WASHINGTON—In a move designed to spare tens of thousands of America’s wild horses and burros from ongoing threats including mass slaughter, the Senate Appropriations committee advanced a reform-focused budget increase for the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Program in its Fiscal Year 2020 Interior Appropriations bill.
The additional $35 million will support implementation of a comprehensive package of humane and non-lethal management strategies for wild horses and burros on federal range lands. The increased allocation was approved in response to increasing calls from the agency and Congress to allow BLM to kill these beloved symbols of the American West by the thousands.
Sara Amundson, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, said: “Members of Congress from both parties expressed frustration over stakeholders’ refusal to cooperate in creating a long-term solution for wild horses and burros. While taking lethal methods including slaughter off the table, the compromise also involved acceptance of limited removal of horses. But the strategy’s core elements are fertility control, humane care and promotion of adoptions—which together will usher in an era when there will be no need ever to take horses from the range. There is a great deal of passion in our field about the protection of wild horses and burros, but the political reality of this issue demands much more, including a disciplined focus on long-term solutions.”
Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, said: “Our organization’s previous leadership spent years working on this approach, which was first shared with the Secretary of the Interior two years ago, because we understood that continued stalemate would set the stage for increased pressure to allow BLM to execute lethal management of wild horses and burros. We were confident that the Senate, like the House, would strongly support an ambitious plan that emphasizes fertility control, humane management, and heightened adoption of animals. This approach is also consistent with the core beliefs of Americans who care about these animals.”
This revamped approach is built on the following directives:
- Slaughter and lethal methods of population control as a management option will not be allowed.
- Scaled-up implementation of proven, safe and humane fertility control tools to manage horse populations is mandated.
- The use of surgical sterilization techniques will not be allowed as it hasn’t been proven that it can be done safely or humanely on a wild horse or burro.
- Responsible adoption efforts will be increased to find more effective ways to find permanent, responsible homes for wild horses and burros removed from the range.
- Horses and burros who are not adopted, including the approximately 9,600 horses and burros currently held in corral facilities, will live out their lives on approved pastures and sanctuaries instead of languishing in barren feedlot conditions.
- Removals will focus on the most overpopulated Herd Management Areas where conditions present a hazard to horses, burros and the rangeland.
- A commitment to more humane roundup procedures is required.
There are more than 88,000 wild horses and burros on the range and their numbers are increasing. An effective non-lethal and sustainable management program will require large-scale fertility control as well as limited gathering of horses to ensure the success of fertility control and adoption goals.
Under the proposal, when horses are removed from the range, it must be done in compliance with the BLM’s Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program. Moreover, all removals must be coupled with comprehensive fertility control to transition the current program away from endlessly rounding up and warehousing these equines while wild populations continue to breed and expand unrestricted on the range.
Although gather numbers would be larger in the first few years, they would taper off over time. Under BLM’s current management system, more animals would be removed from the range in the long-term without humane and non-lethal safeguards.
This marks the first time that Congress has taken steps to invest in a long-term management approach that – when implemented – will break a 50-year management cycle that has led to the removal of 270,000 wild horses and burros from public lands.
The Humane Society Legislative Fund and the Humane Society of the United States are committed to protecting wild horses and burros and believe that this strategy is the best pathway forward to ensuring a sustainable and long lasting non-lethal management program for these iconic animals. We will continue to work with members in both chambers of Congress to ensure that the focus of the Wild Horse and Burro Program remains on safe and proven fertility control tools, that the BLM engages all interested stakeholders in the process of implementing this strategy, and that additional strategies, such as voluntary grazing buy-outs, are pursued to allow for more equitable distribution of our public lands for wild horses and burros in the future.