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Born to be wild. Not.

Despite the romantic notion of sleek, beautiful wild horses roaming the Western plains, reality paints a different picture. Many untamed herds are laced with old or sick animals left behind to suffer and die. Meanwhile, younger horses and burros reproduce at a rate of about 18 percent per year. The forage and water on public rangeland, which these animals typically share with domestic herds, cannot sustain unchecked populations.Those factors led in 1973 to the Bureau of Land Management wild-horse protection program, which now suddenly is under criticism. Charges of abuses by some BLM employees and adoptive animal owners have the government agency backpedaling, perhaps rightfully so.

The Interior Department should proceed with a speedy and thorough investigation into the alleged wrongdoings, but it should't be too quick to send the proven program to the glue factory. Instead, any criminal acts should be punished and necessary controls implemented so the problems don't continue.

Charges being made include allegations that some BLM employees and others are profiteering when animals are inappropriately sold for slaughter and that employees have received favorable treatment when adopting animals.

Those claims, along with the overall efficiency and feasibility of the program, should be checked out immediately. Any thoughts of animal abuse, including young and healthy horses being sent to slaughter, are particularly reprehensible. Perpetrators should be swiftly and severely punished.

But the philosophy behind the BLM program is a sound one that should not be readily dismissed. Wild horses and burros have no natural predators. Without intervention, their herds would grow unchecked. The result for many animals would be a slow, gruesome death from starvation and dehydration.

Adoption is the best tool the BLM has for controlling herd sizes and providing for the humane care of animals removed from the range. More than 150,000 animals have been domesticated during the past 23 years. The BLM screens all adopters to weed out any with convictions for inhumane animal treatment and to ensure their facilities meet safety standards.

Fine-tuning of the program may be in order, but abolishment would be extreme. Many horses are better off broken.