One thing both political sides agree on is that Donald Trump was elected with a mandate to “Drain the Swamp” and eliminate pay for play legislation. In a jaw dropping reversal of roles, the undue influence that lobbying has on our republican representatives is on full display. The House Appropriations Committee just approved the extermination of almost 67,000 wild horses.
Liberal democrats are the ones typically assumed to have the crazy left-field notions. Republicans are likewise considered the staunch defenders of everything conservative and status quo. The blurring of party lines caused by RINO (Republican in name only) defectors that say they are on one side but vote the other, leaves us skeptical and wary of nearly everyone in Washington. One group of Republican lawmakers showed us which side of the swamp they are on this week and, like Ricky Ricardo would say, “they got some ‘splainin’ to do.” For many years every time the constitutional protection of wild horses is put to the test, 80 percent of Americans side with the horses.
In 1850 nearly two million horses roamed free across the vast frontier west of the Mississippi. As pioneers spread across the newly opened range, bringing their sheep and cows with them, the wild mustangs were viewed as nothing but competition for food. Those that were not put into service as transport were rounded up for slaughter.
A century of persistent action to remove the unwanted equines took a toll. By the 1950s the population of free-roaming horses had dropped to a mere 25 thousand. Hounded to exhaustion and off cliffs by airplanes and poisoned at water holes, early animal rights activists took up their defense. Throughout the decade of the 1950s, Wild Horse Annie successfully lobbied for laws preventing the inhumane capture and killing of wild horses. Dwight Eisenhower signed a bill protecting wild horses and burros on public land in 1959. A lot of holes remained in the laws until federal protection was granted to all free-roaming horses with the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971.
In 1973, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) started the Adopt-A-Horse initiative allowing anyone who can show the animals a good home to take up to four. Title stayed with the government. Changes allowed the owners to gain title after a year of demonstrated adequate care. Through 2001, adoption was the number one way of reducing feral horse numbers. At one point the restriction on numbers was eased to allow large scale adoptions, but in 2005 it was learned horses were being slaughtered. The laws were changed again but the BLM was warned it was facing a serious dilemma.
In the past twenty years, herd numbers have been rising while adoption numbers falling and the friction between ranchers and activists made the controversy smolder up again. Last week it burst into flames.
The House Appropriations Committee approved an amendment that would eliminate the congressional protections specifically preventing the killing of burros and wild horses. At the same time, Ryan Zinke, Secretary of the Interior, wants to end the ban on selling horses to be slaughtered as food in Mexico and Canada. In a move that has everybody flabbergasted, Zinke also wants to cut funding for the “only scientifically recommended, humane tool available to manage wild horse herds,” contraception.
Debate on the issue did not come up until the end of a long day of hearings and when it did come up, most members didn’t want to discuss it. “First let me say I hate this issue and I think everybody here hates this issue,” said Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nevada, who supported the amendment. “The reality is we have a problem. We have to face it and we have to deal with it. You think you’re being kind to horses? You’re not. Letting them starve out on the range? Nobody’s adopting these things, these horses. Not very many people anyway.”
Even though millions of cows freely go wherever they please on public lands, in what is called, “a questionable claim,” BLM says wild horses are damaging the grazing land. Cows graze eight times as much area as horses do and eat fifty-five times the food.
One humane and cost effective way to manage the excess population of horses is contraceptives injected by dart gun. A small team can easily manage a large herd in the wild, without having to round them up first. That in itself is cheaper than the current method of rounding them up for adoption. The round-ups often use helicopters which scare and injure the horses but anything is better than selling them to slaughterhouses or simply shooting them.