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Letter to the editor - Priestly misrepresents wild horse issue

Having grown up the son of Montana cattle ranchers, I feel I know livestock fairly well. But having also logged around 100 hours in and around wild horse herds, I feel I know these animals equally well and disagree with Frank Priestly's recent call for their demise.

Last month's bill that passed the house simply reinstates wild horses from being slaughtered, a law in place since 1971. This law was overturned after a Montana senator slipped a few paragraphs on the end of a spending bill that allowed for the slaughter of American wild horses for the first time in 34 years. There was no open debate on that move; last month's House passage indeed allowed for debate on the House floor and 78 Republicans voted to protect wild horses.

America's slaughtered wild and domestic horses are currently sent to European dinner tables. With the exception of (shipping) fees charged by American Airlines and (sales for) the company that ships the meat, there is virtually no benefit to the American economy. Having personally visited two of America's three horse slaughter plants, located in Texas, I have seen city documents that cite them repeatedly for clogging the city's sewer. The plants hire migrant Hispanic workers and operate in poor neighborhoods. Most of the owners and workers live away from the town in which they operate.

In other words, the horse slaughter industry is bad for the American economy and good for undocumented immigrants and rich Europeans. Haven't we done enough for the French?

In terms of numbers, the best government estimates put the number of cattle on American public lands at over 4 million, with the number of wild horses at around 35,000. I can personally attest to over-inflated horse estimates in the five western herds I've documented in Montana, Wyoming and Arizona.

Most Americans never see a wild horse in their lifetime. Both cattle and horses are legally entitled to the land. There is a clear lack of balance here.

As much as I enjoy a good steak, hunting, fishing and the American farming and ranching way of life that I grew up with, I've grown tired of those seeking to wipe out wild horses. It is my belief that Frank Priestly and others like him haven't spent any time around these animals or researching them, and that if they did, they might be a bit more tolerant of the animal that got us out to the West in the first place.

Len Johnson, Tucson, Ariz.

Len Johnson recently completed a full-length documentary - "Last of the Spanish Mustangs" - on wild horses. The documentary won the Southwest Associated Press first place award for best documentary. To find out more, visit lenjproductions.com.

 

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