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Ken Salazar: No more horsing around

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In a teleconference with reporters today, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar declared that his department's wild-horse management program "is simply not working" and proposed a new way of dealing with the surplus of horseflesh that is devouring millions in taxpayer dollars.

Secretary Salazar wants to head 'em up and move 'em out -- not to slaughterhouses, as some horse advocates have feared, but to newly created horse preserves in the East and Midwest.

America's wild horse population has nearly tripled in size in the past forty years, while the rangelands that support the herds have shrunk through drought, overgrazing and development. There are now 37,000 horses and burros trying to survive across the West on public lands, and another 32,000 in costly short-term holding pens or pastures awaiting adoption. While adoption rates have declined, thanks in part to a rotten economy, the cost of managing the herds and detainees has continued to climb, from $53 million in 2007 to a projected $69 million this year.

The situation has also stirred fears among wild mustang protection groups that more of the animals will be injured in herd-thinning measures, euthanized or shipped to slaughterhouses -- as detailed in my previous blog "No Place for Wild Horses on Ken Salazar's New Frontier."

But the Secretary insists that won't happen under his new, three-pronged plan, which involves creating seven horse preserves on land acquired in greener Midwestern or Eastern states, so that up to 25,000 horses can be sustained there; highlighting existing special herds to attract more public support and ecotourism; and better efforts by the Bureau of Land Management at population control through contraceptive measures. The cost is steep -- $92 million just for the new flatland horse ranches -- but Salazar insists it will save money in the long run.

Will folks in Iowa take kindly to a bunch of wild mustangs? Will the horses take to Iowa? And what will it mean if these "iconic symbols of the American West," as Salazar calls them, end up in Amish country? Will they still be iconic -- or just wild?

For more on Salazar's proposal, go here.

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