REP. JIM GIBBONS should be glad horses can't vote.
The Nevada Republican's sprawling district is home to more than 13,000 wild horses - the largest concentration in the nation. Yet he argued last week in favor of retaining a law that allows them to be sold for slaughter, implying they might be better off as foreign finger-food.
"In Nevada, horses do not always look beautiful like the horse that we see in Black Beauty," Mr. Gibbons told the House. "Sometimes they are misshapen. Sometimes they are deformed." On high desert land without the bluegrass of Kentucky, Mr. Gibbons went on, "horses get starved, they are weakened, they become diseased and, of course, they are not as easily adopted."
That's a crueler version of the flimsy and fallacious case made by Sen. Conrad Burns, after he slipped language into a spending bill last year directing the Bureau of Land Management to sell off older wild horses and those rejected for adoption. The Montana Republican contended the horses were starving on the drought-parched range or living crammed like cows in feed lots.
The House wisely rejected those bogus claims, voting 249-to-159 last week to repeal the Burns language and reinstate wild horse protections that have been in place for 34 years. Now those 249 lawmakers will have to stand firm against Senator Burns, who is determined to resist the repeal.
For Mr. Gibbons, Mr. Burns and others eager to dispatch the wild horses, the greater priority is cattle - and the ranchers who are paying less than 6 cents an acre annually to graze millions of cows on public range lands they don't like to share.
Chiefly as a result of pressure from ranchers, so many wild horses have been removed from the range in recent years that it can be argued there aren't too many in the wild, but too few. As of the latest BLM census, two-thirds as many wild horses are now kept at federal corrals or in privately leased pastures as the 31,760 roaming free.
Mr. Gibbons also told the House that wild horses were in no danger because the BLM announced just before the House vote that it had tightened rules for buyers; this was in response to outrage that erupted this spring when 41 horses sold for a pittance and a promise of humane care wound up at an Illinois slaughterhouse. But the agency has no real power to enforce those rules.
The wild horse program needs better management and oversight, not an easy way to dispose of the animals in its care.