Opinion

California’s wild horses are under attack. Will we protect them from slaughter?

Many Western states, including California, are debating how to manage America’s wild horse and burro populations. On one side, you have powerful livestock interests that have long sought to get wild horses and burros off of public lands. These interests have repeatedly pushed roundups and widespread horse slaughter as a way to eliminate competition for cheap, taxpayer-subsidized grazing of their private livestock.

On the other side, are those of us who see these magnificent animals for what they are: cherished icons of the American West that have the right to be free and treated humanely.

While much of the debate across the West involves the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), here in California, the threat of wild horse slaughter is coming from the U.S. Forest Service. Unlike BLM, which manages most of the nation’s federally-protected wild horses, the Forest Service is not currently prohibited by law from selling wild horses for slaughter.

So when they rounded up nearly 1,000 horses from the Modoc National Forest last year and announced their intent to sell the captured mustangs without limitation on slaughter, the writing on the wall looked crystal clear. This year, the Forest Service is gearing up to remove more wild horses from Devil’s Garden, a 300,000-acre area home to California’s largest remaining wild horse herd.

The prospect that California mustangs could be sold for slaughter by the federal agency charged with protecting them has sparked widespread outrage from the public and political leaders. The U.S. House of Representatives recently sought to address this by passing an appropriations bill specifying that funding shall not be used for any sale of these animals by the BLM or the Forest Service resulting in their destruction.

Opinion

Recently, more than two dozen members of California’s state Legislature, led by Assemblymen Todd Gloria, wrote to U.S. senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris urging them to fight for this language as it works through the U.S. Senate. So far, 64 members of Congress, 23 members of the California Legislature, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Feinstein herself have opposed the Forest Service’s sale-for-slaughter plan.

Additionally, polls show that 81 percent of Californians oppose horse slaughter and 80 percent of Americans want wild horses protected on public lands. But pro-slaughter interests continue to push forward.

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Assembly Bill 128
has been illegal

AB 128 passed unanimously out of the state Assembly in May and was heard by the state Senate Judiciary Committee in July, where it passed by a vote of 7-1. It requires all purchasers of horses at auctions to sign a statement under penalty of perjury agreeing to comply with California’s anti-slaughter law. It also requires auctions to scan horses for microchips and post identifying information – including brands, tattoos and chip numbers – online, which is essential to tracking horses and rescuing them before they are sold into the slaughter pipeline.

AB 128 is a necessary step to protect all California horses from meeting the cruelest of fates. But long-term protection of the Devil’s Garden wild horses will take federal action. Sen. Feinstein has long been a champion for America’s horses and we’re counting on her leadership – with support from Sen. Harris – to uphold the will of the people to protect these iconic and cherished animals.

More than two decades ago, Californians made slaughtering horses for human consumption illegal in the state. Now, it’s time for California’s legislature and the U.S. Congress to make sure that pro-slaughter interests can’t use loopholes to enact their inhumane policies.

Suzanne Roy, a resident of Davis, California, is executive director of the American Wild Horse Campaign, a California-based national non-profit organization dedicated to protecting and preserving the wild horses and burros of the American West.
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