Congress demands wild horse plan from BLM

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A contractor’s helicopter chases wild horses into the trap during the 2016 Owyhee Herd Management Area roundup in Nevada. RTF file photo by Steve Paige.


In an unusually strong explanatory statement accompanying the omnibus spending bill passed last week, the House and Senate Interior Subcommittees demanded that the Department of the Interior produce a detailed plan for wild horses and burro management within 30 days.

Return to Freedom agrees that it is long past time for Bureau of Land Management to change course. In its FY17 budget, Congress also called for Interior, which includes BLM, to craft such a plan but the agency did not produce one. That cannot continue.

Americans and our country’s wild horses and burros deserve better.

For 20 years, RTF has called for ending BLM’s broken, inhumane and costly system of capture and removal of horses, urging BLM and Congress to instead aggressively pursue a humane, long-term plan to manage wild horses on the range.

Tools to do so have long been available, including the judicious use of fertility control. Unfortunately, BLM has failed to invest in this safe, proven tool.

Over and over, we read about the breathlessly pronounced “wild horse problem” or “wild horse crisis.” Old photos of a skeletal horse are waived around in meetings without context to justify tales of alleged mass starvation of wild horses on the range. Yet when advocates counter with hundreds or thousands of photos and video coverage of healthy horses across the West, we are told those horses are destroying the range with little or no mention of the multiple uses of our public lands and the impact from those uses.

This is a man-made problem, not a wild horse problem.

In 2007, BLM estimated that the population of wild horses and burros on the range stood at 28,653 – less than 1,000 more than the agency’s own “Appropriate Management Level.” Yet in the years since, BLM has never spent more than 3.94% of its Wild Horse and Burro Program budget on fertility control, despite the recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences and studies showing that fertility control would save taxpayer money in the long run.

Meanwhile, the percentage BLM spends on capturing and holding wild horses in government corrals and on leased pastures has climbed to 67% of the program budget.

Worse yet: About four out of every 10 wild horses and burros for which BLM is responsible lives in a government facility, not free on our public lands.

BLM’s Wild on the Range campaign also calls for a number of policy changes, including increasing land and herd stewardship, revisiting BLM’s population targets, increasing public-private partnerships, providing incentives for ranchers who voluntarily reduce or give up grazing permits, and returning non-reproducing herds from holding facilities to suitable rangelands.

RTF agrees with the committees that there is “no one solution” and is pleased that they are calling for a “science-based, detailed plan”; however, RTF remains wary of what BLM may propose after years of doggedly clinging to helicopter roundups and holding facilities.

RTF respectfully urges the committee members to keep in mind that neither “euthanizing” – shooting – wild horses and burros nor removing restrictions that reduce the number wild horses and burros bought by kill buyers is a politically viable option. Poll after poll shows Americans oppose horse slaughter and wish to see wild horses protected.

Committee members would be wise to focus instead on management options that will garner support from their constituents and that will provide America’s wild horses and burros with humane treatment on their rightful home ranges.


Take Action

  • Sign RTF’s Wild on the Range Campaign petition, which outlines humane wild horse and burro management alternatives.
  • Call your representative and senators (phone number in graphic, above). Urge them to:
    • oppose FY19 Interior Appropriations bill language allowing BLM to kill wild horses and burros;
    • and cosponsor the SAFE Act to ban slaughter and the transportation of horses for slaughter.
    • In addition, please urge your representative to cosponsor the Horse Transportation Safety Act (HR 4040) to ban hauling horses on double-deck trailers.

Click here to donate to RTF’s Wild Horse Defense Fund, which fuels our advocacy, lobbying, selective litigation and on-range coverage of helicopter roundups.