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Wild horses and burros overpopulating the West

Thu., Oct. 8, 2009

Interior proposal includes preserves, sterilization

WASHINGTON – The government plans to aggressively sterilize wild horses and transplant thousands to new public preserves in the Midwest and East as a solution to the nearly 40-year-old problem of how to manage the exploding numbers of wild horses in the West, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Wednesday.

“We have a huge problem – out-of- control populations of wild horses and burros on our public lands,” Salazar told reporters. “The problem has been growing and simmering over time, and it’s time for us to do something about it that protects the horses, the public lands and the taxpayers.”

With no natural predators remaining in their habitat, the wild horses and burros that roam federal land in 10 Western states have been thriving, growing from 25,000 in 1971 to 69,000 today. They compete with other wildlife and with cattle for food and water and have been blamed for damaging their surroundings.

The Bureau of Land Management says the range can support about 26,600 wild horses and burros. But today the herds total about 37,000 – a difference of 10,400.

Salazar is proposing the federal government spend about $96 million to buy land in the Midwest and East to create two preserves that could each support 3,600 horses. It is unclear exactly where the land would be located. The annual operating and maintenance costs would be about $1.7 million, according to the bureau.

He said he envisions that the preserves would be open to the public and that tourists would visit them to see the horses. He offered few details about how that would work.

The government intends to seek nonprofit organizations and other private partners to create another five preserves, so that a total of 25,000 animals would be living on preserves by 2014. All the animals would be sterilized or segregated by sex so they would not reproduce.

At the same time, the government would seek to sterilize or control the reproduction of enough animals on the range so that the birthrate is 3,500 foals a year. That would equal the adoption rate of the wild horses and burros, resulting in no net growth of the wild herd.

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