Wild Horses/Mustangs

Documents Reveal BLM Secret Plan to Destroy Wild Horses

June 11, 2009- for immediate release

BLM putting our Wild Horses under extreme stress

BLM putting our Wild Horses under extreme stress

Documents Reveal BLM Secret Plan to Destroy Wild Horses

Documents obtained from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) via the Freedom of Information Act by a Phoenix-based non-profit, The Conquistador Program, reveal shocking and detailed plans to destroy healthy wild horses in government holding facilities as well as those still remaining in the wild on public lands.

BLM employees as well as a USDA veterinarian held weekly Implementation Team meetings beginning in July of 2008 in which they discussed and developed strategies aimed at ridding BLM of thousands of mustangs. In October they completed a 68 page document entitled Alternative Management Options. Tactics included in this document are reminiscent of those used to wipe out Native American tribes in the 1800s.

The BLM team created scenarios for killing mustangs using barbiturates, gun shots, or captive bolts. Bodies would be disposed of through rendering, burial or incineration. They discussed killing 1200-2000 wild horses per year. The document states that the general public would be prohibited from viewing euthanasia. Additionally, the Team felt that increased support from public relations and management staff would also be needed to insulate those doing the actual work from the public, media and Congressional scrutiny/criticism.

Minutes from these meetings as well as the Draft Plan reveal what amounts to the final solution for the American mustang, states Ginger Kathrens, filmmaker and Volunteer Executive Director of The Cloud Foundation. Despite a huge outcry from the American public last year regarding BLM plans to kill wild horses in holding, the agency is still pressing forward with a plan to destroy our American mustangs both on and off the range.

Division Chief of the Wild Horse and Burro Program Don Glenn told The Cloud Foundation that no decision has been made to move forward on a large scale with this plan, yet.

BLM meeting minutes speak for themselves. Security at facilities and at gathers would need to be increased to combat eco-terrorism. Having the people that are willing to put down healthy horses at gather sites could be a problem. Having vets putting down healthy horses at preparation facility[ies] could also be a problem. Meeting minutes reveal the psychological toll that employees would payhave counseling for employees and contractors that have to euthanize the healthy horses because it is very stressful.

The report created an option in which wild horses of all ages could be sold without limitation. In other words, horses could be sold directly to killer buyers in unchecked numbers. The Team admitted that some wild horses will go to slaughter.

Once they are gone, theyre gone says Karen Sussman, President of the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros. To lose this incomparable species would be a travesty.

Team Members formulated ways in which they could circumvent the National Environmental Policy Act, asking How many (wild horses) could be euthanized during a gather (roundup) without having NEPA?  BLM discussed ways to circumvent the federal carcass disposal law (43 CFR 4730.2). Conversations included how many wild horses could be rendered at the Reno Rendering plant or disposed of in pits. The Team concluded that there will not be large numbers of horses euthanized during gathers or in the field. This is due to state environmental laws.

Recommendations include the creation of gelding herds, and sterilization of mares to create non-reproductive herds in the wild in place of natural herds. The team recommended changing the sex ratio from the normal 50% males and 50% females to 70% males and 30% females. Then the experimental two-year infertility drug, PZP-22, would be given to all mares that are returned to the wild. Plans call for rounding up the wild horses every two years to re-administer the drug.

Mares on the drug will cycle monthly and, with the altered sex ratio, the social chaos will be dangerous and on-going, Kathrens explains. Any semblance of normal wild horse society will be completely destroyed.

Kathrens has spent 15 years in the wild documenting mustang behavior for her PBS television documentaries which chronicle the life story of Cloud, the now famous pale palomino stallion she has filmed since birth. Even Cloud and his little herd in Montana are in serious danger if BLM implements these options, she continues. The BLM plans a massive round up in Clouds herd beginning August 30, 2009.

The BLM will not guarantee that Cloud and his family will remain free.

The BLM documents referred to above and photos of wild horses are available from The Cloud Foundation.

