While an American Symbol of Hope is Renewed, A Living Symbol of the American West is Extinguished.
On this 4th of July, Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar officially reopens to the public the Statue of Liberty’s crown, a powerful symbol to the nation and the world of American ideals and hopes. Meanwhile, in the American West, his Bureau of Land Management is detailing plans for the extermination of a different but equally powerful symbol of the American spirit, the wild horse. While Secretary Salazar is "inviting the public to celebrate our great nation and the hope and opportunity it symbolizes", 33,000 wild horses are in holding pens, removed from Federal designated Wild Horse Territories, awaiting the completion of BLM plans to send them to a mass slaughter, without the proper consideration of viable and humane alternatives.
Information obtained by a Freedom of Information Act request by the Conquistador Group in Arizona has found that as Secretary Salazar stands before the Statue of Liberty in his white cowboy hat and speaks of the great American experience, he is also presiding over the formal plans to kill 33,000 wild horses and provide stress counseling for the BLM workers who carry out his orders. A quite different American experience.
Over 19 million acres of BLM Wild Horse Territories have been "zeroed out" of all wild horses, with several more million acres and hundreds of more horses targeted. The BLM has repeatedly claimed that the wild horses are responsible for the destruction of public lands through overgrazing, yet the impact of the less than 30,000 remaining wild horses on public lands are minimal compared to the approximately 400,000 head of cattle (a conservative estimate, based on the 600 million Animal Unit Months quoted by BLM Wild Horse & Burro Bureau Chief, Don Glen), that are on these same public lands, In addition, the BLM continues to ignore and invert the science behind horse vs cattle grazing and continues to claim horses have a more negative impact on grass conditions, even though cattle, unlike horses, do not have front teeth and actually pull out the grasses by the roots and have a much more adverse effect on range conditions. The ranching industry has long sought to obfuscate the science and the BLM has often been led by those sympathetic if not indeed part of that industry, much like Secretary Salazar, who hails from a ranching family in Colorado and who as a Senator voted to allow downed and diseased animals into the American families’ food supply.
A Viable and Humane Alternative
The humane slaughter of wild horses, a long-necked flight animal, is a difficult if not impossible task for the BLM’s employees, let alone for slaughterhouses designed and equipped for the slaughter of passive domestic bovines. Unbeknownst to most civilized Americans, the 2004 GAO Report on the Humane Slaughter Act of 1958 indicates slaughterhouses have a difficult enough time humanely slaughtering cows, with pneumatic bolt guns often ineffective in rendering them unconscious, leaving bovines conscious as they are suspended by a single hind leg for their terrifying journey down through the slaughter disassembly line.
A viable and humane alternative to the wholesale slaughter of the wild horses has existed for 20 years. Dartable Porcine Zona Pellucida (PZP) birth control was developed 20 years ago by Dr. Jay Kirkpatrick. The application of PZP to mares would control the birth rate within wild horse herds, with 90% efficacy per the BLM, whereas round-ups and removals actually result in doubling the birth rate through compensatory reproduction,
BLM claims that darting of wild horses is difficult seem preposterous, given the fact that lure trapping and darting have been in use by humans since they inhabited caves. The BLM has acknowledged PZP as a viable alternative through it’s inclusion as an option (mostly unused) in multiple Environmental Assessments, through their statement on the successful application of the 12 month form of PZP on the Assateague wild horses (among others) and through their current BLM policy, as of 7/1/09, on the trial use of the 22 month form of PZP on all wild horse that may be released from a gather.
With a well thought out management plan in place, utilizing the many available suitable options, the wild horses can be returned to the Wild Horse Territories, as originally intended by the 1971 Free Roaming Wild Horse and Burro Act, and save the American taxpayers the more than 39 million dollar per year cost of round-ups and holding pens fees.
An Obama Administation Legacy?
Horses have fought under our soldiers in wars from the Revolutionary War, for which we celebrate our Independence Day, through World War I. Horses have been instrumental in the settlement of the West, in both the settlement of the Spanish in the Southwest and in the western expansion of the American frontier, as they have pulled the wagons west, plowed our fields wherever we have settled, and yes even drove our cattle. Even as the horse helped western expansion, Native Americans adopted the horse and regarded them as one of their spiritual animals.
Will the mass killing of 33,000 wild horses, a living symbol that embodies the free spirit of the American West, be one of the great legacies of Obama Administration?