Mane and Tail

Relax, Internet, the Government Isn’t Killing Any Horses

We’ll see them someday. Photo: Rick Loomis/LA Times via Getty Images

If you have a Facebook account you’ve probably already heard: Last week, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) voted to kill 44,000 of the country’s 67,000 wild horses to make room for cattle ranching. Horrible, right?

Fortunately, it’s simply not true. There are way more than 67,000 wild horses, and no government body has plans to kill any of them — at least not the healthy ones.

This whole killing-large-numbers-of-wild-horses thing is not just a run-of-the-mill internet hoax. An influential advisory board — the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board — did put forward a recommendation to the Bureau of Land Management to do just that. However, the agency has no inclination to follow that recommendation.

If you are shocked that a board called the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board would suggest killing thousands of wild horses and burros, then you probably have the wrong idea about the board, and wild horses in general.

You’re probably picturing stallions freely galloping across the boundless American plane. Not so. The 44,000 horses and donkeys the recommendation was talking about are actually in captivity. Wild, yes, but not free.

The BLM is the steward of a massive project to capture wild horses and donkeys and keep them in special government paddocks and corrals.

Wild horse and donkey populations are booming. It’s not that anyone wanted to kill 44,000 out of a population of only 67,000. It’s that there are are more than 45,000 animals currently living in the horsey equivalent of government housing, and a full 67,000 still running free on federal land in the West. That many horses leads to overgrazing, and yes, cuts into the ability of ranchers to raise beef cattle on public lands. According to BLM, the population is 2.5 times larger than what it would need to be to “thrive in balance with other public land resources and uses” — and in California it is a whopping 3.8 times too large. As it stands, the wild horse population grows by around 15 percent a year.

The government program to corral all of those horses has become extraordinarily costly — around $49 million a year. In 2012, holding wild horses and donkeys ate up 60 percent of the bureau’s entire budget.

As it stands the government rents many of the horses under its care and even puts some of them on birth control. What experts say really needs to happen to get the population under control is not mass killing, but a chemistry breakthrough. As it stands, there just aren’t any good long-term birth-control options for horses.

In that context it at least makes a little bit more sense why people in the know would start itching to off some of those horses.

If anyone at the Bureau of Land Management actually was considering taking the advice of the board — and they say emphatically that they were not — they certainly won’t do so now.

Public outcry over the proposed plan was swift and loud. An online petition quickly reached 169,061 signatories and is still growing despite no one actually planning on killing any horses. And, the Humane Society of the United States went full-PETA, even pulling out the Holocaust analogies and calling the idea “a sort of Final Solution.”

The Humane Society still says that it isn’t fully convinced by the BLM’s statement, and won’t be until a decision not to kill the animals is put in writing and submitted to the board. That should take a few weeks, so watch your animal-loving friends’ Facebook posts for updates.

Relax, Internet, the Government Isn’t Killing Any Horses