From the December 2004 Idaho Observer:

28,000 wild horses to be executed by Bush

Critics say slaughter is payback for BLM grazing ranchers who supported president's reelection bid

by Greg Szymanski

Our Texas gun-slinging President now has his sights set on the symbol of the great American West, the wild mustang.

In a matter of days, he's set to pull the trigger and sign a little known bill, opening the slaughter house gates on 28,000 wild horses grazing on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property in California and other western states.

Animal rights critics said the "trigger-happy" President is expected to turn his back on the "cowboy's best friend" despite an 11th hour plea to stop the carnage.

The amendment to kill the horses slipped into an obscure federal appropriations bill sponsored by Senator Conrad Burns (R-Montana), a friend to ranchers seeking more grazing land for cattle now used by wild horses.

Critics said the "hidden move" comes as pay back to meat packers as well, both groups making campaign contributions to President Bush and Sen. Burns.

Sen. Burns quietly added the amendment in an unrelated spending bill in hopes of gaining little attention from critical animal rights activists. The law removes all protection for wild horses over the age of 10 or that have failed to be adopted after three attempts.

Critics said the law will also lead younger horses to slaughter and is designed to wipe-out the entire wild horse herd, paving the way for open grazing for land-hungry cattle ranchers who view the horses as a nuisance.

"No one knew about this until the last minute. It was kept a secret for obvious reasons," said Jerry Finch, head of the Habitat for Horses, a nonprofit Texas horse rescue group. Don't turn your back on this President for one minute. He's now even going to shoot the horses in the back. This amendment means death by slaughter for tens of thousands of horses and a lot of profit for those who kill and transport the meat overseas.

"It's a sad reflection on our government process to know that one man can silently, by himself, order the death of so many horses."

Under the amendment, older horses, burros and those younger horses deemed not able to be adopted will be sold at auction then killed. The law overrides the longstanding 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act, which offered protection against this type of wholesale slaughter.

It clears the way for horses to be slaughtered at one of three United States equine slaughterhouses, two located in Texas. American horse meat is then sold to France, Italy, Belgium and Japan, where it is viewed as a delicacy.

Celia Bodington, a spokesman for the BLM, said the agency did not actively support the hidden legislation, but will support its ramifications if passed into law.

Animal rights groups across the board have voiced last minute opposition to the potential slaughter, including the Society for Animal Protective Legislation, the Animal Horse Defense Fund and the Human Rights Society.

"This provision was kept secret since it would never see the light of day otherwise," said Chris Hyde, an analyst for the Animal Protective Legislative group, referring to the fact that many legislators were completely unaware of its inclusion in the otherwise unrelated federal spending bill.

Trina Bellak of the American Horse Defense Fund said this sets the stage for a major battle with the environmentally unfriendly Bush Administration and Republican Congress.

"This is abominable, outrageous, disingenuous and unethical," said Bellak.

Sen. Burns, a rancher himself, denied allegations he is sponsoring the bill to help his rancher friends gain needed grazing land or to line the pockets of the meat packing industry.

"The amendment focuses on the proper management of horses and burros on public land," said Sen. Burns in defense of the bill's passage, adding horses are now living in poor conditions.

Critics said Sen. Burns statements should be categorically dismissed since his idea of proper horse management is to "kill them all off."

Despite mounting criticism, President Bush is expected to sign the amendment since he has failed to veto one piece of legislation during his first term and critics believe he will not suddenly change that pattern now.

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