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Controversial Wild Horse Plan Headed To Senate Floor

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Congress is closer to approving an initiative that would protect wild horses backed by national animal welfare groups and the livestock industry but condemned by leaders of the largest and oldest coalition of mustang advocates in the West.

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved $35 million last week for the program supported by an unprecedented alliance including the Humane Society of the United States, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, National Cattlemen's Beef Association and American Farm Bureau Federation. They say it would eliminate the threat of slaughter for thousands of free-roaming horses and shrink the size of herds primarily through expanded fertility controls on the range.

Critics say it drops long-held opposition to the capture of mustangs across 10 western states and could allow for sterilization of mares — a hot-button issue with horse protection advocates historically. "It's a sweeping betrayal of America's wild herds by the nation's largest animal welfare groups," Suzanne Roy, executive director of the American Wild Horse Campaign, said following Thursday's vote.

The Senate committee included a $35 million increase for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's wild horse and burro program as part of the $35.8 billion Interior Department appropriation bill it approved on Thursday. It's not clear when the full Senate will consider the measure.

Then-Acting BLM Director Casey Hammond said in Idaho in July the Trump administration won't pursue lethal measures such as euthanasia or selling horses for slaughter. Backers of the bill approved by the Senate panel said it provides added assurances the horses will be treated humanely. They had sought a $50 million increase in the BLM's $80 million annual horse budget, arguing any boost in spending on contraception and other population controls ultimately will save money as herds shrink.

The new proposal advocates roundups in densely populated areas that cannot sustain large numbers of animals. It also would move horses currently in short-term holding pens to larger "cost effective, humane" pastures.

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