Newsweek: A New Range War

A New Range War: A change in the law, and wild horses face slaughter
By Andrew Murr | NEWSWEEK
From the magazine issue dated Feb 7, 2005

Corraled in a federal holding pen at Palomino Valley, Nev., a buckskin mare with the number 9598 cold-branded in code on its neck suddenly faces an uncertain future. When the 12-year-old was rounded up in November as part of a federal program to humanely control the mustang population in the West, it looked as if it would be relocated to a grassy farm in Oklahoma or Kansas. But that all changed weeks later. Thanks to a controversial revision of the 1971 law protecting wild horses and burros, the mare could be sold, killed and butchered.

Icons of independence and a living reminder of the old West, mustangs have always excited fierce passions. But the passion turned to anger after Republican Sen. Conrad Burns of Montana quietly inserted a rider in the federal budget that lifted the ban on selling wild horses for slaughter. The revision forces the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to sell “without limitation” every captured horse that is 10 or older or has proved unadoptable. The new rule applies to 8,400 horses in captivity, and many more in the future. “This consigns thousands of horses to death,” says Howard Crystal, a lawyer for the Humane Society. Last week Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia introduced a bill to restore the old protections. “When Americans picture the West, I doubt they envision wild horses’ being rounded up and sent to slaughterhouses to be processed into cuisine for foreign gourmets,” says Rahall.

About 50,000 domestic horses are killed every year at three U.S. slaughterhouses, mostly to be shipped to France and other countries where horse meat is socially acceptable food. A bill that would ban the slaughter of any horse in the United States for human consumption will be introduced in Congress this week.

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