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Wild horses’ fate to be decided in US House
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Wild horses’ fate to be decided in US House

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ELKO – Wild horses of the West, including populations in Nevada, could face euthanasia if an amendment to the Department of Interior’s appropriations bill passes the U.S. House and Senate.

That is an issue that U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., brought to the Elko County Commissioners on Wednesday. He also suggested an alternative.

The House Appropriations Committee approved in mid-July the reversal of longstanding law that has prohibited the euthanasia of wild horses and burros. The bill and amendment will first go to the House, where the 435 elected officials will debate — and likely further amend — the language.

The issue arises now, Amodei said, partly because the price of controlling wild horse populations to help protect the public range is on track to reach $1 billion in 10 years. Those funds come from the federal budget now under review.

“I understand the attachment to an icon of the American West. I do,” Amodei said. “That still doesn’t change the responsibility to the resource.”

The Bureau of Land Management monitors the wild horse population in Nevada in 83 areas on 15.6 million acres. Because the animals have no natural predators and are protected from hunting, their numbers double every four to five years, according to the BLM. Overpopulation can stress the ecosystem; therefore, the agency employs population control measures including relocation, adoption, sales, limited birth control, and select euthanasia for the sick, lame or old.

Public affairs officers for the Nevada BLM were available for comment as of press time.

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Through the discussion destined for the House floor, Amodei said he hopes to reintroduce the idea of using birth control on wild horses rather than resorting to euthanasia.

Commissioner Demar Dahl agreed. “To me, and I think to a lot of people,” he said, “it’s repugnant to euthanize a resource.”

The National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board, when visiting Elko in September 2016, recommended the BLM follow the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, which has a provision for euthanizing in the most humane manner possible animals deemed unsuitable for sale.

The amendment prompted this statement from the California-based nonprofit, Return to Freedom Wild Horse Conservation:

“As Americans, we hold a special place in our hearts for the descendants of horses and burros that helped build our country. Once again, we must stand up and let our senators know that we expect thoughtful leadership — not needless killing. In the days ahead, Return to Freedom will continue working with the Senate to advance humane alternatives that wild horses and burros, these living symbols of our freedom, deserve.”

The commissioners asked about the effectiveness of birth control on wild horses, which might have to be physically administered statewide to every mare every year. Even if implemented, Amodei said, the process would take a long time on bands of horses already exceeding the BLM’s appropriate management level. He said more study is required.

“I’m telling you, if we don’t get behind birth control as a tool,” Amodei said, “the only stuff that’s left is euthanasia.”

He encouraged the commissioners to think of and propose alternatives that would avoid the euthanasia of wild horses but help manage the public ranges of the Great Basin.

“At the end of the day, you’d hope the objective is to get us back in some sort of balance with all the species and different uses that are using that ecosystem,” he said. “Right now — and I think this is the strongest thing you can say: It ain’t working, and it ain’t getting better. And I don’t care whether you’re a cow person, an energy person, a horse person, a big game outfitter — a whatever — you can’t sit there and look someone in the eye and say this ecosystem is working pretty well. It’s not.”

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