RENO -- Wild horse protection advocates are accusing the federal Bureau of Land Management of stacking a public advisory board with friends of cattle ranchers, and warning that the panel is increasingly sympathetic to the idea of slaughtering excess animals in overpopulated herds on U.S. lands in the West.
BLM officials deny the charges and are fighting back in uncharacteristically strong terms, saying the activists are resorting to dishonest scare tactics to help push their "anti-management agenda by any means possible."
"Their apocalypse-now, sky-is-falling rhetoric is flagrantly dishonest and is clearly aimed at preventing the BLM from gathering horses from overpopulated herds on the range," BLM spokesman Tom Gorey said. "The BLM is not 'managing for extinction.' There is no conspiracy to put down healthy horses that are in off-the-range holding facilities."
Leaders of a coalition of more than 45 wild horse advocacy groups wrote to BLM Director Bob Abbey on Thursday to "object in the strongest of terms" to recent appointments to the nine-member Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board.
In one case, the agency rejected a request for reappointment from an Ohio woman who opposes the slaughter of horses and replaced her with a Colorado woman who believes that option has to be on the table, given the spiraling cost of housing horses and burros gathered from the range in 10 Western states.
"It is apparent that the BLM is stacking this citizen advisory board with representatives of special interests that stand to profit from the capture and slaughter of America's wild horses," wrote Suzanne Roy, director of the North Carolina-based American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign.
"Instead of releasing wild horses back to their legal homes, BLM seems to be setting the stage for a lethal solution," said Craig Downer, a wildlife ecologist for The Cloud Foundation based in Colorado Springs, Colo.
The horse advocates leveled similar criticism last year at a National Academy of Sciences committee BLM has commissioned to conduct a two-year review of the horse program.