One of the most heart-wrenching effects of the Great Recession is thousands of abandoned horses that roam federal and tribal lands. In addition to the animals' suffering, their numbers are taking a toll on the land and habitat. One may see it on lands of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Eastern Oregon.
The plight of feral horses is exacerbated by the well-meaning and well-heeled movement that abhors horse slaughter. Groups such as the Humane Society of the United States have succeeded in thwarting funding of U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors of horse meat, who are essential to horse slaughter. In New Mexico, former Gov. Bill Richardson and the actor Robert Redford have helped block the operation of a proposed horse slaughter facility.
What we have here is a collision of feel-good politics against economic and environmental realism.
The current issue of the Umatilla Tribe's newspaper implores Congress to recognize what's happening on tribal lands. Not funding horse inspectors "resulted in widespread starvation, neglect, abandonment and unnecessary suffering of the horse, especially in Indian Country," wrote the newspaper's editor.
Robert Redford has proclaimed that "Horse slaughter has no place in our culture." The actor forgets that there used to be horse slaughterhouses in America. And at race tracks and horse ranches around America horses are slaughtered when they break legs. While horse meat is not an American diet preference, it is in other countries.
It is possible to maintain a romantic image of the horse and also be a realist about the kind of deprivation that is apparent on public and tribal lands because of horse abandonment.