The Bureau of Land Management chief says his agency opposes the slaughter… (Alan Berner, Associated…)
Reporting from Las Vegas — Slaughtering wild horses for food isn't a viable option for thinning herds that have strained public lands throughout the West, the federal Bureau of Land Management director told supporters of horse processing plants Tuesday.
Instead, the agency plans to give mares birth control in hopes of diminishing the need for controversial horse roundups, Bob Abbey said at the Summit of the Horse conference in Las Vegas. The BLM, he said, also will continue promoting adoption and seeking locations to place captured horses other than its holding pens.
"Make no mistake, they deserve to be treated the best way that we can treat them," Abbey told dozens of people who support the opening of a horse processing plant in Wyoming.
Horse trainer Dave Duquette, the president of conference sponsor United Horsemen, dismissed the BLM's view as shortsighted and a waste of government dollars.
"What's palatable to public opinion and what needs to happen are two different things," he said after Abbey's hourlong appearance.
In a sign of how touchy the long-running debate has become, Abbey's presence at what critics called the "horse slaughter summit" incensed activists who laud the animals as icons of the American West.
The BLM, said Abbey, is obliged to talk to various stakeholders in the debate, including those suspicious of the agency, which they regard as an ineffective landlord of federal lands.
With virtually no natural predators, about 38,000 wild horses and burros have been galloping across 10 Western states — thousands more than the land can handle, the BLM said. Most are scattered across Nevada, where Abbey was formerly the agency's state director.
For years, the BLM has run "horse gathers," in which tens of thousands of animals have been captured and transferred to holding areas — a labor-intensive and costly process. Wyoming rancher Sue Wallis, United Horsemen's vice president, has derided the effort as a "welfare entitlement program for horses."
Some horses have been adopted, though that number has dwindled because of the economy, Abbey said. In 2008, the BLM considered euthanasia as a possible remedy, but later backed off amid public outrage. Wild-horse advocates found the prospect of slaughtering horses for food equally offensive.
Those who "wish to profit from the butchering of America's horses must find another way to earn a living," said Suzanne Roy of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign in a statement.