The U.S. Bureau of Land Management faces a herculean task in trying to control the population of wild horses and burros in the West. But at least the bureau, part of the U.S. Department of the Interior, is not taking the easy way out. With public opinion firmly on the side of the animals, the bureau quickly decided against killing the 45,000 in custody.
An advisory commission last week proposed killing or selling the animals for slaughter. The idea was devoid of humanity and common sense. Quite correctly, the Humane Society of the United States called it “unhinged advice.” Doing away with the animals that have been rounded up would have done nothing to address the larger problem. Another 67,000 wild horses and burros – 2.5 times the number that biologists consider appropriate – still roam federal lands without a proven strategy for slowing the growth of the herd. So far, birth control methods have brought limited results.
The advisory commission’s proposal was barely out of the gate before the backlash began. With criticism mounting – more than 118,000 people signed an online petition to save the animals – the bureau quickly shelved the proposal.
They may not realize it, but those who rallied to the animals’ defense have won only half the battle. They must remember the larger problem, too, and keep the heat on so the government redoubles efforts to address the underlying issue of population control.
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From the wild horses in the West to the exploding seal population in Cape Cod to the well-publicized deer problems elsewhere, federal and state wildlife agencies repeatedly have failed to keep animal populations under control. That can have dire consequences for humans. In Cape Cod, the seals attract sharks, which pose a danger to swimmers. The seals also pollute the water with their waste and affect the fishing industry.
In some places where nature’s scales are out of balance, consumers must accept a share of the blame. Development certainly has contributed to suburban deer problems.
Still, wildlife management agencies receive millions and millions of taxpayer dollars each year to keep populations in check. The job isn’t getting done.