- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 7, 2005

PALOMINO VALLEY, Nev. (AP) — They are revered as majestic, galloping icons of the American West — or reviled as starving, disfigured varmints that rob ranchers of their livelihood.

Wild horses and burros are stirring debate from Western rangelands to the halls of Congress. The reason: Dozens of horses were slaughtered legally in April.

Protections for the mustangs that might have prevented the slaughter were repealed in December, but now some in Congress are pushing a measure to reinstate those protections.

The bill has passed the House and is headed to the Senate.

The free-roaming palomino is “a beloved literary figure, a character in a movie or television show, a symbol of adventure, a friend of the cowboy and an important part of our history,” Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat, said during House debate on the bill.

Opponents say the measure is unnecessary because the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has taken steps to ensure no more of the nation’s 31,000 wild horses and burros are sent to slaughter.

The debate is the latest in a decades-old turf battle that’s literally about the turf — the grass that grows thick in wet years and disappears in drought.

Wild mustangs and burros, which roam free on federal land in 10 Western states, eat that grass for sustenance. But so do herds of livestock. The BLM believes 28,000 wild horses and burros can survive on the range without interfering with livestock grazing and other land uses.

To reach that target, the BLM has authority to capture excess wild horses and burros, offer them for private adoption and eventually sell them to private buyers. Under the old law, buyers were required to feed and house the animals for a year — a measure intended to weed out those looking to resell the horses.

But under the more recent law, passed in December at the urging of Sen. Conrad Burns, Montana Republican, the waiting period is removed. Without the waiting period, 41 horses recently ended up at an Illinois slaughterhouse.

This sort of slaughter is the target of the bill now moving through Congress that would re-impose the waiting period.

Supporters say the current population of wild horses and burros can be accommodated on Western land.

“They are grazing over 8 or 9 million cows on this land, and we are talking about 31,000 wild mustangs and burros,” said Rep. Edward Whitfield, Kentucky Republican, who is co-sponsoring the measure with Rep. Nick J. Rahall II, West Virginia Democrat. “We all like a good steak. … But we also have a responsibility to protect wild mustangs and burros who are native to this country, who have been protected in this country.”

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