Almost 65 percent of Utah – more than 34 million acres – is federal land. That’s second in the country by percentage of the state and fourth in the total number of federal land acreage. So Utahns have an interest in the wild horse debate that is currently happening at the federal level.

One side of that debate is made up of powerful interests that want to eradicate wild horses from the rangelands by any means necessary – whether that means putting them in captivity or sending them to the slaughterhouse (or both).

As it currently stands, wild horses and burros in Utah are restricted to just under 2.5 million of the 23 million acres of public lands that the Bureau of Land Management manages. Even with that small percentage, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, or NCBA, wants more for private, commercial livestock grazing.

Recently, the NCBA backed a proposal called “A Path Forward for Management of BLM’s Wild Horses and Burros," an attempt to achieve their eradication goals under the guise of animal welfare. And unfortunately, they used short-term promises and vague assurances to convince well-known animal advocacy groups – including the ASPCA and Humane Society of the U.S., or HSUS – to co-sign it.

I have canceled my financial support of both groups as a result of their shortsighted support for this proposal. It is bad for wild horses and will put tens of thousands of these cherished animals at risk of harm, making it completely anathema to both groups’ missions and the reasons that I supported them in the past.

While touted as a slaughter prevention program, the plan makes slaughter more likely over the long term. There are currently close to 50,000 wild horses confined in holding pens and pastures – a fact that pro-slaughter interests often use as a justification for the need to kill them. And under the NCBA proposal, this number will double as BLM removes an additional 50,000 horses from the range and into captivity.

Taxpayers’ bill for this new removal and holding program is $15-20 million just to remove the horses and then $34 million to warehouse them in holding pastures in the first year alone. When politicians decide that the money isn’t there to continue caring for the horses who have been removed from the range, or the money would be better spent elsewhere, these animals’ lives will be put at risk.

How do you think the slaughter advocates – like Utah Rep. Chris Stewart, who has led the charge for slaughter in the Congress – are going to respond to even higher holding numbers and costs? Without a guarantee for their long-term safety, animal advocates should oppose the proposal on this basis alone.

In a poll of Rep. Stewart’s District, 63 percent of residents said they want Congress to continue the ban on slaughtering our wild horses and burros according to the American Wild Horse Campaign. The American public, too, wants these iconic symbols of the West protected on our public lands.

The ASPCA and HSUS – so-called animal welfare groups – have justified their backing of this proposal under the guise of “compromise.” But selling out America’s wild horses by putting them on the path toward eventual slaughter isn’t compromise; it’s complicity. It’s far from humane. And if they think this is the best path forward, they have completely lost their way.

Terminating support for the ASPCA and HSUS is a start, but we need to demand that our elected officials do better on behalf of these icons of the frontier and the American West. Stewart may be a lost cause. But if we speak loud enough, perhaps the others will take notice.