned, the former fly out the window and the eco-emos (see responses below) rule.
Proposed horse refuge won't solve problems
Star-Tribune Editorial Board
It sounds like a solution to a costly federal problem: a privately financed wild horse refuge that will be home to excess animals from the Western range. A place where thousands of wild horses can live out their remaining days in relative peace.
But while it's commendable that Madeline Pickens, the wife of oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens, wants to foot the bill for a million-acre sanctuary, everyone needs to realize that her effort alone is not the answer.
The issue poses a public relations nightmare for the Bureau of Land Management, the agency in charge of wild horses and burros in 10 Western states, including Wyoming. The animals are protected under a 1971 law enacted by Congress, but as a last resort the BLM has the authority to kill or sell excess horses without restriction from slaughter.This week the agency considered euthanizing some of the wild horses, but fearing a huge public outcry, it decided to delay taking such action. Instead, it will reduce roundups and shuffle its budget to get through the current fiscal year.
It was a safe move politically, but eventually the agency will have to deal directly with the problem. Here's why:The BLM rounds up wild horses from herds that have grown too large to be sustained by the available forage, and makes them available for adoption by the public. But adoptions have significantly waned in recent years.Meanwhile, there are about 33,000 wild horses on public rangelands -- 4,500 in Wyoming -- and the BLM wants to cut the total to 27,000 so the herds can survive.
Another 30,000 wild horses and burros are now kept, at a huge cost, in short-term and long-term holding facilities across the country. A BLM facility at Rock Springs has a capacity of 600 animals. This year the agency will spend about $27 million -- about three-fourths of its wild horse and burro budget -- just to care for the animals. Some of the horses may spend 20 or more years in captivity. The Government Accountability Office estimated last week that continuing current practices would require a budget of $58 million next year, and up to $77 million in 2012.
Pickens says she loves seeing wild horses on the range and considers them part of our national heritage. So do many Americans who aren't as rich as her. Are they willing to adopt them so they won't be killed? The million acres Pickens wants to buy for her refuge may sound like a lot, but it won't begin to be enough to handle all of the animals now being held, the 6,000 the BLM needs to cull from the current herds, and future excess animals. Pickens says she will never turn down an animal, but at some point the refuge -- if it becomes a reality -- will simply run out of room.
The agency can't stall the inevitable. Americans need to understand that unless people agree to support the program and adopt more wild horses than ever before, logic and budget realities dictate that the BLM will be forced to sell some of the animals for humane slaughter. The public education process should begin now, so people will know precisely what's at stake and why.