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Lawmakers want feds to rein in wild horse problem — or Utah will

SALT LAKE CITY — A state lawmaker says the inability of the federal government to humanely manage the exploding populations of wild horses and burros should prompt Congress or President Donald Trump to give that authority to Utah.

"It is a hell," said Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, sponsor of HCR22.

"They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions," Ivory said. "This is a hell for the ecosystem. This is a hell for wildlife species. … This is a hell for the animals themselves."

The resolution, which passed on a 10-1 vote in the House Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee, notes that while federal herd management levels on Western ranges should be at 26,715 horses and burros, the actual number is 67,027.

Populations more than three times the targeted management level are causing widespread destruction of rangeland, leading to serious issues for ecosystems, wildlife species, ranchers and farmers, and to the herds themselves, Ivory said.

The resulting "havoc" needs to be corralled before more damage takes place, he added.

Rep. Scott Chew, R-Jensen, said hungry horses in his district are creating a public safety problem, with numerous animals having been hit and killed on highways.

The Bureau of Land Management in Utah has carried out several wild horse and burro gathers over the past few months on an emergency basis to cull herds. Nationwide, there are about 45,000 animals in long-term holding pens that have not been adopted and are being cared for at a cost of $50 million a year.

Adoptions, once seen as one way to help control herd populations, have not kept up with the population growth of the animals, which can double in numbers every four years.

The resolution calls on the president and Congress to repeal the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burro Act of 1971, or remove the regulatory roadblocks to fulfilling its mandate to keep populations in check by all means necessary, including lethal removal.

A 2004 amendment to the act allowed the BLM to sell animals at $10 a head to anyone, including slaughterhouses, but Congress subsequently withdrew funding from U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors.

The overpopulation problem of wild horses in Utah has prompted several lawsuits, including a recent complaint filed by Beaver County demanding the federal government get the issue in check.

Ivory said the untenable situation has to end by states stepping in to manage populations.

"We know how to manage on the land," he said, pointing to successful wildlife management carried out by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

The full House will now consider the resolution.