Shara Rutberg's article "Do you want fries with that
mustang?" does not provide a workable solution to preventing
long-term damage to the rangeland ecosystem from wild horse
overgrazing (HCN, 4/04/05: Do you want fries with that mustang?).
The Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act protects wild horses so there will always be a place for them on public land. However, it is now clear that wild horses are damaging rangeland: There are currently more than 36,000 wild horses and burros on public lands with a capacity for only 26,400 animals.
Although the Bureau of Land Management has placed more than 203,000 horses for adoption over the past 34 years, the adoption program is unable to keep up with the natural growth of their numbers. Some 24,000 unadoptable animals are kept in long-term holding facilities until they die of natural causes. Excess wild horses that are not adopted or do not find a place in a long-term holding facility have to be left on federal rangeland, where their grazing causes long-term damage.
Currently, the BLM spends more than $16 million each year to care for excess unadoptable animals, approximately $675 for each animal. The public should not have to provide lifelong "room and board" for unadoptable animals.
A new approach is needed. The Burns amendment to the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Protection Act is a reasonable solution. It authorizes the sale of excess animals if they are more than 10 years of age or have been offered unsuccessfully for adoption at least three times.
There are simply not enough people interested in adopting these animals. Selling excess wild horses is abhorrent to many people, but we are out of other real options.
Board, Public Lands Foundation
Mount Vernon, Washington