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Wild horses run rampant

Published on March 25, 2011 3:01AM

Last changed on April 22, 2011 7:19AM


The U.S. Department of the Interior has been called "the Department of Everything Else." When founded in 1850, the department was saddled with all of the nation's domestic affairs that did not fit neatly into the other federal departments.

Included were responsibility for Indian reservations, parks, patents, public land and pensions. Throw in dams, fish, wildlife, mines and oil and gas development.

And don't forget wild horses.

Most wild horses are actually feral, according to the National Park Service. European explorers and settlers originally brought them to the New World. Horses native to North America died out 11,000 to 13,000 years ago.

Wild horses have proved to be a problem for the Department of the Interior and its Bureau of Land Management. As the population of wild horses has increased -- it jumps by as much as 20 percent a year in some areas -- so have the land-management problems they create.

Horses tend to congregate along rivers and streams. Unfortunately, no one in the BLM has told the horses that such watering holes could create a problem under the federal Endangered Species Act, as it has in the Malheur National Forest of Eastern Oregon.

The ESA, it should be noted, is among the least effective federal laws on the books. It pushes threatened and endangered species to the top of the food chain no matter the cost to other species or to people. In this case steelhead, a type of fish that is plentiful in many parts of the West, is the alleged "threatened species." The concern among environmentalists is the horses can muddy the streams and creeks and potentially have an impact on the steelhead.

That's exactly what caused the federal courts to drop the hammer on ranchers, who lease grazing allotments on federal land from their cattle.

In Oregon, there are thousands of wild horses, according to the BLM, and Congress has passed a ban against killing them.

That would be of passing interest, except that ranchers now have to work around the ineffective and arcane ESA -- and hundreds of wild horses that tear up portions of grazing allotments.

Congress needs to get this situation under control. The agency already adopts out horses, but the numbers are relatively small.

One idea is to set up a private horse sanctuary in Nevada. There the horses could be managed, and they can be removed from areas where they continue to be a problem.

Such a proposal -- or any other that accomplishes the goal of getting wild horses under control -- is worth considering.


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