Wild horses photographed at the Sulphur Herd Management Area in Utah before a Bureau of Land Management roundup earlier this year. Photo by Steve Paige.

 

Return to Freedom Wild Horse Conservation on Wednesday urged supporters of America’s iconic wild horses and burros to speak out on their behalf, and for Congress to stand against a presidential budget proposal that threatens the lives of tens of thousands of horses.

“Now is the time for our representatives to ask tough questions and demand a humane, sustainable on-the-range management plan for wild horses — rather than be left to explain their votes later, after healthy horses are shipped to slaughter or shot at taxpayer expense,” said Neda DeMayo, president of Return to Freedom.

“Likewise, supporters of wild horses ought to contact their representatives right now – not after such deadly provisions become law. Pick up a pen or the phone and make sure that Washington hears you, loud and clear, over the whispers of industry lobbyists.”

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke took questions from the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on Tuesday and Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior on Wednesday. In nearly five hours of testimony, wild horse management received only fleeting mentions and Zinke’s prepared statement shed no new light on the administration’s plans.

The president’s budget would slash the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Program budget by 12%, about $9.7 million. The majority of the program’s budget goes to warehouse some 47,000 captured wild horses and burros living in short- and long-term government holding facilities.

The budget would cut those costs by allowing the BLM “to conduct sales without limitation,” eliminating the current policy of captured wild horses and burros being offered for sale without limitation when they reach 10 years of age or fail to be adopted three times. Many sold would likely fall into the hands of kill buyers.

The budget would also remove “language restricting BLM’s ability to use all of the management tools authorized in the 1971 [Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros] Act,” scrapping Congress’s prohibitions in previous appropriations bills that barred BLM from shooting healthy animals.

As part of the president’s focus on “all-of-the-above” energy production, Zinke repeatedly returned to the subject of a $15.5 billion drop in his department’s revenues and said that some of the $1.6 billion in proposed cuts could be lessened if revenues increase.

Zinke took a variety of questions about specific areas of concerns in the senators’ states, an ongoing review of national monuments, a large-scale reassignment of department employees, tribal issues and climate change. He defended an 84 percent cut of Interior’s Land and Water Conservation program by saying the country ought not buy more land but instead take better care of what it had.

So far, Zinke has shown little interest in humane management alternatives for wild horses.

Testifying about the budget before the Speaking House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior earlier this month, Zinke said that “the birth control part of the (Wild Horse) Program has been, by and large, a failure” – this despite BLM spending just $340,000 on fertility control in 2016 compared to $52.49 million on capturing and warehousing horses off the range, for example.

A 2013 National Academy of Sciences report identified fertility control as an effective tool for managing the wild horse population while blaming BLM’s system of capture and removal for promoting population growth. An economic model published that same year in the peer-reviewed Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine found that the BLM could attain its management goals within 12 years by using fertility control.

In 2008, BLM was very close to achieving their desired population target and still they did not implement an effective fertility control program that has proven 91-98% successful in various programs.

Return to Freedom and other advocates have long called for redirecting money spent on capturing and holding wild horses toward available solutions that do not include the needless slaughter of healthy equines promised our protection.

These include not only using safe, proven fertility control but revisiting population targets, based on a fair interpretation of multiple-use land management; providing incentives for ranchers who reduce livestock grazing in wild horse Herd Management Areas; increasing range stewardship, including much-needed water source restoration; and relocating horses, but only if truly necessary.

Shooting healthy wild horses at taxpayer expense or selling them out the back door, where they wind up slaughtered in Canada or Mexico, would contradict the will of Congress and the American people.

The recently passed bipartisan omnibus bill defunded horse slaughter plant inspections and explicitly prohibits BLM from euthanizing healthy wild horses or selling horses in a way that results in their destruction. Since January 139 House members have also signed on as co-sponsors of the bipartisan HR 113 (Buchanan), dubbed the SAFE Act, which would permanently ban commercial horse slaughter or the transport of horses to slaughter.

The American people have repeatedly supported protections for wild horses and burros, dating to the public outcry that led the unanimous passage of the Wild Horse and Burro Act in 1971. Since then, taxpayers have invested tens of millions of dollars in the protection of wild horses on the range and after capture. A 2012 ASPCA poll found 80% of Americans opposed horse slaughter.

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