There are a lot of problems we deal with that don’t have straightforward solutions. We can seek advice from trusted friends and family, go to a counselor, or use other means to try to make the best decisions we can.
But when the problem is colossal and involves states and government and hundreds of animals? Finding a solution that satisfies everyone becomes much more difficult.
Wild horses are a symbol of freedom and strength, and there are plenty of horse lovers out there who find nothing more serene and heartening than watching a herd of horses tear across the Earth.
But horses eat. A lot. And they reproduce. While they may not be as prolific as rabbits, it doesn’t take long for the headcount to double. Without any natural predators, wild horses are likely to use up all the available resources and then live in horrible conditions unless someone steps in.
This fall, someone is stepping in. In the first roundup from public land in over a decade, horses from Modoc National Forest in Northeast California will be rounded up and offered for sale.
The Devil’s Garden Plateau Wild Horse Territory contains about 250,000 acres — a lot of land for horses to roam. The problem is that there are almost 4,000 horses on land that can offer long-term support for around 400 maximum.
“This plan designates an appropriate management level of 206-402 adult wild horses,” the USDA Forest Service website stated in an update from June 5. “There are currently an estimated 3,900 on and around the territory.”
Ten times the number of animals on that land means there’s not enough resources for the horses, let alone the other animals they share the space with.
“Wild horse herds on public lands can grow quickly, doubling in size in four years and tripling in six years if not managed,” read a post on the Bureau of Land Management website from July 2. “Since receiving Federal protection in 1971, the nationwide wild horse and burro population has soared to nearly 82,000 animals, more than three times the number that can survive long-term along with wildlife and other uses of the land.”
“In addition, there are no long-lasting fertility-control methods that can effectively control growth in most herds.” Several methods have been used, but are either time-consuming and too expensive or have been condemned by some groups as “cruel and dangerous.”
“As conditions permit, the Modoc National Forest plans to begin the gather and removal of approximately 1,000 wild horses from the Devil’s Garden Plateau Wild Horse Territory on Oct. 9, 2018. Gather operations are expected to run through all of October,” stated a post on the USDA Forest Service website.
“This action is prescribed by the 2013 Devil’s Garden Plateau Wild Horse Territory Management Plan to help address impacts on aquatic resources, wildlife, grazing and traditional cultural practices. Reducing the population will allow range and riparian ecological conditions to recover, while also supporting wild horse herd health by reducing competition for limited food, water and habitat.”
“Most gathered horses are expected to be under 10 years old and will be available for adoption at the BLM Litchfield Corrals. The Devil’s Garden offers colorful and stout horses that can be trained for any number of uses.”
There are plenty of people who have adopted wild horses and have no regrets, but obviously not everyone is equipped to provide for a horse. They’re an expensive investment.
Some groups, like the American Wild Horse Campaign, are deeply concerned that the government is playing loose and fast with the rules, and are worried that this scheduled roundup will result in hundreds of horses being carted off to slaughter.
“For years, Congress has banned the sale of federally-protected wild horses and burros for commercial slaughter, but the Forest Service is exploiting a legal loophole to sell an estimated 300 wild horses “without restriction,” allowing kill buyers to purchase a truckload of 36 horses once a week until they are gone,” their website states. These horses could sell for as little as a dollar apiece, according to the AWHC.
“The kill buyers will then ship the horses to Canada, where they will be sold to slaughter plants to produce horsemeat for foreign consumption.”
Until we can find a way to curb wild horse populations ethically, this issue doesn’t seem to have an end in sight.
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