Wild horse protection advocates are accusing the federal Bureau of Land Management of stacking a public advisory board with friends of cattle ranchers at the expense of mustangs, and warning that the panel is increasingly sympathetic to the idea of slaughtering excess animals in overpopulated herds on U.S. lands in the West.

BLM officials deny the charges and are fighting back in uncharacteristically strong terms, saying the activists are resorting to dishonest scare tactics to help push their “anti-management agenda by any means possible.”