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Family Planning for America’s Wild Horses

Posted by Richard Conniff on August 22, 2013

Wild horses on the public lands (Photo: John B. Mueller/Getty)

Wild horses on the public lands (Photo: John B. Mueller/Getty)

It might have made sense in the beginning: Forty years ago, responding to ardent public campaigning by horse enthusiasts, Congress ordered federal agencies to protect and manage wild horses as a native species. The horses were in fact domesticated. They had been introduced by early settlers and then gone feral.

But horses had once been native to the American West, until they went extinct roughly 12,000 years ago. So at least in theory, it was a restoration—minus the saber-tooth tigers and other Pleistocene predators that had kept the original horse population in check.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which administers 264 million acres of federal land, got the job of figuring out how many horses the habitat could support. (Each horse requires five gallons of water and 18 pounds of forage daily.) Congress also assigned BLM the chore of rounding up and removing horses when they threatened to exceed that amount.

But from that arguably logical start, what has resulted looks a lot like wildlife management as practiced by circus clowns, with Congress sending down a welter of confusing and even self-contradictory mandates. There are now an estimated … to read the rest of the article, click here.

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