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The Wild Ones

The next roundup of wild horses in Nevada will not necessarily be the last for those roaming mustangs. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management finally has decided to abandon the controversial mass-adoption element of its wild-horse program, which all too often meant a one-way trip to the slaughter house for the animals.

The bureau has arranged to place several thousand horses in each of two sanctuaries being established in South Dakota. This will help take grazing pressure off the public range in Nevada and reduce by about 50% the cost to the government of feeding the unwanted mustangs for indefinite periods. Within sight now is the bureau’s goal of thinning the ranks of wild horses on the Nevada range to a manageable level of about 18,000.

In the 1970s Congress ordered a halt to the routine killing of wild horses, and the Bureau of Land Management launched its adopt-a-horse program under which a family could take possession of a pony for a $125 fee. Understandably, adopters opted for younger, healthier mustangs. Aging horses remained in corrals to be fed at a cost of $2 a day or more. To reduce their numbers, the BLM waived the fee to persons willing to take 25 or more horses at a time. Through manipulation of the system, some entrepreneurs were able to obtain title to hundreds of horses that then became destined for slaughter.

The bureau winked at the practice, pretending ignorance of the horses’ likely fate. But the system was challenged in court by animal-rights groups and exposed in detail by The Times’ Ronald B. Taylor in an article last February.

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An argument can be made for the humane disposal of aged and sickly range horses that no one wants. There is a provision in the law for this course, but public and congressional sentiment rejects the idea. The mass-adoption program was essentially the same thing operating under the pretense that the horses would be cared for humanely. The problem of the wild-horse herds still has not been solved, but at least the Bureau of Land Management has ended a transparent sham.


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