Wild horses, burros look for homes in Cannon Falls
CANNON FALLS — Last fall, three young girls from Oronoco sent letters to President Barack Obama, protesting the way the federal government rounds up wild horses in the western United States.
On Saturday, the three came face-to-snout with some of the animals they're so concerned about.
April, 11, Cadence, 8, and Paige Gentling, 6, took dozens of photos during the Eastern States Wild Horse and Burro Adoption Program at Simon Arena in Cannon Falls. But their attitudes regarding how the animals are treated remains unchanged.
"It really upsets her," Elizabeth Gentling said of her daughter, Cadence. "I said, keep writing to the president and … maybe you'll be the one to make a difference."
About 40 animals were on display during Saturday's adoption program, which was run by the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management. Most of the animals were captured in Oregon, Nevada and California.
The girls object to the bureau's use of low-flying helicopters to herd the wild animals into holding pens.
"They instantly knew it was wrong," said Nick Harbaugh, Elizabeth's fiance, of the YouTube video that first alerted the Gentling girls to the practice.
Gabriele Thompson, a wild horse and burro specialist with the Bureau of Land Management, acknowledged there are concerns over the use of helicopters based on prior accidents. However, she said statistics also show the technique is necessary.
Herds of wild horses increase in size about 20 percent annually if left unchecked, according to Thompson. That means herds would double in size every five years, creating food-supply issues.
"To keep from starving themselves out, we have to capture some to trim the herds out," Thompson said.
The captured animals are taken to a federal facility in Nebraska until adoption opportunities arise, such as the recent one in Cannon Falls.
But Thompson said adoptions have slowed to a crawl in recent years due to the economic downturn. The first-come, first-serve adoptions saw just six animals spoken for in the first four hours of Saturday's event.
"It's very slow nowadays," Thompson said. "Everything has gotten so expensive that very few people are willing to take on additional animals right now."
Adopters must meet a series of federal requirements, which includes a yearlong trial period during which authorities can make compliance inspections at will and repossess animals if conditions are deemed unsafe. After one calendar year, an adopter can file paperwork to become the official owner.
The Gentling girls are scheduled to begin riding lessons this spring, but they — like many others in attendance on Saturday — simply aren't in the market for a new animal. With two previously neglected horses and a miniature horse already on their Oronoco property, their hands are already full.
For now, the youngsters will have to settle for a reply letter received from President Obama — which Harbaugh said "made them feel pretty special."