RENO -- A House leader has come out against a federal proposal to euthanize wild horses and asked a federal agency to delay a decision on the animals' fate.
Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, urged the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to refrain from action until after the scheduled September release of a General Accountability Office report on the agency's management of wild horses.
The BLM's National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board in September is scheduled to consider alternatives to deal with horses' surplus numbers, including the euthanasia proposal.
Agency officials have said they're faced with tough choices because wild horses have overpopulated public lands in the West and they no longer can afford to care for the number of animals that have been rounded up.
"The BLM can, and should, do a better job with its entire wild horse and burro program, and should wait for the GAO to come forth with its report this fall before moving forward with a decision that will have a permanent effect on the lives of these creatures," Rahall said.
The agency, which had hoped to reach a decision by Sept. 30, has no exact timetable for one, spokeswoman Celia Boddington said Friday.
"We won't make a decision until we've discussed this issue fully with Chairman Rahall and humane groups," Boddington said.
The agency is considering different options such as efforts to step up birth control, but has not made any decisions yet, she added.
The 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act gives the agency the authority to euthanize and sell wild horses if necessary.
Ranchers have said euthanasia might be necessary to keep horse numbers in check. Ranchers view the horses as competition for forage.
There are an estimated 33,000 wild horses in 10 Western states. About half of those are in Nevada.
The agency has set a target "appropriate management level" of horses at 27,000. About another 30,000 horses are in holding facilities, where most are made available for adoption.
Last year, about $22 million of the horse program's $39 million budget was spent on holding horses in agency pens. Next year the costs are projected to grow to $26 million with an overall budget that is being trimmed to $37 million.