Weeks before a scheduled government roundup of 2,500 wild mustangs in Nevada, horse advocates are bringing out the big guns in an effort to stop or delay the operation. They're filing lawsuits and staging protests, bringing in scientists and animal welfare experts to decry this assault on one of the last strongholds of America's wild horses.
And leading the charge is singer Sheryl Crow, a persistent critic of an approach endorsed by, among others, new Interior secretary Ken Salazar.
"I am dismayed by the Bureau of Land Management's decision to continue with the wintertime removal of 2,700 horses from the Calico Mountains of Nevada," reads a just-released statement by the singer. "Over 10,000 people responded asking for an end to this destruction, and once again, the BLM has chosen to ignore the desires of the people."
The contoversy over federal mismanagement of America's mustang herds stretches back decades. BLM officials claim the horses have overgrazed their range and that more roundups are needed to prevent starvation. Groups such as The Cloud Foundation have accused the government of eradicating herds in the service of livestock and development interests and conducting unnecessary roundups that result in injuries and deaths.
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A proposal by Salazar to relocate thousands of wild horses on preserves in the Midwest and East has met with skepticism and outright derision from the horse activists, who quickly dubbed it the "Salazoo Plan." Now comes the Calico roundup, which will add another couple of thousand horses to the 34,000 now in federal holding pens, awaiting adoption or relocation.
A hearing on one lawsuit seeking to stop the roundup is scheduled in Washington today. Meanwhile, the activists are besieging Salazar, the BLM and lawmakers with signed petitions, letters from children... and the dreaded, hectoring voices of celebrities, including Viggo Mortensen and Crow.
"I will continue to make my voice be heard," Crow's statement declares, "even if it is falling on deaf ears, for this is a matter of preserving our heritage."