December 17, 2009

Animal Rights Groups Tries To Stop Nevada Horse Roundup

A federal judge has been asked to block a controversial plan to round up about 2,500 wild horses and remove them from a Nevada range, The Associated Press reported.

The Dec. 28 mustang roundup would be one of the largest in Nevada in recent years.

Helicopters will be used to force the horses into holding pens before placing them for adoption or sending them to long-term holding corrals in the Midwest.

However, animal rights groups say use of the helicopters is inhumane because some of the animals are traumatized, injured, and even killed.

The Bureau of Land Management organized the roundup to remove thousands of mustangs from public lands across the West to protect wild horse herds and the rangelands that support them.

Around half of the nearly 37,000 wild mustangs live in Nevada, with others concentrated in Arizona, California, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming, according to estimates from the bureau. Another 32,000 horses and burros are cared for in corrals and pastures in Kansas, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

In Defense of Animals, a California-based group that advocates on behalf of animal protection, called the roundup plan illegal.

William Spriggs, a Washington lawyer who argued against the roundup plan in court Wednesday, said Congress never authorized the BLM's policy of mass removal and stockpiling of horses when it protected the iconic animals in 1971 as an important part of our national heritage.

Craig Downer, a biologist for In Defense of Animals, sued the BLM last month to block the Nevada roundup.

Terri Farley, a Nevada author whose books about wild horses target young readers, also joined the lawsuit on Monday.

"The roundup is needed because more than 3,100 horses and burros crowd the Calico Mountain Complex in northwestern Nevada "” about five times as many horses as the land can handle," said Erik Petersen, a Justice Department lawyer who represents the BLM.

Petersen said the 1971 law requires removal of excess horses to ensure they are treated humanely.

"Removing the animals also will help preserve the endangered and rapidly disappearing rangeland where they live," he added.

The mustang roundups were announced in October, as part of a new management plan that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said would avoid the need to kill any wild horses.

Last year, officials at the Interior Department warned that slaughtering some of the 69,000 wild horses and burros under federal control might be necessary to combat the rising costs of maintaining them.

"The current program is not sustainable for the animals, the environment or taxpayers," Salazar said.

Officials said if it is not changed, the BLM's wild horse program, which cost about $50 million this year, would likely rise to at least $85 million by 2012.

"The BLM has only itself to blame for the high costs. At least two-thirds of the costs for wild horses are for long-term storage facilities in the Midwest that were nothing more than warehouses," said Spriggs, the lawyer for In Defense of Animals.

The case is expected to be ruled upon before Christmas by U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman.


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