The Cloud Foundation, Inc.
107 South 7th St.
Colorado Springs, CO 80905
719-633-3896 (fax)

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  1. July 4, 2009 at 3:40 PM Stand in Peaceful Protest JULY ,2009 till August 30,2009

    Stand you ground in July’s 2009, Peaceful protect with the Cloud Foundation ~ Save cloud and his Herd and the Ely, Nevada, horses from extermination. Donate and become a list of CITIZENS STANDING Their for to GROUND FOR SAVE WILD HORSE HERDS, e-mail join today!!

    Sign up to the Cloud Foundation atsupport@thecloudfoundation.org.

    If you can help call,

    U.S. Mail:
    The Cloud Foundation
    107 South 7th Street
    Colorado Springs, CO 80905


  2. From the Animal Welfare Institute, an organization who is certainly not neutral on this issue, but gives us more fodder for the debate…Sorry for the size of the post, but it is interesting.

    MYTHS AND FACTS – Wild Horse and Burro Protection

    Myth: There are too many wild horses and burros on public lands and their numbers must be reduced.

    Fact: The opposite is true – there are too few wild horses and burros on our public lands, and unless their numbers grow, the survival of these special animals is in jeopardy. During the 1800’s, it is estimated that there were more than two million wild horses and burros roaming the West. These animals, along with countless wildlife species ranging from bison to wolves to prairie dogs, were the victims of ghastly extermination efforts, primarily to make way for private domestic livestock grazing. Today, there are less than 40,000 wild horses and burros remaining on millions of acres of our Western public lands. Tragically, the interests of these “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West” are being forfeited for those of the livestock industry and other commercial operations.

    Many wild horse and burro herds are being managed at such dangerously low numbers that their long-term health and genetic viability are seriously imperiled. In 1999, the federal government sponsored a wild horse and burro population viability forum in which several leading scientific experts including Drs. Gus Cothran, Francis Singer and John Gross, participated. One of the main issues discussed was that smaller, isolated populations of less than 200 animals are particularly vulnerable to the loss of genetic diversity when the number of animals participating in breeding falls below a minimum needed level. This scenario sets the stage for a host of biological problems associated with inbreeding including reduced reproduction and foal survival, reduced adult fitness and physical deformities. Only about one quarter of the herds under active management have a population objective of greater than 150 animals, much less 200. Numerous herds are being managed at levels between 40 to 70 animals and some even fewer. Either geographical or artificial barriers isolate many of these herds. Rather than address this grave problem by increasing population targets for these animals, the agencies charged with their protection, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the United States Forest Service (FS), have decided to further reduce wild horse and burro numbers by half to a shocking 22,000 wild horses and 2,700 wild burros.

    Myth: Wild horses and burros must be rounded up to save them from dying of starvation or thirst.

    Fact: While the BLM argues that wild horses and burros are being rounded up for their own good to keep them from dying of starvation or dehydration in areas affected by fire and drought throughout the West, animal advocates have frequently found that herd areas stricken by so-called “emergency conditions” weren’t nearly as bad off as the BLM claimed. Not only were wild horses and burros doing just fine, but livestock often remained in the same areas or were returned to the areas in short order. Of course, once the wild horses and burros are gone, they are gone for good – moving in the direction of achieving the overall objective of drastically reducing populations as quickly as possible. By attempting to justify extra removals as “emergencies,” the BLM is able to tap into emergency funds from other programs and go over and above their allocated budgets to meet this goal.

    Tragically, many wild horse and burro herds suffer needlessly due to the fact that they have been unable to roam freely throughout their entire herd areas because of fences and other impediments that have been constructed to accommodate livestock. Hence, they are unable to access forage and water to which they are legally entitled. Wild horses and burros have survived droughts and fires in the past and will survive them in the future, just as do other wild animals, if they are treated as wild animals and left alone.

    Myth: Wild horses and burros are destructive to the environment and must be removed in order to protect ecosystem health.

