for National Geographic News
Thousands of wild mustangs kept in U.S. government holding pens may have to be killed as costs escalate for their upkeep, according to a new federal report released this week.
The report, issued by the Government Accountability Office—the watchdog agency for the U.S. Congress—examined long-term options for successfully managing unadoptable horses.
About 30,000 animals removed from western rangelands are currently being cared for by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM)'s Wild Horse and Burro Program.
This year, with adoptions dwindling and hay prices rising, holding costs are expected to exceed U.S. $27 million, or about 74 percent of the program's budget.
This level of funding is not enough to control wild populations while keeping older, unadopted animals alive, BLM officials said.
(Related: "Horses Suffer, Owners Struggle With Soaring Feed Prices" [September 8, 2008].)
The report comes at a critical time: A decision regarding the fate of thousands of mustangs is expected on Monday when BLM's National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board meets in Reno, Nevada.
About 33,000 mustangs, often called wild horses, roam the dusty open plains of ten western states, with about half of the population in Nevada.
With few predators, wild horse herds nearly double every five years. To make room for livestock and farming operations on public lands, government-hired cowboys round up about 10,000 mustangs annually.
Horses are then put into holding facilities to be adopted or sold, or to live out the remainder of their lives. Some animals can live for 15 years in pens.
The 1971 Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act calls wild horses "living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West."
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