The Humane Society of the United States applauds the Bureau of Land Management's announcement outlining several new policies associated with the agency's Wild Horse and Burro program. These new policies, designed to increase public transparency and ensure the humane treatment of animals, are the initial components of the long-awaited Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program that the agency has been in the process of developing for several years. Holly Hazard, the HSUS's senior vice president of programs and innovations, issued the following statement:

"These new policies are striking in that they integrate specific new minimum standards for animal welfare, with a general department policy of compassion and concern. Many of the recommendations mimic the Humane Society of the United States' report (PDF) that we issued to the BLM in July 2011, and if these policies are put into action and incorporated into the BLM's culture, they promise to result in a sea change in the day-to-day management of our wild horse herds.

We are gratified that BLM is addressing the treatment of foals, handling aids, electric prods and the balance of gathering demands and horse welfare. We are disappointed that the Bureau chose to allow contractor and field personnel discretion with issues related to temperature, the distance horses must run and speed of the stampede. We are hopeful this is a living document and that its shortcomings will be addressed in subsequent amendments.

It is ironic, however, that many of the necessary changes come as a result of media attention and public observations and that, while championing transparency, the changes do not include the right of the media and public to witness the gather from a reasonable distance within the ability of the human eye to observe.

Although this is a huge step forward, it does not address the underlying failure of the BLM to manage our wild horses primarily on the range. The cycle of waiting until horses are over Appropriate Management Level, gathering the excess and being unable to treat those remaining with contraception, has led the agency into a management and financial morass. It can only free itself by investing in a significant reform of its polices related to removal, herd management areas and disaster management. The HSUS is hopeful the agency will devote all necessary attention to this challenge until the program is stabilized."

The BLM introduced the idea of a Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program in its proposed strategy for the Future Management of America's Wild Horses and Burros in February 2011. Since that time, the BLM has gathered more than 15,000 horses and burros and there have been many instances of documented inhumane treatment both during gather operations and in government holding facilities.

2012 Gather Season Facts

An HSUS executive witnessed a BLM contractor appear to hogtie and leave a lost foal in the path of stampeding mustangs at the Desatoya Wild Horse Gather near Austin, Nev.

In October 2012, the HSUS learned that BLM officials sold more than 1,700 wild horses to a longtime horse slaughter advocate who is allegedly running a horse slaughter scheme and BLM has yet to act upon this information.

At the recent Owyhee Complex Wild Horse Gather in Nev., a stallion was caught in a barb wire fence after he became separated from his band while a BLM contractor helicopter pilot attempted to herd the group through a 16-foot wide gate. Fortunately, the stallion was not injured, but the incident may have been prevented entirely if BLM contractors provided a larger entry for the wild horses.

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