    Fact: Wild horses and burros, like any wildlife species, have an impact on the environment, but due to their natural behavior, their impact is minimal. In fact, wild horses and burros play a beneficial ecological role, for example, by dispersing seeds through elimination, thereby helping to reseed the landscape. They also blaze trails during heavy snowfall and break ice at watering holes, helping weaker animals to survive during harsh winter months. Wild horses and burros can also serve as food for predator species such as mountain lions.

    That said, if BLM and FS officials would have the public believe that they are genuinely concerned about ecosystem health, then they must refrain from conducting business as usual — viz., turning a blind eye to the indisputably overriding cause of habitat degradation: livestock grazing and public encroachment. For years, the agencies have permitted extremely high levels of livestock use on public lands, resulting in soil erosion, water contamination and depletion, as well as deterioration of vegetation. While wild horses and burros may be blamed for these problems, the agencies’ own data indicate otherwise. Little has changed since the release of the 1990 U.S. General Accounting Office Report, Improvements Needed in Federal Wild Horse Program, which concluded “… the primary cause of the degradation in rangeland resources is poorly managed domestic (primarily cattle and sheep) livestock.” Unlike cattle who tend to congregate and settle in riparian areas, wild horses and burros are highly mobile, typically visiting watering areas for only short periods of time. To make matters worse, livestock are concentrated in grazing allotments at artificially high densities during the critical growing season when vegetation is extremely vulnerable to permanent damage. This overgrazing sets the stage for habitat degradation that may not be immediately apparent, but can cumulatively cause massive vegetation die-off.

    Myth: Wild horses and burros are an exotic or a feral species and must be removed to protect native wildlife.

    Fact: Not so. The paleontological record shows that the cradle of equine evolution occurred in North America, beginning more than 60 million years ago. Conventional theories postulate that horses introduced by the Spanish more than 500 years ago were a different species than those horses who existed in North America prior to their mysterious disappearance approximately 10,000 years ago. However, mitochondrial DNA analysis of fossil remains indicates that E. caballus, the “modern” horse, is genetically identical to E. lambei, the most recent equine species to evolve in North America more than 1.7 million years ago. Hence, it can plausibly be argued that the Spanish actually “reintroduced” a native species, one which evolved on this continent and which has adapted and flourished both biologically and ecologically since its reintroduction. Interestingly, some scientists question the theory that all horses became extinct 10,000 years ago. They are only now beginning to analyze fossil remains that may eventually support this hypothesis.

    Moreover, simply because horses were domesticated before being released is biologically inconsequential. Observing horses in the wild demonstrates just how quickly domesticated behavioral and morphological traits fall off. According to Dr. Patricia Fazio, “The key element in describing an animal as a native species is (1) where it originated; and (2) whether or not it co-evolved with its habitat.” By virtue of their evolutionary history, biology and behavior, these animals are native wildlife. In addition, the 1971 WFHBA rightfully recognized them as an “integral part of the natural system of the public lands.”


    Wild Horses as Native North American Wildlife – Compiled by Jay F. Kirkpatrick, Ph.D. and Patricia M. Fazio, Ph.D. (PDF version)

    MYTH: Ranchers depend upon livestock grazing for their livelihood and wild horses and burros are creating an undue hardship on their operations.

    Fact: While some small family ranchers do depend upon livestock for their primary source of income, the top grazing permits on our public lands in terms of numbers of livestock are held by corporate interests including the Hilton Family Trust, Anheuser-Busch, Inc., Nevada First Corp., and Metropolitan Life Co. In 1992, the General Accounting Office reported that just 16 percent of the approximately 20,000 public lands grazing permittees controlled more than 76.2 percent of forage available on BLM lands and most of these were either very wealthy individuals or big corporations. These wealthy corporate interests are much more concerned with paper stock than livestock, and with preserving their tax write-offs than a way of life. For the most part, removing wild horses and burros translates into just one more form of corporate welfare.

