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Wild horse backers push for protection

RENO — Legislation was introduced Thursday in Congress that would prevent the U.S. Bureau of Land Management from killing otherwise healthy wild horses and burros that roam Western states.

“It is unacceptable for wild horses to be slaughtered without any regard for the general health, well-being, and conservation of these iconic animals that embody the spirit of our American West,” Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.V., said in a statement.

Rahall, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, has long been an advocate for wild horses on public lands.

“Our wild horses are being harmed by antiquated policies,” said the measure’s co-sponsor Raul M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., chairman of the National Parks, Forests and Public Lands subcommittee. “These policies must be updated to reflect Americans’ desire to see these horses protected.”

Besides prohibiting the killing of healthy horses and burros that are removed from the range, the bill would allow BLM to revamp and expand public land areas for horses and assist in creating sanctuaries.

It also calls for strengthening the agency’s adoption program and increasing public involvement in management decisions, the sponsors said.

The BLM is struggling to manage some 33,000 wild horses and burros that roam 10 Western states under the protection of a 1971 law passed by Congress. Nevada is home to half the wild horse herds in the nation.

The agency has recommended the wild herd should be restricted to about 27,000 horses to protect the animals, the range and other foraging animals. The BLM rounds up excess horses and offers them for adoption. Those too old or considered unadoptable are sent to long-term holding facilities, where they can live for decades.

But agency officials say the cost of caring for the animals is ballooning, and there are now as many animals in holding facilities as there are running free.

According to a report issued last fall by the Government Accountability Office, the BLM “cannot afford to care for all the animals off the range, while at the same time manage wild horse and burro populations on the range.”

It said the BLM this year will spend about $27 million — about three-fourths of its horse and burro budget — caring for the animals. Continuing current practices would require a budget of $58 million next year, escalating to $77 million in 2012, according to GAO estimates.

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