Utah Bid to Takeover Management of Wild Horses Dies in the Senate

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Photo by Kimerlee Curyl Photography

Update (March 12, 2016): The Utah legislative session has ended and H.C. R. 22, the  resolution aimed at state takeover of management of federally-protected wild horses, has died.  It passed the House but did not even come up for a vote in the Senate. The bill has been filed under "House bills that did not pass." Although the resolution was non-binding, it could have given fuel to the efforts of several Utah Congressmen to pass federal legislation to allow states to manage federally-protected wild horse and burro news. Don't expect this setback to stop anti-mustang state legislators from advancing their plan to manage our cherished wild horses and burros as a "protein resource" to be "harvested" (slaughtered). The issue is sure to resurface during the next legislative session in Utah, and potentially at the federal level as well. 

(March 8, 2017) A war is being waged over the future of our public lands, and America’s wild horses and burros are caught in the crossfire. Leading the charge for state control of federal lands, Utah legislators have developed a two-prong strategy to take over management of the nation’s wild horse and burro herds with little regard to long-established federal law.

Central to this battle in Utah is two beliefs – that the Bureau of Land Management (BML) is not controlling wild horses on public range lands and that wild horses can play a vital role in alleviating world hunger… Yes, you read that right…world hunger!

Last month, Rep. Ken Ivory (R-West Jordan) introduced H.C.R. 22 to the House Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environmental Quality Committee.  The resolution demands that the federal government either "control" wild horse herd population growth or repeal the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971 and “grant authority and resources to the states” to manage wild horses and burros in their jurisdiction.  Additionally, it insists that all means under the Act be used to reduce the numbers of wild horses, “including lethal removal if necessary.”

Around the same time, during a Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environmental Quality Appropriations Subcommittee meeting, Rep. Keven Stratton (R-Orem) asked for $1.1 million from the state to control wild horse population by largely “harvesting” them as a “protein source.”

Currently, Congress prohibits the BLM from selling wild horses and burros protected under the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act for slaughter.  However, state control of wild horse management would open the door to slaughter of these American icons to supply foreign markets for horsemeat. Since Congress currently prohibits USDA inspections of horsemeat in the U.S. (without which horses cannot be slaughtered for human consumption), Utah also aims to conduct its own horsemeat inspections.

Undaunted by the fact that his proposals violate two federal laws, Rep. Stratton justified his bizzare plan by cliaming that wild horses are “suffering” and in poor condition.  His supporters even held up a picture of a starving horse – in Nevada, apparently unable to produce a picture of a starving horse in Utah to support their plan to "help" wild horses by slaughtering them.

Rep. Stratton also contradicted this claim in his conclusion, in which he proclaimed, “ There’s health and vitality in those herds,” before getting to the real reason behind the push for state management – slaughter. He stated, “…it just doesn’t make sense, literally, when we have the need for animal protein throughout the world, and we have the protein that can sustain life here available.”

Rep. Stratton’s plan has one small problem: it’s wildly out of touch with the vast majority of Americans, who view wild horses and burros as national symbols of freedom, not a “protein source” to feed people overseas. In fact, 80 percent of Americans, including 83 percent of Westerners oppose the cruel practice of horse slaughter.

Unfortunately, some federal legislators from Utah are also lining up against wild horses. U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop (1st District, Utah) contends that wild horses are destroying the public rangeland because of the shape of their hooves, which unlike cow hooves, compact soil and inhibit plant growth. There’s as much validity to that claim as there is to Rep. Stratton’s contention that slaughtering wild horses in Utah would somehow solve the problem of world hunger. But Utah lawmakers seem determined to not let facts stand in their way. 

The BLM in Utah has 19 herd management areas on nearly 2.5 million acres that support 1,956 wild horses and burros.  According to conservative estimates, cattle graze 10 times more public lands in Utah than wild horses and outnumber them by 30-1.  Among the Utah wild horses is a nationally recognized herd that draws its bloodlines directly from old Colonial Spanish horses. 

Utah legislators are treading on dangerous ground. State control would spell the end for America’s wild horses and burros, who would be managed like livestock -- rounded up and harvested for slaughter . This would be a radical overturning of the will of the American people and a decimation of the law – passed unanimously by Congress – to protect these animals as “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West.” For this reason, while the Utah proposal may pass the state legislature, it is unlikely to get traction at the federal level. 

AWHC Note: This week, the “Concurrent Resolution on Wild Horses and Burros” passed the Utah House of Representatives and has moved on to the State Senate.