The U.S. government announced Wednesday that it has no plans to euthanize over 45,000 wild horses, most of which are being held in corrals in California and Nevada. The clarification comes just days after a recommendation by the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) consider euthanizing the unadopted horses in its holding facilities triggered widespread outrage.
“[The bureau] will continue its current policy of caring for unadopted or unsold wild horses and burros” and will “not sell or send any animals to slaughter,” Tom Gorey, a spokesman for the BLM, told Reuters in an emailed statement.
The recommendation by the advisory board, originally made last Friday, came under immediate, and severe criticism, with several animal rights activists arguing that the government was responsible for the animals’ well-being since it had captured them.
“The decision of the BLM advisory board to recommend the destruction of the 45,000 wild horses currently in holding facilities is a complete abdication of responsibility for their care. The agency would not be in this situation but for their long-term mis-management. Alternatives to this proposal have been ignored for over 20 years. The HSUS stands ready to implement these alternatives at any time,” Holly Hazard, the Humane Society of the United States’ senior vice president of programs and innovations, said in a statement released last Friday.
According to the BLM, as of March 1, 2016, there were over 67,000 on-range wild horses and burros in the U.S. West, including over 34,500 in Nevada and more than 8,300 in California. This marks a 15 percent increase over the 2015 estimate of just over 58,100.
Over the past two decades, in order to prevent overgrazing and to free up land for cattle, the BLM has been steadily moving the horses and burros to off-range holding facilities, from where they can be adopted. However, feeding and caring for these animals is an expensive proposition, one on which the BLM spent $49 million in 2015 — 46 percent of the bureau’s entire budget for its wild horses and burros program.
According to the Humane Society, the expenditure incurred by the BLM on paying private contractors for the upkeep of these shelters has prevented the bureau from treating the horses remaining on-range with any form of fertility control to limit population growth, leading to massive overcrowding.