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Wild horses could be sold for slaughter in Trump budget plan

Trump’s budget proposal would eliminate the provision that buyers of wild horses won’t be resold for slaughter. It’s estimated the move would save $10m.

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File: A livestock helicopter pilot rounds up wild horses from the Fox & Lake Herd Management Area from the range in Washoe County, Nev., near the town on Empire, Nev. Wild horse advocates say President Trump's new budget proposal would undermine protection of an icon of the American West in place for nearly a half century and could send up sending thousands of free-roaming mustangs to slaughter houses in Canada and Mexico. (AP Photo/Brad Horn, File)

PALOMINO VALLEY, Nev. (AP) — President Donald Trump’s budget proposal calls for saving $10 million next year by selling wild horses captured throughout the U.S. West without the requirement that buyers guarantee the animals won’t be resold for slaughter.

Wild-horse advocates say the change would gut nearly a half-century of protection for an icon of the American West and could send thousands of free-roaming mustangs to foreign slaughterhouses for processing as food.

They say the Trump administration is kowtowing to livestock interests who don’t want the region’s estimated 59,000 mustangs competing for precious forage across more than 40,000 square miles (103,600 square kilometers) of rangeland in 10 states managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

The budget proposal marks the latest skirmish in the decades-old controversy pitting ranchers and rural communities against groups that want to protect the horses from Colorado to California.

“This is simply a way to placate a very well-funded and vocal livestock lobby,” Laura Leigh, president of the nonprofit protection group Wild Horse Education, said about the plan.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and other interests have been urging the BLM for years to allow sales of wild horses for slaughter to free up room in overcrowded government corrals for the capture of more animals.

Doug Busselman, executive vice president of the Nevada Farm Bureau, blamed the stalemate on the “emotional and anti-management interests who have built their business models on preventing rational and responsible actions while enhancing their fundraising through misinformation.”

Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama also grappled with the spiraling costs of managing the nearly 60,000 horses on the range and 45,000 others in U.S. holding pens and contracted private pastures.

Over the past eight years, the BLM’s wild-horse budget has more than doubled — from $36.2 million in 2008 to $80.4 million in 2017.

Trump’s proposal anticipates the $10 million savings would come through a reduction in the cost of containing and feeding the animals. The savings also would include cutbacks involving roundups and contraception programs.

The 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act allows older, unadoptable animals to be sold. But for years, Congress has approved budget language specifically outlawing the sale of any wild horses for slaughter.

Horse slaughterhouses are prohibited in the U.S. but legal in many other countries, including Canada, Mexico and parts of Europe where horse meat is considered a delicacy.

A year ago, then-BLM Director Neil Kornze said the horses represented a $1 billion budget problem for his agency because it costs $50 million to round up and house every 10,000 horses over their lifetime.

Still, he said the agency had no intention of reversing the long-standing policy.

The Trump administration wants a change, saying through the BLM that the “program is unsustainable and a new approach is needed, particularly when overall federal funding is so constrained.”

It says the budget would allow the agency to manage the wild-horse program in a more cost-effective manner, “including the ability to conduct sales without limitation.”

The BLM rounded up more than 7,000 horses in 2012, but only about 3,000 in each of the past two years due primarily to budget constraints.

As of March, the BLM estimated that more than half the horses roaming the range — 34,780 — were in Nevada. An additional 13,191 burros were on the range — about half in Arizona.

The BLM asserts that U.S. rangeland can sustain fewer than 27,000 horses and burros.

“The original intent of the act was to make sure those animals had a healthy presence on the range, but also that they be kept at a number that is sustainable,” said Ethan Lane, executive director of the National Cattlemen’s public lands council. “You have horses starving to death … and irreversible damage to Western rangelands.”

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said Trump’s budget proposal was shocking.

“Wild horses can and should be humanely managed on-range using simple fertility control, yet the BLM would rather make these innocent animals pay for draconian budget cuts with their very lives,” ASPCA President Matt Bershadker said.

Suzanne Roy, executive director of the American Wild Horse Campaign, said the plan could put the horses on the brink of extinction.

“America can’t be great if these national symbols of freedom are destroyed,” she said.

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Colorado officials to focus on treatment, enforcement to curb heroin epidemic

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Colorado officials said Tuesday that they hope a two-fold approach will prevent the growth of the state’s heroin epidemic.

Federal and state officials announced plans to focus on prosecuting dealers and use local law enforcement to link people addicted to the drug to treatment options.

According to an updated report also released Tuesday, 228 people died in Colorado in 2016 from heroin overdoses. That’s an increase of 43 percent compared to 2015, when 160 heroin overdose deaths were reported.

Colorado U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer said his office is working with the Drug Enforcement Agency and local prosecutors to bring federal charges against traffickers of heroin, fentanyl and other dangerous drugs. Federal prosecutions can lead to longer sentences and those convicted serve time in far-flung federal prisons rather than state prisons, sending a warning to other dealers, Troyer said.

“This is not a mass incarceration argument,” Troyer said. “This is an exacting, targeting argument on those causing the most harm.”

The second half of the strategy will encourage local law enforcement to help people addicted to the drug get access to treatment through a state hotline.

Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock said local law enforcement quickly learn to recognize the difference between someone who is dealing and someone who is caught in the grip of addiction.

