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House Takes Step Toward Culling Wild Horses

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

If you've spent any time on public lands in the American West, you might have seen this firsthand. The population of wild horses has exploded in recent years. Congress has responded. The House appropriations committee recently adopted an amendment that would allow the culling of wild horses. Laura Leigh is the president of Wild Horse Education, and she says this is the wrong move.

LAURA LEIGH: Killing these wild horses is step Z, and we've never taken step A.

MARTIN: Leigh suggests focusing on birth control to limit the fertility of wild horses.

LEIGH: We need to slow their birth rates. We can do that. We have the tools. We're just not using them.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Her argument is that the House adopted the amendment to boost the bottom line for ranchers.

LEIGH: And they make a lot of money running their cows. And a blade of grass out there has a dollar value. And if a horse eats it, they can't turn it into cash.

MARK WINCH: But you can't manage and protect one species above all the rest.

INSKEEP: Mark Winch is a cattle rancher in Utah and says horses get special treatment.

WINCH: And the vegetation and native plants that have been there are starting to disappear, in many instances, almost to apocalyptic levels.

INSKEEP: OK, now, cattle also threaten the ecology. And there are far more cattle than wild horses on Western land. But Winch argues that cattle help the economy.

WINCH: If you can tell me where horses have been a good part of the American economy in the last 20 years other than horse racing, I'd be very interested in seeing that.

MARTIN: The amendment heads to the Senate next. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.