    Studies indicate that most ranchers are choosing to diversify their sources of income. Today, less than 3% of our nation’s beef is produced on public rangelands. Ranching on both public and private lands accounts for less than 0.5% of all income by Western residents. In 1994, the Department of the Interior concluded that the elimination of all public lands grazing would result in the loss of only 0.1% of the West’s total employment. Changing times and demographics, not a small number of wild horses and burros, are responsible for the decline of the ranching industry’s importance in the West. The time has come to help wild horses and burros and to assist ranchers who want to voluntarily transition from a profession that is taking its toll on their pocketbooks.


    Fact: Small family ranchers, just as small family farmers, have far more to fear from corporate interests than they do from responsible federal lands management policy. In fact, about 70% of cattle producers in the West own all the land they operate and do not rely on public lands grazing whatsoever. It can reasonably be argued that those ranchers who benefit from ridiculously cheap public lands grazing fees and other government subsidies associated with federal grazing permits have a distinct advantage over those who do not. Many of these ranchers who now fancy themselves as modern day “cattle barons” are millionaires and billionaires who made their fortunes in other businesses – e.g., Texas oilman, Oscar Wyatt, Jr. former chairman of Coastal Corp., McDonald’s French fries supplier John Simplot, and Mary Hewlett Jaffe, daughter of William Hewlett of Hewlett-Packard fame. The top 10 percent of public lands grazing permit holders control a striking 65 percent of all livestock on BLM lands and 49 percent on FS lands. The bottom 50 percent of public lands grazing permit holders control just 7 percent of livestock on BLM lands and 3 percent on FS lands.

    Because public lands grazing allotments require ownership of private base property and wealthy individuals and corporations own more private property (i.e., base property), they wind up with more federal grazing allotments. Hence, these wealthy operations benefit from numerous taxpayer subsidies, while small family operations struggle to make ends meet. These “cattle barons” and corporations are increasingly buying out small ranching operations — acres at a time. With rising operating costs and mounting debts, most small family ranchers are looking for work outside the ranch and a way out of ranching.

    Some ranchers have expressed an interest in a proposal that would provide for their needs as they transition into other lines of work. If a rancher voluntarily relinquishes his/her federal grazing permit, the government would compensate the permitee $175 per animal unit month (the amount of forage necessary to graze one cow and calf for one month). Not only would such an arrangement help ranchers and be a huge cost savings to taxpayers (see last myth), but it would also allow forage to be reallocated to wildlife including wild horses and burros.

    MYTH: Removed horses and burros are adopted to loving homes through the government’s “Adopt a Horse or Burro Program.”

    Fact: While the BLM has an obligation to ensure that the persons adopting wild horses and burros are “qualified” adopters, many people do not fully understand the responsibility and commitment that are required to care for an adopted animal, thus setting the stage for failed adoptions. Rigorous screening of potential adopters, education and monitoring are critical to the success of any adoption. Sadly, the BLM has failed in all of these areas. In 1997, the Associated Press uncovered enormous and egregious abuse within the adoption program, including the revelation that many individuals were adopting large numbers of wild horses only to turn around and make sizable profits by selling them for slaughter. To make matters worse, The New York Times reported on a Justice Department investigation that revealed that BLM had a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on this issue, and that in fact many employees were well aware that adopters intended to sell horses for slaughter after receiving title. Only after being sued by wild horse advocates did the BLM agree to adopt measures to stem the tide of horses going to slaughter, but even then, countless horses fell through the cracks.

    Of immediate concern is an amendment to the WFHBA that was slipped into the Interior Appropriations bill in the last Congressional session, requiring horses 10 years-of-age or older or those who have not been adopted after three attempts to be sold at auction without limitation. Such “sale authority” will open the floodgates of wild horses being sold to slaughter for profit. More than 8,000 wild horses may immediately wind up on the dinner plates in fancy overseas restaurants, and countless more will follow unless legislation is swiftly enacted to repeal this ill-conceived amendment. H.R. 249, introduced by Congressman Nick Rahall (D-WV) and Congressman Ed Whitfield (R-KY) in the House of Representatives to restore the slaughter prohibition for wild horses and burros. H.R. 503, the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, reintroduced by Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Congressman Ed Whitfield (R-KY), Congressman John Spratt (D-SC) and Congressman Nick Rahall (D-WV) and in the Senate by Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and veterinarians and Senator John Ensign (R-NV) as S. 311 will ensure that no horse meets this appalling fate.

