GUEST opinion

Oct 16, 2009
by WLJ

GUEST opinion

The surplus horse problem

If we don’t dispose of our surplus wild horses, they eventually will destroy our open public rangelands by overgrazing, killing the grass, and then die of starvation. Horses have been a part of civilization since the beginning. They have been used for transportation and draft, in fighting wars, pulling wagons, cultivating the land, and as saddle horses. Horses have, to a great extent, been replaced by machinery. The horses being used and wanted now are mostly for recreation and for working cattle.

The horses not wanted are largely the thousands of socalled wild horses or Mustangs. They are largely of poor quality and only a few are wanted, such as those displayed in photos shown in the media.

Wild horses have no natural enemies. Without control by man, they multiply rapidly, destroying the rangelands and eating themselves out of a home. With a shortage of food, and much suffering, they die of starvation.

Some of the wild horses in southeastern Oregon may have descended from the Spanish Barbs, horses of the early Spanish settlers from the south. Most of them, however, are descended from horses that escaped from the early homesteaders or were deliberately turned loose on the range.

During World War I, there was a large demand from French, Italian and English agents for cavalry horses as well as from the U.S. Army. The demand for horses slackened after World War I, then revived in the 1920s. In the early 1930s, probably 25,000 wild horses roamed the ranges of eastern Oregon.

Gathering the surplus wild horses progressed from the horseback only method to using a fixed wing plane to help, and then to using a helicopter with very little help from horseback riders. It cannot be denied that many inhumane methods were used in gathering horses in the past. The present-day methods used by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the people they hire are as humane as possible. Wild horse refuges have been established on public lands where the numbers can be kept under control and in balance with the available forage.

At the present time, it is illegal by federal law to slaughter horses in the United States. Horses now may be shipped to Canada or Mexico for slaughter. There is an effort to close the export of horses to Canada and to Mexico. It is also expensive to ship horses out of the United States.

There are up to 150,000 horses each year in the U.S., mostly wild horses on public rangelands that are unwanted and do not have a home. Horses are expensive to feed and care for. Hay costs as much as $200 per ton or even higher. This means that it costs about $90 per month just to provide feed for a horse. If people have a horse that they use or care for, they must be willing and able to pay for its keep. Finding a home for 150,000 horses is very unlikely. If the domestic horses are turned out to rangelands, a great part of them will suffer and die by starving. Domestic horses are not accustomed to open rangeland and cannot fend on their own. This is inhumane treatment [and] should be prevented.

The federal laws should be revised so that those horses that we want to keep can be well taken care of and those horses that we don’t want to keep are disposed of in a humane manner as done with cattle and other livestock.

Provision could be made to resolve the problem on a local basis. The Taylor Grazing Act prohibits overgrazing of the public rangelands.

The use of a slaughterhouse for the disposal of the unwanted horses can be done in a humane manner. It is the most economical and realistic way. It will save the taxpayer up to $85 million and make use of a natural resource. It is reported to cost $600 to have an animal euthanized. Approval of a slaughterhouse can best be made on a local or a tribal basis. Shipping the horses in a truck is hard on the horses. — Howard R. DeLano, Oregon City, OR [Howard DeLano retired from the BLM in 1972. Since his retirement, Howard and his family have operated a ranch near Oregon City, OR.]