Saturday, September 26, 2015

Tonto National Forest horses to be "condemned, destroyed or otherwise disposed of"

Federal officials announced recently that the Tonto National Forest horses that will be sold at auction are to be "condemned and destroyed, or otherwise disposed of .” Tonto National Forest horses are classified as strays so they are not covered by the protections of the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act.
To minimize growing criticism of the scheduled auction, national forest officials have delayed the sale for four months. Many of the expected purchasers are " kill buyers " who will immediately load their purchases onto long-haul trailers for shipment to Mexico or Canada to be processed into horse meat for foreign consumption. The cost of horse meat in Europe is about $20.00 per pound.

It has long been acknowledged that the businesses engaged in transport are not properly caring for the animals while in transit. Electric shocks are used to force the horses into trucks. Once confined, they forced to stand for long hours (sometimes twenty four) in claustrophobic quarters and are not fed or watered. It is no matter if horses die for they are a cheap commodity. Horses surviving the journey to the kill site suffer greatly. Approximately 150,000 horses are shipped out of the US annually. Long-haul trucks ferried 102,554 horses to slaughter houses in Mexico last year and 39,523 horses to Canadian facilities.

Congress knew that horse slaughter was a contentious issue so in 2007 they effectively shut down US horse processing sites by refusing to pay for inspections. Legislators could have permanently settled the issue by outlawing US slaughter facilities and forbidding horse transport to foreign countries but instead chose a defunding tactic. For a timeline of US Horse Slaughter Legislation please visit here .

It makes no difference whether horses are protected or strays, getting the animals to designated sites is a punishing affair. Imagine the fear that the horses experience as they are harassed by helicopter pilots or motorcycle drivers whose only job is to get them into enclosures. These mechanized roundups cause numerous injuries and death to foals and elderly horses. These casualties are of no concern to the government contractors. There are no penalties for inflicting pain.

Many of the Bureau of Land Management holding pens have no shelter for the animals. The horses are subjected to punishing weather conditions be it blistering heat, frigid cold or high winds. Looking at images of these federally-financed facilities makes one wonder if the agency is committed to the horses' wellbeing. There are approximately 50,000 horses in BLM captivity. The cost of care is 46 million dollars a year.

In spite of the fact that birth control measures have long been available, the BLM has chosen not to institute anti-fertility measures and consequently the wild horse population has grown to unmanageable numbers.

For example, the PZP vaccine available for more than twenty years has been successfully used to control horse populations on Assateague Island, a federal wildlife refuge off the coast of Maryland.
PZP is cost effective, has no side effects and has also been employed to control the US deer population.

Thousands of western horses have been subjected to horrifying conditions and painful deaths because BLM officials have failed to intervene. Only incompetent individuals would allow animals to breed till they put themselves and others in harm's way. Park service personnel say the Tonto National Forest herd of 100 horses has to go because they threaten public safety. The government says that the horses have wrecked camp sites and have been hit and killed by cars.

It is past time for Congress to tell the Bureau of Land Management and its director, Neil Kornze to stop the needless breeding. Prior to his BLM appointment, Mr. Kornze served as the agency's Principal Deputy Director. Mr. Kornze has been on the job long enough to know that the US has a critical horse population problem. For 2015 the BLM plans to gather 4,067 horses, remove 3,322 and provide dart gun fertility control measures for 470.

For a graphic presentation of the injuries sustained by the horses and burros during the gathers please see this video recorded by NBC News. A Bureau of Land Management spokesman told NBC that 1.5% of its budget is devoted to population suppression. Currently 26,715 horses and burros exceed the Appropriate Management Level and will be removed from public lands. Removed generally means death.

The NBC film is so disturbing that it raises the question of whether Neil Kornze and his subordinates are qualified to oversee the Bureau of Land Management. The NBC report is not suitable for grammar school children but it should be required viewing for high school and college students who are studying government.