The US government has unveiled a plan to reduce the number of wild horses and burros (wild donkeys) on public ranges from 100,000 to 27,000 through methods such as sales, sterilisation and euthanasia.
The plan (PDF) was requested by US Congress and drafted by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), a government agency tasked with administering about 100 million hectares (247.3 million acres) of public lands, including protecting animal populations and resources.
BLM presented the plan on April 26 and said it aimed “to achieve long-term sustainable populations” of these wild animals and called for politicians to end the prohibition of sales of wild horses and to ease limits on euthanasia.
BLM estimated that there were 83,000 wild horses and burros in 10 western US states in 2017, more than three times the number of animals – 26,715 – that the agency believes the land can sustain.
The agency expects the number to jump to 100,000 by 2019.
The plan caused outrage among US advocates for wild animals. Suzanne Roy, executive director of the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC), called the plan “a roadmap for destruction of America’s wild free-roaming horse and burros by virtually eradicating their populations on our Western public lands” in a press release.
The release decried one version of the plan, which called for the “mass killing or sale for slaughter of 100,000 mustangs and burros, including those currently in holding facilities and those who would be removed from the range”.
AWHC said the BLM’s accepted number of wild horses was “unscientific” and “absurdly low”.
The group pointed to New Mexico, which has about 5.6 million hectares (14 million acres) of BLM-managed land but will have 83 wild horses, saying it is the equivalent of having three “horses in the entire state of Rhode Island.”
AWHC has long criticised BLM for its treatment of wild horses. Another point of contention for AWHC is the agency’s use of “roundups”, a technique that involves helicopters corralling the horses into traps so they can be kept in captivity.
BLM’s website said there were over 45,000 wild horses living under its care as of April 2018.
“BLM, the agency whose terrible mismanagement of this programme has brought us to this place, is now proposing more bad ideas, including mass roundup and slaughter to cover for their incompetence,” AWHC’s executive director said.
“The agency has failed to deliver the ‘humane and politically viable’ options” that Congress had requested, Roy concluded. AWHC will deliver a detailed reaction to BLM plans in the coming days, the group promised.
BLM acknowledged criticisms in its report, saying those “who speak out regarding the BLM’s wild horse and burro programme are generally interested in the well-being of the horses”.