May 19, 2006

Mustang activists want to stop N.M. horse roundup

By Zelie Pollon

SANTA FE, New Mexico (Reuters) Mustang activists and New
Mexico's governor want to stop a wild horse roundup this
summer, saying the animals should be allowed to run free as a
symbol of the Wild West.

"These wild horses constitute a valuable connection to New
Mexico's rich history. As such they also attract tourism and
national attention," Gov. Bill Richardson wrote in a letter to
the U.S. Forest Service, which conducts the roundup.

"I urge you to keep this herd intact in the Wild Horse
Territory and utilize other management techniques to maintain
the range," he said.

Forest Service officials say the annual mustang roundups,
lasting about a week, are necessary to keep horse numbers low,
particularly in a drought year when grazing areas are

"We have a high number of wild horses on the range and
multiple competition for the grassland," said Kendall Clark,
deputy forest supervisor for the Carson National Forest, where
two separate herds live. "We plan to go forward with the
roundup and adoption."

There are now three herds of wild mustang roaming New
Mexico, with between 100 and 200 horses each. Because of their
environmental impact, forest officials want to cut herd numbers
to between 50 and 105 each, despite studies that claim a herd
must have at least 200 animals to protect genetic integrity.

Horses culled are either adopted, kept in holding pens for
or sold to rendering houses where most often the meat is sold

Patience O'Dowd, founder of Wild Horse Observers
Association, said the state already supported 2,000 elk, 1,000
mule deer and 1.8 million head of cattle on public lands.

"And officials want to take out 100 horses? Is that even
relevant?" O'Dowd said.

O'Dowd suggested the Forest Service round up only the
young, most adoptable animals and control the rest with a
chemical birth control method that she said costs less than a

Clark said the Jicarilla herd in northern New Mexico, was
not a closed herd which means it can breed with horses from the
nearby Jicarilla Apache Indian reservation, posing no risk to
their genetic viability.

Mustangs are a mixed breed horse living in the western
United States, and descended from horses that were released or
escaped from Spanish settlers and American Indians.

Once totaling more than 2 million, their numbers plummeted
until 1971 when they became protected under the Wild Free
Roaming Horses and Burros Act. Current estimates put their
numbers at 50,000, with some of the larger herds in Nevada,
Utah and eastern Oregon.