Congress OKs additional $14.2 million for BLM wild horse program

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Photo by Meg Frederick.

Congress on Monday night approved a $14.2 million increase in the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Program, in part to fund the expanded use of fertility control.

“The (House and Senate Interior Appropriations Committees) expect this strategy to continue and to include a robust expansion of fertility control utilizing methods that are proven, safe, effective, and humane,” the committees wrote in their guiding report language. 

Return to Freedom strongly supports the use of the fertility control vaccines PZP and PZP-22, which come backed by decades of research, as key tools for phasing BLM’s expensive and inhumane practice of capturing, removing and warehousing federally protected wild horses.

“We appreciate the committees’ continued engagement in the wild horse issue and their shared commitment to the use of fertility control by BLM,” said Neda DeMayo, founder and president of RTF. “It will require a significant upfront financial commitment and proper implementation on the part of the agency to move BLM’s management paradigm in a humane, sustainable direction.” 

Altogether, the wild horse program received $115.8 million, part of a $1.4 trillion spending package to fund the government through September.  

The additional funds from Congress come in response to a May 15 BLM proposal to “institute an aggressive, non-lethal population control strategy to address the current unsustainable trajectory of on-range wild horse and burro population growth.” RTF found BLM’s report to be vague and often self-contradictory.

Fertility control and on-range gathers are to be “maximized,” the committees wrote, “even if Appropriate Management Levels are not immediately achievable.”

RTF has serious issues with maximizing removals, although BLM has been clear since 2017 that that is how it would handle cumulative population growth. However, the language about maximizing fertility control is critically important because BLM has for years insisted on capturing and removing wild horses down to its population target before implementing any fertility control, so that is a positive step forward.

BLM’s decades-old attempt to rely almost solely on roundups while failing to address reproduction by investing as much as 4% of its annual Wild Horse and Burro Program budget in proven fertility control vaccines has resulted in growing numbers of horses on the range and in costly holding facilities. As a result, in 2017, the administration and some members of Congress pushed hard for euthanizing tens of thousands of horses in holding and / or sale without restriction (to slaughter). 

An alternative offered by RTF and a diverse group of stakeholders has helped turn the tide toward non-lethal solutions, including Congress, for the first time, calling for the use of fertility control in 2020.

The committees wrote that in Fiscal Year 2021 BLM must also continue to abide by its Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program, a humane-handling protocol, during roundups, transportation, holding, and adoptions, as well as restrictions against selling wild horses or burros without restriction (to slaughter) or killing healthy animals, both requirements for which RTF has lobbied. 

RTF appreciates the committees’ continued support of non-lethal management, its insistence that BLM implement fertility control, and a call for greater transparency from the agency.

The report language does not directly address surgical sterilization of wild mares, a dangerous, costly and inhumane procedure that is not part of any coherent management plan. RTF has sued to stop the agency’s plans to surgically sterilize mares recently captured at the Confusion Herd Area in Utah.

The House and Senate committees “note concern” over the BLM’s lack of action in securing more cost-effective long-term holding pastures, adding that they expect BLM to increase its capacity for gathers, procuring short- and long-term holding, and ensure adequate staffing in a program with a number of vacancies. 

The committees also called for “regular and timely briefings” to policymakers about the agency’s progress.

In addition to a firm ban on surgical sterilization, RTF urges Congress to demand that BLM look holistically at all uses of Herd Management Areas, including private livestock grazing, and consider higher population targets for horses and burros, where possible, as well as that the CAWP be made a living document paired with true oversight, ongoing improvement, and accountability for how wild horses and burros are handled on and off the range.