Front and center (if below the fold) in the New York Times this morning (Sunday!) is a story on the wild mustangs of western American lore. There they are in an accompanying color shot, speeding ahead of a banking helicopter as it readies for the final maneuvers that’ll add these four glorious animals to the 30,000 already in custody.

Adding fuel to the debate on equine welfare that rages in the wake of fuel increases, skyrocketing feed prices and slaughter practices South of the Border, wild mustang herd culling is on the table again.

29 million acres are at the crux of the dispute in this case. How many horses can it support? What is the limit of their numbers, doubling every four years as it does? What about the other animals living there? From the article:

Some environmentalists and scientists have come to see the mustangs, which run wild from Montana to California, as top-of-the-food-chain bullies, invaders whose hooves and teeth disturb the habitats of endangered tortoises and desert birds.

Even the language has shifted. In a 2006 article in Audubon magazine, wild horses lost their poetry and were reduced to “feral equids.”

“There’s not just horses out there, there’s other critters, from the desert turtle in the south to the bighorn sheep in the north,” said Paula Morin, the author of the book “Honest Horses.”

“We’ve come a long way in our awareness of the web of life and maintaining the whole ecology,” Ms. Morin said, adding, “We do the horses a disservice when we set them apart.”

"Feral equids"…what a comedown for such a storied species. It’s enough to recall the other debate, that of feral cats, in which language is used to denigrate a species—after we’ve had our way with it, of course.

Right now most of these horses are being captured and funneled into the Adopt-A-Horse program. But how many homes are there at a time when keeping a horse is increasingly cost prohibitive for so many?  How can we afford to feed and shelter the 30,000 in the hand while managing the rest in the bush? (reportedly another 33,000 or so).

Euthanasia is the approach favored by many of our lawmakers. Cull the herd, the sick and old first, and keep it manageable thereafter.

But critics contend that the wild mustang, feral though it may be, indisputably damaging to our native grasses and native wildlife habitats as it is, is being singled out among many interests that compete for the mutually assured destruction of that land.

After all, unreported numbers of cattle are being grazed on this land. Why limit the equine numbers on the pretext of habit conservation if you’re willing to offer it up to the highest bidder with cozy ties to your campaign?

Hmmmm…the plot thickens. Sounds familiar, too.