The appointment of Callie Hendrickson to a board that helps shape the federal government's wild horse management plan has touched off a frenzy of petitions and protests by horse advocacy groups. They say the Grand Junction woman is a defender of ranching interests who's endorsed commercial slaughter of "excess horses" on public lands.
The Department of the Interior was barraged with phone calls and e-mails after it was announced that Hendrickson would be appointed as one of two "general public" representatives on the Bureau of Land Management's Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board. Hendrickson is executive director of the White River and Douglas Creek Conservation Districts and a horse owner herself. But she's better known to wild horse activists as a champion of grazing rights. The districts she represents intervened in a contentious lawsuit over wild horse roundups in Colorado, supporting the BLM's efforts to "zero out" the West Douglas herd, a small but hardy group of mustangs located south of Rangely.
The board, which is supposed to provide a wide range of citizen and stakeholder input, has specific seats designated for veterinarians, livestock management, natural resources and so on. That Hendrickson was appointed to represent the public at large alarms groups such as the Colorado Springs-based Cloud Foundation, which has criticized the move as stacking the board in favor of ranchers, who view wild horses as competition for public grazing land.
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Hendrickson has maintained that the horse herds are far more overpopulated than official BLM counts suggest. At the same time, she's denounced the "waste" involved in the agency's roundups and failed adoption program, which has left 45,000 horses and burros in short-term holding facilities and privately contracted pastures, operated at taxpayer expense. "We've got a wreck," she said in a recent radio interview. "We've got too many horses on the range and 45,000 in holding areas, costing taxpayers over $35 million a year. That's unsustainable."
On the Wild Horse Range Coalition blog, Hendrickson has expressed frustration that the prior board has refused "to consider the elephant in the room and discuss lethal control of the horses." She has also called for "welfare horses" to be made available for sale "without limitation" to the highest bidder. Since the adoption program can only handle a small fraction of the horses BLM is removing from the range every year, that presumably means turning them into horsemeat and glue.
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Critics of BLM's program insist that the horses are not overpopulated and starving and that the roundups have decimated viable herds. When the 1971 Wild Horse and Burro Act was passed, 339 herds were identified as under its protection; only 179 of those herds remain today, and their total permitted range has dwindled from 53 million acres to 31.6 million acres.
More from our News archive: "Video: Wild horse roundups featuring burros being 'hotshotted' are kinder, gentler?"