“We’re doing something that we haven’t done in a long time,” Spurlock said. “And that is go after the pushers but have an equally opposing force on the user and helping those folks get off.”

Under the new plan, officers can contact the hotline directly or encourage people with addiction to use it as a resource.

State health officials said the hotline operators walk callers through the process of finding treatment options.

The effort doesn’t have any new financial backing. Officials with the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Area program said they will direct $4 million in existing funds toward law enforcement task forces aggressively targeting heroin dealers.

“We don’t want to become an East coast, a West Virginia or Ohio,” said Tom Gorman, director of the program. “We want to take a proactive approach and say we want to stop this in Colorado.”

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Denver seeks cannabis tax hike to ease housing crisis

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Denver officials have unveiled a plan that would have marijuana buyers help pay for an expansion of the city’s 10-year, $150 million affordable housing fund.

The Denver Post reports Mayor Michael Hancock and other city officials on Monday unveiled the proposal that, if approved, would increase the city’s 3.5 percent special tax on recreational marijuana sales to 5.5 percent.

The tax hike requires only council approval since Denver voters capped the special local tax at 15 percent when they approved it in 2013.

The city’s shorter-term plan is to subsidize the building or preservation of 3,000 income-restricted apartments and other housing units in the next five years. The Denver Post reports that the proposal would allow the city to up its goal of 3,000 apartments to 6,400.

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Colorado teachers takeover Capitol demanding better school funding

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Hundreds of public school teachers swarmed the Colorado state Capitol on Monday, shuttering one suburban Denver school district to demand better salaries, as lawmakers were set to debate a pension reform measure that would cut retirement benefits and take-home pay.

With the demonstrations, Colorado educators join peers in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Arizona who have staged strikes or high-profile protests in recent weeks to draw attention to what teachers unions see as a growing crisis in the profession.

In Colorado the need is especially stark – and apparently at odds with a state economy that ranks among the nation’s best. The average teacher salary – $46,155 in 2016 -ranks 46th among states and Washington, D.C., according to the latest figures from the National Education Association.

By another metric, Colorado’s dead last. The Education Law Center, an advocacy group, said this year that Colorado’s teacher salaries are the worst in the nation “when compared to professionals with similar education levels.”

Teachers rallied in and outside the building Monday, holding signs and chanting slogans including “You left me no choice. I have to use my teacher voice.” They drew honks from passing cars before heading inside, where their cheers and songs resonated throughout the Golden Dome, drawing lawmakers out of their respective chambers to investigate the noise.

Washington, D.C., native Callie Gonyea, who is in her second year teaching at Ellis Elementary School in Denver, said she was surprised to learn that Colorado spending was so far below the national average given the number of people moving to the state and the millions of dollars raised in taxes on legalized marijuana.

“There’s no reason we should be down there,” said the second-grade teacher, who walked outside the Capitol holding a sign that said “We(e’)d like the weed money, man.”

Gonyea said she would like to see more funding to pay for mental health treatment at her school, which has one full-time psychologist. She said her class alone has three students who would benefit from daily check-ins with the therapist.

While recent teacher protests have come in firmly red states, Colorado has a Democratic governor and a Legislature split between Democrats and Republicans, but it has some of the strictest spending limits in the country thanks to a constitutional amendment passed by voters in 1992, and all tax hikes require voter approval.

Education advocates have filed statewide ballot measures this year to raise revenue for schools, but past attempts have repeatedly been rejected by voters.

It’s not clear if Colorado’s activism could be a sign of protests spreading to more Democratic-leaning states. There are two blue states are in the bottom half of per pupil spending with Colorado — California at 35 and Oregon at 36.

Monday’s demonstration was organized by the state’s largest teachers union, the Colorado Education Association, which estimated the morning crowd at 400. Englewood Schools Superintendent Wendy Rubin said that over 70 percent of the district’s faculty was expected to be absent so classes were cancelled Monday.

School funding has been at the forefront of the state’s spending fights for years, but organizers said this year’s lobbying day drew additional interest in light of recent demonstrations across the country.

Democratic lawmakers cheered the protests on Monday, stopping to pose for selfies with the teachers. But Republicans questioned the timing of the demonstrations in a year that lawmakers are expected to increase K-12 funding by the largest amount in recent memory.

“As a lifelong educator — I was in education for 40 years — I can see what the concerns are, but quite frankly this year they’re totally unfounded,” said state Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida. “I find it kind of ironic that we have the stirring up of the CEA troops and bringing them to the Capitol today when we’re considering a school finance bill this year which has the biggest increase since 2008.”

Colorado currently underfunds its schools by $822 million annually, pinching rural areas in particular, where school districts face teacher shortages. Lawmakers in next year’s budget plan to “buy down” the annual amount owed to schools by $150 million, and boost per-pupil spending by 6 percent. It’s unclear if the additional funding will result in lasting raises in the poorest districts, where superintendents complain of losing teachers to places like Walmart.

A sweeping pension reform effort moving through the Legislature could require districts and teachers alike to contribute more to the Public Employees’ Retirement Association, which faces an unfunded debt of at least $32 billion. And a property-tax limiting provision of the state constitution is expected to trigger cuts to local school funding in 2019.

Colorado recently ranked 40th in spending per student according to 2013 figures from the National Center for Education Statistics compiled by the Colorado School Finance Project.

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