A new Senate bill could allow some excess wild horses to be sold and processed into dog food.
The measure, part of a 3,000-page omnibus bill passed by the Senate on Friday, would allow the Bureau of Land Management to sell without limitations wild horses that are older than 10 or have unsuccessfully been offered for adoption three times.
Under current law, someone can adopt four wild horses annually, but the adopter must wait one year to receive the title to the horses. A BLM employee will check on the horses to make sure they are being cared for properly, said Valerie Dobrich, Little Snake Field Office wild horse and burro specialist.
Once a person receives a title to a horse, the owner can do whatever he or she wants with the animal, including selling it to a slaughterhouse, Dobrich said.
"With this change, you can get as many (horses) as you want and do what you please with them as soon as you get them," Dobrich said.
That includes immediately selling the animals for slaughter.
"We try to do everything we can do to discourage that," Dobrich said.
But it still happens. A Meeker resident recently adopted a wild horse and sold it to slaughter two months after receiving a title for the horse.
That's a rare occurrence though, because it is hardly cost effective to raise a horse for one year, feed it and pay for vaccinations, then sell it for slaughter.
The new law could make it possible to make a profit by adopting wild horses and slaughtering them. A minimum bid of $125 is required at mustang auctions. Some local mustang advocates find the change in policy upsetting.
"As far as a profit being able to be made on it, it's just disturbing that this could pass," said Patti Mosbey of the High Plains Mustang Club.
Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Montana), inserted the new law in the omnibus bill. Burns serves as chairman of the Senate Interior Appropriations subcomittee, which oversees the country's federal lands.
"This program has had problems in the past, and we need to work to find new approaches that may help solve some of these problems," Burns said in a statement.
"We've got to get the number of animals down to appropriate management levels and keep them there, but do it in a way that doesn't bankrupt us. This language is a step in the right direction -- it gives BLM another tool to help get this under control. I will continue to work to find solutions that will help this program function in the best way possible as we move forward."
The Sand Wash Basin in Moffat County is home to the largest wild horse population in Colorado. The BLM manages the herd population to maintain between 163 and 362 head. About every four years, when the herd reaches its maximum population, the BLM rounds up the excess animals to reduce the population to 163. The next roundup is scheduled for fall 2005.
Excess animals age 5 and younger are freeze branded and put in the adoption loop. Animals between age 5 and 10 are either offered for adoption or placed in a sanctuary, which Dobrich described as a "retirement home" for horses. Horses remain on the sanctuary until they die. The Sand Wash herd contains pintos, roans, sorrels, bays and palominos. The BLM has managed the herd since 1974.
Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.