RENO, Nev. (AP) — Thirty U.S. representatives urged new U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on Thursday to make a priority out of reforming the government's wild horse management program and its spiraling budget that they say has created an "untenable situation" for both the mustangs and taxpayers.
Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva, the ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources subcommittee on public lands and environmental regulation, wrote the letter appealing to Jewell "as a conservationist and outdoor enthusiast" to help bring "long overdue" changes at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management charged with protecting the horses.
"Given the importance of wild horses to the American people and considering the ever-tightening budget situation, we believe that this is a problem that demands your urgent attention," he wrote.
Florida Rep. C.W. Bill Young, a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, was the lone Republican to sign the letter.
The majority of the co-signers were from states in the East and South, but several joined from states that are home to some of the estimated 37,000 free-roaming wild horses and burros on federal land in the West, including Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., five representatives from California and three from Oregon.
Grijalva said they're asking for renewed attention to the program after an independent scientific review of horse roundups. The review, which was released last month, recommended that the government invest in widespread fertility control of the mustangs and let nature cull any excess herds instead of spending millions to house them in overflowing holding pens.
The 14-member panel assembled by the National Academy of Sciences' National Research Council and Management concluded BLM's removal of nearly 100,000 horses from the Western range over the past decade is probably having the opposite effect of its intention to ease ecological damage and reduce overpopulated herds.
By stepping in prematurely when food and water supplies remain adequate, BLM is producing artificial conditions that ultimately serve to perpetuate population growth, the committee stated.
Jewell, former CEO of outdoor retailer Recreation Equipment Inc., succeeded former Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar in April as secretary of the department overseeing more than 500 million acres of national parks and other public lands.
Interior Department spokeswoman Jessica Kershaw said Thursday that Jewell is "committed to protecting and managing these iconic animals for current and future generations."
"The BLM is reviewing the NAS study in detail with a view to make investments in science-based management approaches, explore additional opportunities for population control and increase transparency for a more cost-effective program," Kershaw said in response to the congressional letter.
Grijalva (gree-HAHL'-vuh) said BLM's wild horse budget has doubled since 2009 as the agency "escalated its unsustainable roundup-remove-and-stockpile approach to wild horse management." Last year, BLM spent 60 percent of its wild horse budget on holding facilities alone, more than $40 million.
"In fact, the U.S. government today maintains more wild horses in captivity than remain in the wild," Grijalva said. "This is an untenable situation, both for America's wild horses and for American taxpayers."
Suzanne Roy, director of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, said more than 30,000 people signed a companion letter to Jewell on Thursday, including celebrities Robert Redford, Carole King, Valerie Bertinelli, Ali MacGraw, Ricky Schroeder, Ed Harris, Noah Wylie and Betty White.