    The 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act and its legislative history make it clear that Congress, with overwhelming public support, intended for wild horses and burros to be protected in the wild, and removed only when necessary, and if removed, guaranteed humane treatment. They were never to be sold for slaughter.

    Myth: With thousands of wild horses and burros awaiting adoption, the program is too costly and the only solution is to either sell or destroy “excess” animals who haven’t been adopted or are deemed “unadoptable.”

    Fact: In 2001, the BLM adopted a reckless strategy to reduce the numbers of wild horses and burros on public lands by more than half by the year 2005, without any environmental review whatsoever. Up to that point in time, adoptions had kept pace with removals. Increased removals resulted in a backlog of animals awaiting adoption. Many animals were automatically shipped to long-term holding facilities and never even put up for adoption. With more than 20,000 animals languishing in holding facilities, costs for the inflated number of removals and the animals’ care have mounted – all directly attributable to BLM’s own misguided strategy. BLM’s FY 2005 budget for administering the program was $39 million.

    However, if the BLM were genuinely interested in fiscal responsibility, the agency would provide the public with a detailed analysis of the full costs of administering its livestock grazing program. A recent analysis of the budget records concluded that the net direct loss (calculated as the Congressional Appropriations for the program less fee receipts to the Treasury) of the livestock program was at least $72 million for the BLM and $52 million for the FS; the full costs are likely to be three to four times these amounts. However, with the multiple taxpayer subsidies ranchers receive ranging from below-market-value grazing fees to fire and weed control to predator and “pest” control to range improvements, to price supports, to the regular removal of wild horses and burros, etc., it is certain that the agency loses hundreds of millions of dollars each year. Removing livestock instead of wild horses and burros would indeed be the most fiscally responsible action the agency could take.


    • spirithorsebr,

      I’m glad I ran into this – I was (and have spent many hours already) putting together a similar list – but my actual factual knowledge is at this time limited – and you have aleady invented the wheel. And I would propose tremendous scrutiny, leaving out anything that cannot be consensus – I only say that because I have no way, in my own limited experieince of wild horses so far to critique anything. All subscribers can tell their own story on their own web pages.

      These lists work!

      IF we can put a banner to it, get it under a “Coaliton” of like minds, foundations, organizations, and IF we all have these talking points memorized, we can have the power of a bull dozer! I know this. Can I get together with you some way? I’d like to talk to you more about this – start Facts with a one liner, etc. This is not a critism in any way of this wonderful listing, just 25 years of “experience” talking outloud.

      Mustang Jack, John Brian, if you read this – this is exactly what I was talking about.


  3. Barbara Ellen Ries, Arizona
    Senator Leahy Proposes ” Truth Commission to investigate and Online petition to investigate and prosecute constitutional abuses of Bush administration. Senator Leahy ~ Please investigate the documents from the BLM. One would hope that the time invested in this information be known and discovered. I hope and pray that this information dark and shocking as it may be is investigated. I hope for the wild horses sake, The Cloud Foundation and horse advocates as well as myself in the USA are represented and not and the laws for horses in the wild horse and burro act. Here’s body of the petition: I hereby join Senator Patrick Leahy’s call for the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission, to investigate the Bush-Cheney Administration’s constitutional abuses so we make sure they never happen again. These abuses may include the use of torture, warrantless wiretapping, extraordinary rendition, and executive override of laws. A truth and reconciliation commission should be tasked with seeking answers so that we can develop a shared understanding of the failures of the recent past. Rather than vengeance, we need a fair-minded pursuit of what actually happened. The best way to move forward is getting to the truth and finding out what happened — so we can make sure it does not happen in any way shape or form. Thank you for any consideration. Documents on web below http://www.conquistadorprogram.org/blm__court_documents_on_wild_horses For Immediate Release Contact: Patricia Haight, Ph.D., (480) 430-2294, pathaight@yahoo.com Julianne French, 520-309-5791, J_French@cox.net Documents from Bureau of Land Management Reflect Intent of BLM for Wild Horses in Holding Facilities & on Public Lands Signed by: [Your name] (Barbara Ellen Ries) Send this web site to friends family and others in support http://www.bushtruthcommission.com/ Easy to find the money trail or tail. Barbara Ellen Ries my web http://spirithorsebr.tripod.com

