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New rules OK sale of wild horses

WASHINGTON -- Wild horses and burros could be bought or sold for slaughter under a provision in the $388 billion spending bill that President Bush signed into law yesterday.

The new law lets the animals be sold, potentially for use as meat in foreign markets, if they are more than 10 years old or, if younger, after they have been offered unsuccessfully for adoption three times. It also requires any money from sales to go to the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management adoption program for wild horses and burros.

Senator Conrad Burns, Republican of Montana, who sponsored the amendment to the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, said he believed most horses would wind up being adopted, not slaughtered, but his intent was to spur the bureau to get serious about its adoption program.

"These animals live in poor conditions that often lead to their deaths, and without proper management this will continue to happen," Burns said yesterday.

"And while their sale is a last resort, it is our hope that bringing this problem to light will motivate the federal agencies and horse advocates alike, and offer new opportunities to find these animals proper, caring homes," he said.

Celia Boddington, spokeswoman for the bureau, said the law had not yet been analyzed by officials there to see how they will comply with it. "Since 1973, we have placed 203,000 animals in good homes, and we're looking forward to continuing our adoptions with the public," she said.

Advocates of wild horses described Burns's provision as inhumane, misguided, and likely to reduce the genetic pool.

"There's going to be less individuals and more chances of inbreeding," said Karen A. Sussman, president of the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros in Lantry, S.D. "Right now there really is little to no inbreeding in herds."

Sussman, who manages three wild horse herds, said cattle, not wild horses, are the main culprit in overgrazing of public lands. She called the 10-year-old cutoff for adoptions unnecessary.

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