A note from Return to Freedom: We thank Rep. Cohen for speaking up on behalf of America’s wild horses and burros as well as the growing number of citizens concerned about how herds are being mismanaged. We share the congressman’s concerns about the Bureau of Land Management’s plan to remove “at least” a record 19,000 wild horses and burros from their home ranges during this fiscal year while only treating 2,300 with fertility control. BLM continues to follow an aggressive removal plan focused on reaching an arbitrarily low “Appropriate Management Level” before implementing fertility control in a real way. RTF is a strong supporter of the immediate use of safe, proven, humane and reversible fertility control to slow (not stop) reproduction so that removals can be brought to an end. We also share the congressman’s concerns about improving transparency and accountability in the handling of wild horses and burros and strongly support his call for better planning and allocating a fairer share of resources for wild horses and burros on our public lands.
Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., has called on the Bureau of Land Management to suspend wild horse and burro roundups “until appropriate range assessments have been completed, animal welfare concerns have been addressed, and a robust fertility control vaccine plan has been implemented.”
In a letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning, Cohen wrote that the agency’s plan to capture 22,000 wild horses and burros, permanently removing 19,000 from the range, during Fiscal Year 2022 “puts the welfare of these animals in danger and marks a huge step backward for the program.”
“These removals are undoubtedly part of the BLM’s controversial plan, ‘Report to Congress: An Analysis of Achieving a Sustainable Wild Horse and Burro Program,’ which was released in May 2020 under the Trump Administration. As you know, I have been a vocal opponent of this plan,” Cohen continued. “The May 2020 removal plan is unsustainable and comes at great risk to the animals and taxpayers. It merely continues what BLM has always done—removing horses and burros and confining them in holding facilities—but at an accelerated rate.
“The plan calls for removing 18,000–20,000 per year over a period of 15–18 years, or until the Appropriate Management Level (AML) is reached. In the first five years alone, the plan is projected to cost nearly $1 billion dollars and more than double the number of captive wild horses and burros in government holding facilities, from 59,000 in 2021 to 140,000 in 2025.”
Cohen wrote that while he appreciated the agency’s plan to treat 2,300 mares with fertility control this year, “the vaccine program must be much more robust in order to obtain positive results, achieve management goals, and avoid compensatory reproduction.”
“I acknowledge that BLM has cited logistical difficulties in administering the vaccines, but that challenge seems to be a much more cost-effective solution than doubling the number of holding facilities over the next five years, with no end in sight,” the congressman wrote.
Cohen stressed that removing wild horses and burros from the range as a way to manage numbers has failed: In 2001, there were an estimated 55,300 wild horses and burros (45,600 on BLM-managed rangelands and 9,700 in off-range holding). By 2021, those numbers had grown to 145,200 (86,200 on the range, 59,000 in holding).
The BLM-set “Appropriate Management Level” allows for a maximum total of 26,785 wild horses and burros across HMAs in 10 Western states.
The congressman said that new range assessments are needed to assess the carrying capacity of the land. Given the large number of private livestock that continue to graze on wild horse and burro Herd Management Areas, Cohen called for a fairer allocation of resources.
Cohen raised concerns about the death of wild horses during roundups and suggested installing cameras in helicopters and at trap pens, as well as increasing the space allocated to wild horses in crowded short-term holding.