The secretary's plan, presented in a letter Wednesday to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, includes purchasing land in the East and Midwest on which the Government would create two new preserves, to which thousands of mustangs and burros would be relocated.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which manages 37,000 free-roaming wild horses and burros in 10 western states and keeps 32,000 more in long-term holding facilities, would later seek to work with nonprofit groups and private landowners to establish five more eastern and midwestern preserves.
Those preserves would be functionally the same as those in the West, but accessible to a new audience of Americans who might be interested in adoption, Tom Gorey, spokesman for the BLM, tells DVM Newsmagazine.
The new preserves would aim to promote ecotourism for nearby rural communities, Salazar said.
The two federally owned preserves would cost an estimated $93 million, plus $3 million for capital improvements, according to Gorey. No one has yet specified where they would be.
Another part of Salazar's proposal calls for slowing population growth rates of wild horses on western lands through aggressive use of fertility control, managing sex ratios on the range and possibly introducing non-reproducing herds in some of the BLM's existing management areas.
Some animal-welfare and rights groups, including the Humane Society of the United States, lauded the plan, but Shelley Sawhook, president of the American Horse Defense Fund, said the Government exacerbated the problem when it diverted 19 million acres of federal lands from horse habitat to other uses. Other advocates say moving the animals and curbing fertility alters herds' social structure and behavior, threatening their viability.
Noting that his proposals are subject to Congressional approval and appropriations, Salazar said he and BLM Director Bob Abbey look forward to discussing them with lawmakers "as we work together to protect and manage America's 'Living Legends.'"
To view a copy of Salazar's letter, go to www.blm.gov.