- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Congress has inserted a provision in this year’s spending bill that would allow the slaughter of thousands of wild horses rounded up in Western states for sale in foreign meat markets.

The proposed new government policy is wise wildlife management, backers say. But the rule change has enraged activists dedicated to preserving the estimated 37,000 wild horses and burros still roaming free in the West.

“They are the animals that for centuries have fought beside us in battle, farmed with us and carried us into the West,” said Jerry Finch, director of Habitat for Horses in Hitchcock, Texas. “They have been beside us since the beginning of America.”

The sale and slaughter of the horses — some descended from those first brought here in the 16th century by Spanish conquistadors — would primarily benefit Western ranchers whose cattle share the water and pasture on public ranges with about 150 herds of horses and burros.

“Wild mustangs are an American icon,” Mr. Finch said. “They’ve been around for hundreds of years and they’re being pushed off the land by the oil, gas and cattle industries.”

Sen. Conrad Burns, Montana Republican and one of the authors of the proposed rules change, said the measure is “a step in the right direction.”

“We’ve got to get the number of animals down to appropriate management levels and keep them there, but do it in a way that doesn’t bankrupt us,” he said. It will give the Bureau of Land Management “another tool to help get this under control.”

Currently, wild horses penned in federal corrals can be sold, but only to owners who agree to care for them for one year — a stipulation that essentially eliminates slaughterhouses. The program costs more than $10 million per year.

“This program has had problems in the past, and we need to work to find new approaches that may help solve some of these problems,” Mr. Burns said. “I will continue to work to find solutions that will help this program function in the best way possible as we move forward.”

Under the proposed new rules, penned horses may be sold to anyone regardless of their intentions.

The horse meat would go primarily to restaurants and butchers in countries such as France, Belgium, Italy and Japan, where horse meat is a prized delicacy.

“My feeling is if you want to eat them, find your own to slaughter,” Mr. Finch said. “Don’t slaughter ours.”

He said he expects the new language to easily pass as part of the large spending bill that also resolves several other issues.

But Mr. Finch said horse lovers will continue fighting for the animals.

“The same way we don’t eat our dogs and cats, we shouldn’t eat our horses,” he said.

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