- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 2, 2004

Fifty-four years ago on a highway in Nevada, Velma B. Johnston was driving behind a truck when she noticed blood dripping out of the back. She followed the truck and discovered that it was packed with severely injured wild horses that had been collected by the federal government in a roundup. The horses were being taken to a slaughterhouse. Thus began a long crusade to protect the wild horses for Velma, later nicknamed “Wild Horse Annie.” With passage of the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act in 1971, she and the American public had protected them from being hauled off to slaughter — or so we thought.

Last week an amendment was slipped into the massive federal appropriations bill, HR 4818, at the last minute by Sen. Conrad Burns, Montana Republican, which undermines the law by permitting so-called “excess” horses and burros to be sold at auction “without limitation.” Killer buyers, slaughterhouse middlemen, frequent these auctions to purchase animals for slaughter at one of the three remaining foreign-owned plants in the United States. The equines are transported and killed under appalling conditions and their flesh is sent overseas to be served in fancy restaurants.

In recent interviews defending his action, Mr. Burns claimed this rider is a way to save the federal government millions of dollars. Wild horses shouldn’t have to pay for their protection by sacrificing their lives. There are less cruel alternatives that could save the government money. For example, population stabilization through chemosterilization could be implemented.

The Burns amendment 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. The BLM, whose original mission was to assist in the removal of wild horses from public lands, has continued to promote cattle-grazing over the protection of wild horses in their natural habitat notwithstanding the mandate in the 1971 wild-horse law. Despite evidence to the contrary, wild horses are blamed for habitat destruction, water contamination and any other problem the BLM comes up with as a reason to remove them.

The wild horse is a symbol of America itself. As the opening paragraph of the law says, “Congress finds and declares that wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West; that they contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people; and that these horses and burros are fast disappearing from the American scene.” Thirty years later the wild horse is again facing the cruelty witnessed by Wild Horse Annie despite public and congressional intent.

Our best hope for protecting wild horses remains with passage of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (AHSPA), currently pending in Congress. The AHSPA would undo the terrible injustice about to be inflicted on wild horses. A majority of Congress has cosponsored the measure, but has failed to enact it yet. The bill would stop the butchery of all horses, both wild and domestic, for sale abroad for human consumption. There is still time to pass the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act this Congress and the American public should demand it.

Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain was prophetic when he declared the appropriations process a “broken system” as a result of special projects being inserted at the last minute without congressional debate or public oversight. He further wondered aloud: “How many other provisions didn’t we find?”

We are only now learning what some of those special projects are. Another amendment will weaken the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) and will remove 94 “non-native” migrating species — including certain species of storks, pelicans, cranes, swans, cardinals and orioles — from the list of birds currently protected by the MBTA.

Congress has delayed a final vote on HR 4818 until Dec.6. Please let your congressman know of your opposition to the Burns Amendment and other anti-animal measures in the bill. This assault on wildlife is intolerable.

Christopher J. Heyde, a former Republican senatorial staffer and Army veteran, is currently a policy analyst with the Society for Animal Protective Legislation.

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