Ranchers and animal advocates finally made peace. But critics call it a betrayal.
By Karin Brulliard
September 18, 2019
ELKO COUNTY, Nev. — Wild horses may be symbols of the wide-open American West, but J.J. Goicoechea watched them warily. Under a bright desert sky, about 20 mustangs munched on the crested wheatgrass meant for the Angus cattle he grazes here on public land.
“You’ve got to look up to them. They’re tough,” the fourth-generation rancher said, leaning against his dusty red truck. “But if we turn a blind eye, in five years there will be 100 horses here, and it won’t look as good.”
Goicoechea has long been on one side of the battle over wild horses and burros, an issue so contentious that Congress, animal advocates, conservationists, ranchers and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) have long been in a stalemate. Everyone agrees the situation is untenable: The government says three times more equines roam public land than the fragile terrain can handle. To address this, the BLM, which is charged with managing most of the animals, periodically rounds up horses and now has nearly 50,000 in holding. The agency says caring for the warehoused animals devours most of its wild horse budget, leaving little for other approaches.
Horse advocates call the roundups cruel, contend that millions of cattle do vastly more damage to public lands than thousands of horses, and insist mustangs must never be killed. Ranchers and some environmentalists view the horses as feral pests that damage ecosystems, compete for resources with cattle and wildlife and should be culled or sold...
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