    Please send to everyone ….
    Barbara Ellen Ries
    If you have information to save the Wild horses sent to this e-mail.


    If you want to help the wild horses write President Obama or your representative.


  4. 11th Hour for Cloud’s Herd,
    Please act now to stop this unnecessary and cruel round up— the BLM still plans to move forward on September 1st

    The Bureau of Land Management is rounding up and eliminating 12 herds (650 horses) off 1.4 million acres in Nevada right now– next they plan to destroy Cloud’s herd with a massive removal of 70 horses that would include OLDER HORSES and YOUNG FOALS.
    Many of the horses you have come to love in the Cloud shows and will meet in the new Cloud show on October 25th will lose their families and their freedom next week. By zeroing out whole herds and reducing others to below genetic viability, the BLM is circumventing the will of Congress. The House just passed the Restoring of American Mustangs (ROAM) act and the Senate will review this bill (now S.1579) when they return from recess in September. Is BLM just trying to do as much irrevocable damage to America’s wild horses as they can before Congress can act?
    This round up will start on September 1st unless we can stop it. Removing 70 horses will destroy this unique little Spanish herd, leaving them well below the bare minimum for genetic viability. The range is in great condition and the horses are healthy. This removal should be stopped. Please do all you can to help! Listen to Ginger Kathrens on Endangered Stream Live– a special edition show “Angels for Cloud”

    National Call in Day for Cloud is Friday, August 28th — SPREAD THE WORD! Have your kids call in and write too– These horses need to be preserved for future generations and we must act NOW

    1. Call/write/fax President Obama as often as you can—this herd is a national treasure and should not be wiped out by a government agency. Please flood the phone lines with calls! Phone: 202-456-1111 or 202-456-9000 Fax: 202-456-2461
    E-mail Obama

    2. Ask Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar to stop this round up
    Call: 202-208-3100
    Write: feedback@ios.doi.gov

    3. BLM Director Bob Abbey, tell him to halt this round up– he must reconsider his agency’s actions
    Call: 202-208-3801
    Fax: 202-208-5242

    4. Call and write your own Senators and Congress people- tell them that Montana is allowing the destruction of Cloud’s unique and historical wild horse herd. Politely express your outrage and ask them to help stop this round up. Find your state offices here

    Listen to Ginger Kathrens NOW on “WFL Endangered Stream Live”

    REMEMBER: National Cloud Call-In Day is FRIDAY, AUGUST 28th!

    Thank you to everyone for signing the petition- we only need about 400 more signatures!


  5. I’d like to correct one error in Barbara Ries comments on fact and fiction regarding the BLM…we no longer have 40,000 wild horses and burros in the wild. 30,000+ are in holding facilities and the remaining so called 10,000 are free roaming.

    What you as a reader needs to know that these numbers are issued from the BLM…who hasn’t done a real census on horses since 1999. Those of us who have been fighting the round ups in excess of 20 years know there is more likely 6,500 or less wild horses in NV, who is home to 90% of all wild horses in the US

    She is right that the BLM is managing for extiction. They want horses only in areas that they can totally control, like Yellowstone park with the wolves and buffalo. You see how well the DOI manages the wolves right…after reintroducing them now they want to issue special permits to have them shot. The wealthy hunting freaks will be bidding against each other for those.

