Conference Committee calls for ‘significant management changes’ in BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program
The Bureau of Land Management will continue to be barred from using taxpayer money to kill healthy wild horses and burros or sell them to slaughter in Fiscal Year 2019, according to a House-Senate Conference Committee report filed on Thursday.
The Conference Committee’s report – a guiding document for the agency that will accompany the Interior funding package – does not include House amendment language that would have given wide leeway for the Interior secretary to manage any group of wild horses or burros as a non-reproducing or single-sex herd, including through the use of sterilization. The report does order BLM to continue to research and develop “humane protocols for fertility control methods, including sterilization.”
“We applaud the conferees for hearing the voices of the American people and for opposing the mass killing of wild horses and sale for slaughter,” said Neda DeMayo, president of Return to Freedom Wild Horse Conservation. “We also thank them for not supporting a short-sighted proposal that would have given the Interior secretary unprecedented power to order sterilization surgeries that are unproven, expensive, life-threatening and needless–especially given that safe, proven solutions can be used to manage the wild horse and burro population humanely and at a lower cost.”
Interior funding for FY 2019 remained in limbo after the initial deadline of Oct. 1 passed without an agreement, while Congress and the White House negotiated to fund for border security. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Thursday that President Trump would sign spending bills to keep the government open. As of this writing, the Senate had passed the funding package with the House expected to follow suit.
The conferees write that they “recognize the financial and political challenges of controlling wild horse populations” but stress that “significant management changes need to made within the near future in order to control costs, improve range conditions and humanely manage wild horse and burro populations.”
Specifically, the Conference Committee report calls for “additional analysis” from BLM 180 days after the act is signed into law. This follows up an April 2018 BLM report to Congress that included a number of proposed management options that raised red flags for wild horse advocates.
The BLM report came in response to Congress calling in its 2017 budget for BLM to provide a “comprehensive plan … to address the excess numbers of wild horses and burros and the unsustainable, rising costs of the Wild Horse and Burro program” that included increased adoptions, contraceptive research, increased opportunities for the public to support wild horses and burros, rangeland restoration, reductions in herd sizes on the range, and options for reducing the number of animals in holding facilities.
RTF strongly opposed some of the options the agency put forth in BLM’s report, including the mass killing of captured wild horses and burros, sales without restrictions against slaughter, permanent sterilization, and foreign sales and adoptions.
The Conference Committee report also calls for “researching and developing appropriate, humane protocols for fertility control methods, including sterilization, and improve its contracting for off-range holdings.”
RTF supports the aggressive implementation of safe, proven and humane fertility control vaccines in order to move BLM away from the costly, ineffective and inhumane cycle of rounding up and warehousing wild horses and burros and toward sustainable, on-range management of wild horses as quickly as possible.
RTF strongly opposes the use on wild mares of a surgical procedure known as ovariectomy via colpotomy, a rare procedure that BLM has proposed using on wild mares. It involves removing the ovaries by crushing and pulling them out with a looped-chain medical instrument called an ecraseur. RTF remains receptive to non-surgical techniques that are proven to be safe and humane – especially any that are reversible.
In its report, the Conference Committee calls for BLM to lay out in its FY 2020 budget request a management strategy, adding that, “It is incumbent upon the Bureau to request the funding necessary to address this growing problem; better management of this program now will result in fewer dollars necessary in the future to restore the lands that wild horses, burros, and other wildlife depend upon.”
The Interior funding package for FY 2019 includes $80.6 million in funding for wild horse and burro management — $13.9 million more than BLM requested.
The protections provided by the funding language last only until the end of September. Congress included language in funding bills barring BLM from using tax dollars to kill healthy unadopted wild horses and burros from 1988 to 2004 and has done so again each year since 2010.
The Conference Committee report leaves unaddressed two pressing concerns for advocates:
- While the funding package again directs BLM not to sell wild horses or burros to slaughter, it does not address a sale policy change made by the agency last year that opened the door to kill buyersand horses ending up in abusive situations. In May 2018, BLM changed its sale policy to allow a single buyer to purchase up to 24 wild horses or burros per day with no questions asked and no oversight. Previously, a single buyer had been limited to purchasing no more than four animals every six months without special permission.
- An attempt by the U.S. Forest Service, which oversees a smaller portion of wild horses and burros on public land, to sell captured animals without a prohibition against slaughter. As it began a roundup of wild horses last fall in Northern California, USFS announced that after a short period of time, it would sell captured wild horses ages 10-over without a restriction against them being shipped to slaughter. Return to Freedom and other advocates have filed suit to stop the unrestricted sale.A hearing in the case is scheduled for May.
Click here to send a message to urge your representative to support the SAFE Act (H.R. 961), which would permanently ban horse slaughter in the United States and the transportation of American horses across our borders for purposes of slaughter.
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