WASHINGTON -- The House voted yesterday to prevent the government from selling off for slaughter any wild horses and burros that roam public lands in the West.
The 277-to-137 vote would restore a 1971 law preventing the Bureau of Land Management from selling the animals for commercial processing.
The protection was removed in 2004 when former senator Conrad Burns, Republican of Montana, inserted a measure in a spending bill allowing their sale.
"These animals were earmarked for death," said the new bill's sponsor, Representative Nick Rahall, Democrat of West Virginia and chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.
Supporters described the wild animals as American icons and said they are ending up on the plates of diners in France and Japan. The House voted last year and in 2005 to end the sales; the Senate never took up the issue.
"This is the latest overwhelming vote to stop the barbaric practice of horse slaughter, and its now time for the entire Congress to finish the job," said Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States.
About 29,000 wild horses and burros were on public lands as of February, according to the Bureau of Land Management.
On average, the agency removes 10,000 wild horses and burros a year .
About 5,500 animals are adopted each year and the agency spends about $23 million caring for those rounded up and not adopted or sold, the agency said.
The bureau halted sales of wild horses and burros in 2005 after 41 of the horses it sold were killed. Sales resumed under tougher restrictions .
The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee passed a bill Wednesday that would outlaw horse slaughter nationally.