Saturday, May 23, 2009

I-Team: Progress Made on Wild Horse Plan

The Bureau of Land Management's perpetually-troubled wild horse program has struck a deal with the bureau's most vocal critics. This fall, wild horse advocates working with the BLM will stage a nationwide wild horse adoption event to help relieve overcrowding inside government corrals, where more than 33,000 mustangs are warehoused.

Years of accelerated roundups on the ranges and an adoption program that has fallen far short of its goals have combined into a perfect storm of bad news for wild horses. So many horses are packed into government corrals that pressure is building on the BLM to take radical action.

The bureau says it can't afford to feed more than 30,000 mustangs in captivity, so it has floated an idea that might otherwise be unthinkable -- a final solution for the horse problem -- mass euthanizations.

BLM's national office knows what a PR nightmare it would create if it ever started shooting or poisoning mustangs in captivity, so the bureau has taken the bold step of partnering with the same wild horse advocates who have been its harshest critics. BLM and leading animal welfare groups have agreed to host a first-of-its kind event -- a national wild horse adoption day, the brainchild of longtime horse advocate Jerry Reynoldson.

"This plan will entail approximately 60 adoptions across the country at existing sites, satellite adoptions," he said.

The target date is a two week window around September 26, 2009. The goal is to find homes for 1,000 wild horses in one swoop, which is more than half of the number BLM adopts out in an entire year.

The BLM officials in the northern Nevada state office have displayed such hostility to wild horse groups that the national office decided to essentially bypass them as part of the adoption, though there will be a small adoption event locally.

After fighting the Nevada office for so long, Reynoldson is glad to be on the same page with the national BLM. "I think they recognize that something needed to be done to augment the adoption program in general and help move these horses out. If you look at these specific project we are doing, are budget is around $300,000. For 1,000 horses, for them to keep them for a year is $1.8 million," he said.

But it's not just a one-time event. Its backers hope the adoption day will serve as a permanent model for how to incorporate private marketing expertise into a government program. "These horses, they are standing there, head to butt, end to end, in countless different places with an uncertain future, and it's been that way for many years now. Some of them have been there for two to three years," he said.

BLM is also considering an even bolder plan for eliminating the backlog -- a proposal by philanthropist Madeleine Pickens to create a 1,000,000 acre sanctuary in northern Nevada.

BLM has said it doesn't have the statutory authority to transfer public grazing land over to the sanctuary. Reynoldson, a point man for Pickens plan, says that even though BLM has expressed doubts about the plan in public, it's been supportive in private.

"Finally, when someone spoke from the BLM, the response was, ‘No, we have nothing else Mrs. Pickens. You are the only game in town and we need to work with you,'" he said.

The Pickens plan would save BLM some $800 million over the next 12 years and would be much better for the horses while also providing an economic boost to rural Nevada. Pickens thinks it offers BLM a way out of a painful situation.

"I don't think they hate the wild horses, I think they hate the wild horse issue because they've created a nest and they can't live in it," she said. "I said, ‘I'm not here to be divisive but you don't need to have this ugly baby around your neck forever.'"

More than half of all the wild horses in the country roam the ranges of Nevada, but as mentioned, the Nevada office will play only a minimal role in the adoption day event.

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