The Bureau of Land Management has released an irresponsible, inhumane plan to capture and remove 5,857 federally protected wild horses and burros from our public lands — almost all in costly and too-often-deadly helicopter roundups.
The release of the tentative 2023 roundup schedule this week by the BLM comes at time of skyrocketing feed price increases. The agency is already warehousing off-range 61,826 horses and burros at a cost to taxpayers of $83.4 million annually and cannot afford to feet or properly care for more captured wild horses.
As of March, 21,413 of those captured wild horses and burros were living in corrals that are often overcrowded and lack proper shelter. Last year, 146 wild horses died of a typically preventable equine flu in just such an understaffed holding facility because they had not been vaccinated, a BLM report found.
For decades, BLM wild horse and burro management has been reactionary rather than proactive. The agency has failed to more than temporarily reach even its own arbitrarily low wild horse population targets because it has never addressed reproduction.
Most captured horses end up in off-range holding facilities. An untracked number fall into a foreign slaughter pipeline after adoptions (for which the agency pays out $1,000 per horse to adopters per horse) or outright sales.
For more than 20 years, Return to Freedom has strongly advocated for the use of safe, proven and humane fertility control as way to slow, not stop, herd growth and phase out removals and long-term holding. Used correctly, fertility control’s robust use would start reduce the size and frequency of roundups and, in turn, off-range holding.
As the result of the advocacy of RTF and other rangeland stakeholders, Congress has also taken up the call for the greater utilization of fertility control and provided additional funding for that long-overdue change of direction.
Yet from 2018-2022 the BLM removed 64,134 wild horses and burros from Herd Management Areas across the West. The agency treated and released or darted just 4,840 mares with fertility control vaccines over that same period.
The BLM’s new schedule calls for just 1,575 mares to be treated with fertility control out of what the agency estimated last year to be a total of 82,384 wild horses and burros on the range.
The schedule’s one apparent positive: the BLM plans to apply fertility control during all but one of the roundups. The number of mares being treated remains what can only be called a token effort, however.
During the largest planned roundup, on the Antelope Complex in Nevada, the agency plans to remove more than 3,100 wild horses from the range while applying no fertility control, at all. On one California Herd Management Area, the BLM intends to remove 51 wild horses from the range while treating exactly one mare with fertility control.
Scientific modeling shows that if the BLM removes wild horses and burros from the range without treating a significant proportion of mares with fertility control, it all but guarantees that helicopters will soon return to the same places to capture more animals.
America’s wild horses and burros deserve better from the primary agency charged with protecting them, as do our public lands and the taxpayers that provide the agency’s funding.