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Activists Lobby Senate to Protect Wild Horses

WASHINGTON - Wild-horse advocates from throughout the nation gathered Tuesday on Capitol Hill to lobby senators to protect wild mustangs and burros from being killed by federal officials seeking to reduce herd sizes.

"This is not only a humane issue, it's an issue about preserving a legacy that speaks to the spirit of the West," Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., told a room of about 60 activists as they prepared to visit Senate offices.

The House in July passed Grijalva's bill to protect the animals after Bureau of Land Management officials raised the possibility of killing as many as 30,000 healthy wild horses they can no longer afford to house in holding facilities after removing them from federal land that cannot support their growth.

The Restore Our American Mustangs (ROAM) Act would step up fertility control measures, encourage more adoptions of the animals and provide the more than 60,000 wild horses and burros under federal control with as much as 19 million additional acres on which to roam freely.

But getting the bill through the Senate will be a much tougher challenge, in part because the powerful cattle industry sees the horses as competition for cows that graze on public land. Previous efforts to push the bill through the Senate have failed.

"It's going to be difficult, but not impossible," said Ginger Kathrens, founder and executive director of The Cloud Foundation, a Colorado-based nonprofit corporation dedicated to preserving wild horses on public land.

The Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., has been sent to the Senate Energy and Commerce Committee, where it awaits action.

Committee leaders have been hostile to the bill in the past. But a key supporter of the legislation, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., serves on the panel and is pressing her colleagues to take up the bill.

She will be opposed by the U.S. Cattlemen's Association, which says the bill would lead to the unmanaged growth of horse and burro herds at the expense of livestock.

"Residents of rural America are dealing with an overpopulation of unwanted horses and burros," association president Jon Wooster said in a written statement. "(The bill) exacerbates this problem."

But Chris Heyde of the Animal Welfare Institute said the horses' range has been shrinking while an estimated 8 million cows and other livestock graze on about 235 million acres of federal land in 11 Western states.

The horses' range land has been slashed from nearly 54 million acres in 1971 to about 34 million acres today in Arizona, Nevada, California, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and other states in the West and Midwest.

"There is a lot of public support for the wild horses, but animal welfare bills are always seen as a low priority in Congress," Heyde said. "That's why it's so important that senators hear from these home-state constituents who have come to Washington."

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Contact Erin Kelly at ekelly(AT)gannett.com.

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