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Wild horses: Wyoming herds headed for politically driven roundup?

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In the stampede of controversy over efforts to remove thousands of wild horses from public lands, few states have sent out more mixed messages than Wyoming, which features a bucking bronc on its license plate and urges tourists to take a "wild horse scenic loop tour" -- while pushing the feds to remove 70 percent of the herds along that scenic loop.

The Cowboy State's hypocrisy gets a drubbing in this post at The Atlantic by CBS News legal analyst Andrew Cohen. It's one of a series of pieces by Cohen trying to decipher the Department of the Interior's convoluted wild-horse management policy, which has undergone several gyrations under Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.

Bureau of Land Management officials say roundups like the one planned in Wyoming, which proposes to remove 700 horses from the Little Colorado and White Mountain herd management areas, are necessary because the horses have overpopulated their range. Horse advocates maintain that the roundups injure and kill horses, condemn them to additional suffering and neglect in costly temporary pastures or holding pens, and are driven by livestock grazing interests rather than science.

Cohen's take? "With friends like the BLM and Wyoming state officials, the horses and their human supporters don't need any enemies," he writes.

Cohen points out that the government's notion of what makes for a "sustainable" population of horses on public lands is a very slippery figure. Wyoming ranchers (and the state, which has joined in some of the litigation over the herds) say that the targeted area -- which amounts to 850,000 acres! -- can only sustain 300 horses. But even if the herds were allowed to remain at their current size, that's only one horse for every 850 acres. The problem, Cohen notes, is that livestock use that land, too, at a rate that amounts to nine times the forage allocated to the horses.

A report prepared for horse activists by a former BLM scientist suggests there's plenty of federal land in Wyoming for horses and livestock. But that's not what the ranchers want to hear.

"The governor of Wyoming is a rancher," Cohen notes. "The Secretary of the Interior is a rancher... The war is eternal and the horses almost always lose."

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Sheryl Crow Frontier Days flap leads to 'generous donation' to wild horse advocates."

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