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Federal Government Wants To Control Wild Horse Population

By Matt Kroschel

DENVER (CBS4) - Taxpayers foot the bill to the tune of $80 million every year to care for wild horses currently being held in pens across the West. The Secretary of the Interior wants to change that.

Bureau Of Land Management Rounds Up Wild Horses
Two wild horses (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Secretary Ryan Zinke is proposing permanently sterilizing those horses and releasing them back into public lands. The idea is controversial. But even wild horse advocates agree something needs to change as the population grows unchecked, causing food shortages and water woes.

Wild horses live in large sections of public lands called ranges. Each is managed differently.

Cindy Wright with Wild Horse Warriors for Sand Wash Basin was part of a group of volunteers who trucked water into the Sand Wash Basin for horses do to this year's drought with shrinking supplies.

Supporters are cautious to get excited about Zinke's proposal but they are happy to see some renewed discussion about what to do about the issue.

Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke (credit: CBS)

"There's about 27,000 horses is what the lands can cause to sustain for us to be healthy we have 105,000 horses," Zinke told CBS4 in a recent exclusive interview.

"I am an advocate for doing the same thing for what we do with cats and dogs, making sure that horses are healthy, sterilizing neutering horses -- focus on the population going down overtime, this will take a while," Zinke said.

Currently the herds are thinned by rounding up some horses from the wild and putting those animals in holding pins until they are adopted. Most never are.

All along, taxpayers foot the bill to care for the horses.

"Our taxpayers spent over $80 million a year on a horse program that's been a dismal failure," Zinke added.

The horses and wild Burros are federally protected. The Bureau of Land Management is charged with controlling and managing the population.

The issue is heated. Horse advocates have accused the BLM of treating the horses unfairly. Often, horses are killed in the process of rounding up the animals. Usually a helicopter is used to drive the herd into pens before hauling some of the animals off to the holding facilities.

Wild horse advocates differ on exactly what they think should happen, but all of the different groups agree something must be done.

"I'm cautiously optimistic. We want to believe that he is hearing us, is going to make some changes. It absolutely is time for changes," advocate Cindy Wright told CBS4.

Zinke did not have a timetable as to when any changes to how the horses are managed could be made, but says it is a priority.

Matt Kroschel covers news throughout Colorado working from the CBS4 Mountain Newsroom. Send story ideas to and connect with him on Twitter @Matt_Kroschel.

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