The federal Bureau of Land Management will announce Thursday it is resuming sales of wild horses with protections to prevent the animals from being sent to slaughter, the agency's director said Wednesday.
The agency suspended the sales last month after discovering that 41 animals rounded up from Western rangeland had been sold to an Illinois slaughterhouse and processed for meat.
In addition, Ford Motor Co. will pay to transport up to 2,000 horses to Indian reservations and locations run by non-profit organizations. The company will also oversee a "Save the Mustangs" fundraising drive to help groups that adopt the horses pay for their care.
Wild horses are "a beautiful symbol of the Wild West" and an "icon" for Ford, said Jon Harmon, a spokesman for the company whose Mustang sports car has been a flagship brand since 1964.
The government's management of wild horses and burros has long been an emotional issue. The herds have no natural predators, so they can double in size every five years. Wild horses hurt ranchers by competing with cattle for grass on federal rangeland. Animal rights groups, such as the Alliance of Wild Horse Advocates, have pushed for greater protection of the 32,000 horses. The horses numbered 2 million a century ago.
In 1971, Congress recognized wild horses and burros as "living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West" and passed legislation to protect and manage them. Since then, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has conducted regular roundups. More than 200,000 animals have been adopted by people after demonstrating they provided humane treatment for a year.
In December, Congress for the first time authorized selling the horses and burros if they are more than 10 years old or have been unsuccessfully put up for adoption three times.
Congress is weighing reversing the law. The House of Representatives could vote on the measure as early as today.
The BLM has sold about 1,000 horses since December. It has 22,500 horses and burros in holding facilities; about a third of them are eligible for sale.
Last month, the BLM found that 41 horses in two separate transactions had been sent to the slaughterhouse despite requirements that the animals be treated humanely.
BLM Director Kathleen Clarke said the agency will now impose tougher requirements on buyers, who will have to sign a bill of sale promising not to sell the animals to anyone who intends to process them for commercial products. The document also notifies buyers they could face criminal penalties.
"We are very committed to assuring that the animals affected are placed in good homes that will provide humane, long-term care," Clarke said.
Last month, Ford paid to save 52 horses about to be slaughtered. Those horses were transferred to a sanctuary in South Dakota. Ford launched its program at the urging of actress Stefanie Powers, a longtime animal-rights activist. "Nothing more symbolizes the move West to us as a nation," Powers said.