RENO — Federal land managers have announced plans for two more long-term holding facilities for wild horses, a move criticized by animal advocates who say it will leave more wild horses in permanent captivity than on the range.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is soliciting bids for the facilities that would together hold up to 6,000 wild horses because existing ones are full, agency spokeswoman JoLynn Worley said.
The new facilities also are needed because the BLM plans further roundups of excess horses that roam the open range in Nevada and nine other Western states, Worley said.
The agency offers the horses for adoption, but those too old or considered unadoptable are sent to long-term pasture facilities located primarily in the Midwest.
“Some of the current facilities hold a large number of horses and we need more space,” Worley said.
Horse defenders criticized the agency, saying the plans will lead to more horses in corrals than on the range.
The plans also violate the spirit of a 1971 law enacted by Congress to protect the animals, said Matt Rossell, Northwest coordinator of the San Rafael, Calif.-based animal-rights group In Defense of Animals.
“It’s tragic. It’s not the right solution,” Rossell said. “When Congress passed the act, it didn’t intend for wild horses to be stuck in these long-term facilities. We believe the BLM should look at ways to protect them in the wild and end the roundups.”
BLM officials estimate 36,000 wild horses and burros roam the range, 9,400 more than what they deem to be the “appropriate management level.” Off the range, nearly 32,000 of the animals are in either short- or long-term facilities.
Nevada is home to about half of the wild horses.
Karen Sussman, president of the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros based in Lantry, S.D., said she thinks major roundups in recent years may have already led to more horses in holding facilities than on the range.
Since 2001, more than 79,000 horses and burros have been removed from the range while more than 47,000 have been adopted, according to the BLM.
“What the BLM wants to do means the destruction of wild horses on public land,” Sussman said. “They should not remove one more horse from public lands because 75 percent of the herds out there right now have less than viable populations.”
BLM spokesman Tom Gorey said the 1971 act charges the agency with managing and protecting the living symbols of the Western spirit while ensuring that their numbers are in balance with other rangeland uses.
“To achieve this balance, the BLM must remove thousands of animals from the range each year to control the size of herds, which have virtually no predators and can double in population every four years,” he said in a statement.
BLM officials said last summer that one option for controlling the population was euthanasia. Horse advocates have urged the agency to step up birth control instead.
A recent Government Accountability Office report said the BLM this year will spend about $27 million caring for the animals. Continuing current practices would require a budget of $58 million next year, escalating to $77 million in 2012.
The report also noted that euthanasia, though unpalatable, is authorized under current law as a way to dispose of excess animals.
Last month, a House committee passed legislation that would prohibit the killing of healthy wild horses and burros to control their populations on federally managed lands.