The government wants to deal with the booming number of wild horses crowding the western range by sending the animals east.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar today unveiled his plan to control the rising environmental and monetary costs associated with wild horses and burros by moving tens of thousands of them onto new preserves in the Midwest and East.
"We must consider siting these preserves in areas outside of Western States because water and forage are extremely limited in the West, and drought and wildfire threaten both rangeland and animal health," Salazar said in a letter today to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
The government estimates there are 37,000 wild horses roaming the range in ten western states including Oregon, and the Bureau of Land Management keeps another 32,000 of the animals in enclosed pastures or small corrals.
The agency tries to adopt these horses out, but it said the recession has slowed adoptions, and holding and caring for those horses now costs the agency nearly $30 million a year.
In a conference call with reporters today, Salazar and BLM Director Bob Abbey said they think the BLM should own and operate two new wild horse preserves created by Congress.
Those would cost about $92 million to buy and build, Salazar said, but they would reduce the cost to taxpayers from wild horses in the long term.
"It also will be better for the horses," Salazar said.
The secretary said he also hoped to partner with private organizations to form five more preserves. In all, the seven preserves would hold about 25,000 horses.
The other part of the secretary's plan is to limit the reproduction rates of western herds.
"This will require the aggressive use of fertility control, active management of sex ratios on the range, and possibly the introduction of non-reproducing herds in some existing herd-management areas," Salazar wrote.
The agency has been under pressure from Congress and other quarters to control the escalating costs of managing the West's population of wild horses and burros.
Some lawmakers have proposed reversing a decades-old ban on selling the wild horses for slaughter, but Salazar said today Interior's plan did not include the slaughter of any horses or burros.
"The fact is that the American public has shown that it does not want to have slaughtering of these animals," he said.
The department's attention to wild horses has already won praise from some in Congress, including House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick J. Rahall (D-WV) and chairman Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) of the subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands .
"Years of attempts by BLM to shoehorn these magnificent animals into ever-shrinking territory has manufactured an overcrowding problem. Restoring horses and burros to the acreage from which they have been needlessly removed is critical," Rahall said in a statement. "However, if the agency wants to work with the Congress to find the acreage and the funding needed to relocate these animals to land east of the Mississippi River, I will work with my colleagues to explore these options."
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