    I like many others fear there is no stopping this genocide. I don’t know who the hell is the drive behind it, but it is wrong and we all know it. We all thought Obama was going to be more green more eco friendly but were wrong. Whom ever was pulling the strings for Bush #2 is still pulling them on Obama…which means none of what the PEOPLE want, the planet needs matters. If all don’t survive, nothing will survive, everything is inter-twined. God did not create this planet with everything in for man’s purpose. Horses are a gauge people, wake up…they were one of the few animals to survive an ice age, then HELP man fight wars and brave new frontiers because that is how God wanted it. When they are gone so are we! Instead of being caretaker of such nobel animals, a handful of the powerful are seeking their destruction and thus destruction of everyone. Judgement day is coming.


    Published: October 7, 2009
    HELENA, Mont. — Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Wednesday that he was proposing to create seven new wild-horse preserves, including one in the East and one in the Midwest, to address the problem of a growing population crowding the Western range.

    The program, which also applies to wild burros, would expand the use of contraceptives and would geld more herds on public lands in the West, Mr. Salazar said.

    The seven new preserves would accommodate some 25,000 non-reproducing horses. The preserves’ size and exact sites have yet to be determined, however, and the entire program is subject to Congressional approval. A spokesman for Mr. Salazar had no estimate of the total cost but put the expense of creating the two preserves in the East and the Midwest alone at some $96 million.

    The goal is to reduce not only the 37,000 free roaming horses and burros in the West but also the 32,000 housed in corrals, where they must be fed and cared for at government expense. In 1971, there were just 25,000 wild horses and burros.

    “The arid Western lands simply cannot support a population this large without significant damage,” Mr. Salazar said from Washington in a conference call with reporters.

    The welfare of wild horses, a resonant symbol of the Old West and pioneer history, remains a politically sensitive issue for Americans, and officials emphasized that the new program would not involve euthanasia or slaughter of horses, neither of which is permitted now.

    Yet the proposal quickly drew criticism from wild-horse advocates. Ginger Kathrens of Colorado Springs, a maker of documentary films who has chronicled the lives of a wild-horse herd in Montana, said that blocking reproduction could alter the animals’ behavior.

    “It takes the wild out of wild-horse herds,” she said. “They’re families in sophisticated societies. Creating gelding herds and preventing them from reproducing is managing them toward extinction.”

    But ranchers, who see wild horses as competing with cattle for grasses and water, welcomed the proposal. Jeff Eisenberg, executive director for the Public Lands Council, a group that works on public lands issues for ranchers, said Mr. Salazar’s proposal was a big step toward a solution.

    “Horses are important, but people and their livelihood and food production are important, too,” Mr. Eisenberg said. “We’re for balance.”

    Mr. Salazar said the oversight structure for the new preserves had not been determined. He suggested that the federal government could enter into a partnership with figures like the wife of T. Boone Pickens, Madeleine Pickens, who has shown an interest in creating a refuge for horses. Or the program may be solely government-administered, he said.

    The Interior Department said the new preserves would improve conditions for horses that are now confined to crowded corrals and would curtail government spending on their care. “It’s a savings to the taxpayer and better for the horses,” Mr. Salazar said.

    Unlike the 180 existing, unmanned federal wild-horse areas in the West, Mr. Salazar said, the new, staffed preserves would seek to draw visitors and promote environmental tourism. “We want to showcase the herds,” he said.

    But Ms. Kathrens, the wild-horse advocate, said the government should instead put a priority on reducing the millions of head of cattle that graze on public lands, so that horses would have more room.

    In addition to the preserves, federal officials will try to loosen current rules under which wild horses and burros can be adopted, so that more people will be able to take one home.

    “The public’s demand for wild horses and burros has declined sharply,” said Bob Abbey, director of the Bureau of Land Management, an Interior Department agency.

    The number of wild-horse foals is about 7,000 a year, and only 3,700 horses were adopted in 2008, down from 5,700 in 2005. One goal of the government’s new approach is to bring the number of births down to the level of adoptions.


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