- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 11, 2004

Christopher J. Heyde’s article “Home on the Range” (Dec. 3) was written in concern for the safety and welfare of wild horses. He says a federal appropriations bill amendment sponsored by Sen. Conrad Burns, Montana Republican, “has dealt a devastating blow to a program whose enforcement agency, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), has never embraced a concern for the suffering of wild horses.”

Because I have had the pleasure of discussing wild horse issues with Mr. Heyde, I must say he has once again omitted a few pertinent facts. I will agree the BLM’s wild horse program has not been a model of rangeland management but this is not due to uncaring agency personnel.

Let us consider how wild horse advocacy groups have spent their time and efforts to block any effective management of the largest “unmanaged” species roaming our Western landscape. These horses have become “pawns” in the political arena of the West where many organizations only wish to see the cattlemen and sheepmen eliminated from public lands. Virtually all BLM’s attempted management plans are challenged by litigation that slows the proceeding. While these tactics wind their way through our court system (often for many years), the horses continue breeding, foaling, and overgrazing lands perhaps already overgrazed by excess numbers.

Often, the crisis of excess numbers and overgrazed lands creates a scenario of horses dying of starvation or thirst. This creates a hysterical outcry from animal advocacy groups, who then raise money from concerned citizens. These donations allow for the salaries and travel expenses for these “concerned” advocates to continue opposing the BLM and to prevent “the suffering of wild horses.” (Do we see a vicious circle here?) Many would be unemployed if the crisis ever stopped and work with great dedication for their job security.

One group’s mission to save wild horses succeeded so well the organization moved to Hawaii. It seems beach living helps with the stress of raising funds to fight for wild horses in Nevada.

Mr. Heyde harkens back to Velma “Wild Horse Annie” Johnston’s crusade 50 years ago to save the wild horse. But that mission has now gone awry. I was told recently by people who were close to Annie that, “She would roll over in her grave if she saw the conditions under which the wild horse now has to live.” She was a practical woman whose good work has been desecrated by others with a totally different agenda. Her mission was to improve the life of the horse.

Many organizations have worked to keep the wild horses on public lands that cannot support their numbers. Now, a much needed amendment will allow the BLM to sell at auction all wildhorses over 10 years old and those that have been offered at three adoptions. These animals do not have to go to slaughter as Mr. Heyde would have you believe.

I wish to remind him the auction yards will also accept bids from organizations and citizens who wish to provide a suitable home for the horses. Many of these horses will cost less than $100. This is cheaper than the minimum $125 folks must pay at a BLM adoption site.

The BLM’s short-term cost to provide for these excess wild horses is about $18 million to $20 million dollars yearly. The private sector can provide better care and management for about $4 million per year. The Burns amendment simply offers the public a choice.

MERLE EDSALL

Harrison, Mont.

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