President Donald Trump’s budget proposal would save an estimated $10 million in 2018 by allowing the United States’s wild horses to wind up on someone’s plate.
The U.S. has long rounded up and sold wild horses that roam through Nevada and other Western states, but buyers have always legally had to promise not to ship horses for slaughter. Horse slaughterhouses are outlawed in the U.S., but not in Mexico or Canada, nor in Europe, where horse meat is considered something of a treat.
Around 75,000 wild horses and burros roam the American West, according to National Geographic, to go along with about 45,000 kept in pastures controlled by the Bureau of Land Management or individual owners. Managing those 45,000 horses and burros drains the agency of about $50 million per year.
The horse and burro population has grown untenable because the Bureau of Land Management hasn’t been able to implement an effective way to control it. It’s not funded enough to implement contraception, and slaughtering horses in the U.S. is illegal. The U.S. tries to mitigate part of the problem by putting horses and burros up for adoption, but only around 2,500 are taken each year while around another 10,000 are born.
The Trump administration believes they’ll save around $10 million because fewer horses penned up in government-run pastures means less money spent on feeding and containing them. The proposal would also cut the Bureau of Land Management’s meager horse and burro contraception program.
Ranchers and interest groups such as the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association have long wanted the ability to sell wild horses for slaughter. The more horses sold, the more room in those pastures, which means ranchers can round up more of those 75,000 free-roaming horses to keep them from trampling and feasting on range land controlled by the Bureau of Land Management.
Animal rights groups oppose selling horses for slaughter, though others have acknowledged that the population is out of control. U.S. rangeland managed by the Bureau of Land Management is meant to support around 27,000 wild horses and burros, and the current population is approaching three times that size. Overpopulation brings ecological destruction, and with ecological destruction comes the starvation of some of those wild horses and burros.
Neil Kornze, who directed the Bureau of Land Management during President Barack Obama’s second term, said doubling the agency’s budget would allow them to introduce fertility control to a meaningful percentage of the wild horse population. Agency workers would capture female horses and administer contraception before sending them back out into the wild.
But in a budget-cutting environment, that idea doesn’t seem like it has much of a shot.