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Lawmakers press for changes to wild horse program

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Steve Marcus

A horse wrangler uses a helicopter to herd wild horses into a corral during a gather near Tonopah in 2010.

Updated Thursday, June 20, 2013 | 1:04 p.m.

Wild Horse Gather Near Tonopah

Wild horses are shown after being captured during a gather near Tonopah, Nev. Thursday, September 16, 2010. The Bureau of Land Management gathered 54 horses outside of a Herd Management Area Thursday as part of their efforts to reduce the wild horse and burro population. Launch slideshow »

RENO — Thirty U.S. representatives urged new U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on Thursday to make a priority out of reforming the government's wild horse management program and its spiraling budget that they say has created an "untenable situation" for both the mustangs and taxpayers.

Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva, the ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources subcommittee on public lands and environmental regulation, wrote the letter appealing to Jewell "as a conservationist and outdoor enthusiast" to help bring "long overdue" changes at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management charged with protecting the horses.

"Given the importance of wild horses to the American people and considering the ever-tightening budget situation, we believe that this is a problem that demands your urgent attention," he wrote.

Florida Rep. C.W. Young, a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, was the lone Republican to sign the letter.

The majority of the co-signers were from states in the East and South, but several joined from states that are home to some of the estimated 37,000 free-roaming wild horses and burros on federal land in the West, including Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., five representatives from California and three from Oregon.

Grijalva said they're asking for renewed attention to the program after an independent scientific review of horse roundups. The review, which was released last month, recommended that the government invest in widespread fertility control of the mustangs and let nature cull any excess herds instead of spending millions to house them in overflowing holding pens.

The 14-member panel assembled by the National Science Academy's National Research Council and Management concluded BLM's removal of nearly 100,000 horses from the Western range over the past decade is probably having the opposite effect of its intention to ease ecological damage and reduce overpopulated herds.

By stepping in prematurely when food and water supplies remain adequate, BLM is producing artificial conditions that ultimately serve to perpetuate population growth, the committee stated.

BLM spokesman Tom Gorey referred inquiries Thursday to Jewell's office where a spokeswoman said press secretary Jessica Kershaw was not immediately available to comment.

Grijalva said BLM's wild horse budget has doubled since 2009 as the agency "escalated its unsustainable roundup-remove-and-stockpile approach to wild horse management." Last year, BLM spent 60 percent of its wild horse budget on holding facilities alone, more than $40 million.

"In fact, the U.S. government today maintains more wild horses in captivity than remain in the wild," Grijalva said. "This is an untenable situation, both for America's wild horses and for American taxpayers."

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