Photo taken at RTF’s American Wild Horse Sanctuary by Tony Stromberg
Learn more about Return to Freedom's support for a proposal to Congress to protect wild horses and burros, move BLM management away from roundups
Feb. 2020 Statement from Cheryl Asa, Director of Research: Reproductive and Behavioral Sciences (Retired) St. Louis Zoo. Editor of the Population Management Chapter of the National Academy of Sciences report “Using Science to Improve the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program: A Way Forward” (2013):
“In these polarized times, the organizations that have come together to tackle the contentious issue of wild horse management are to be congratulated for their efforts to find common ground among the diverse stakeholders. Despite decades of discussion, research, and disagreement, an approach has not been found that completely satisfies everyone. Meanwhile, in the absence of natural predators, numbers of horses on the range continue to increase, as does the cost of managing them. It is clear that to successfully address these problems, the various interest groups must look for opportunities for compromise.
“As summarized in the National Academy of Sciences report, fertility control is a viable option, but with limitations. For example, modeling shows that fertility control alone cannot sufficiently stabilize or reverse population growth, but is most effective if combined at least initially with removal of enough animals to reach the target population size. Fertility control can then be used to maintain that number. However, due to factors such as remote location, rough terrain or abundant cover, some herds are difficult if not impossible to reach and treat with the currently available fertility control methods at rates that can control population numbers. We can hope that ongoing research will produce improved methods that are easier to deliver and that have a longer duration of efficacy. But until then, compromise is needed.”
February 2020 statement from Allen T. Rutberg, Research Associate Professor, Department of Biomedical Sciences Director, Master of Science in Animals and Public Policy, Center for Animals and Public Policy at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University:
“For many years, the Bureau of Land Management has pursued a quest for the singular technological breakthrough that will relieve the pressure of managing the public’s wild horses. From the 1970s to today, the BLM has invested millions of taxpayer dollars in developing and testing contraceptives and sterilants whose magic will be so powerful that their mere possession will solve the knotty challenges of wild horse management. Meanwhile, the agency refuses to use the very real, very effective fertility control tools whose creation the agency has funded, because none measures up to the fantastical ideal.
“By contrast, organizations such as Return to Freedom and their partners have embraced those practical contraceptive tools and used them to keep their herds healthy and free.
“The BLM needs to use those tools, too, even as the agency sponsors the development of better ones. The job of regulating wild horse populations and ensuring healthy range ecosystems will never be easy, but the aggressive, persistent, and well-planned application of today’s safe and effective contraceptive tools to wild horse herds is absolutely necessary to make it possible.”
Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to reach out to us regarding our recently announced support of a joint wild horse management proposal to Congress. With your help, we have sought and advocated for viable alternatives to roundups for more than 20 years, rescued and relocated more than 1,000 wild horses, and continue to provide daily care to hundreds of wild horses and dozens of burros.
This is a proposal – a first step – intended to confront the inevitable: Bureau of Land Management roundups will continue for the foreseeable future, under the law and with the support of Congress. Unwilling to let this costly stalemate continue, members from both sides of the aisle have asked RTF and others for solutions to the increasing on- and off-range population of wild horses. Maintaining the status quo will likely result in the mass killing or slaughter of wild horses.
In an effort to find non-lethal, humane solutions, we have taken a stand with The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), the Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society Legislative Fund.
The issues surrounding wild horse and burro management on federal lands are complex and contentious, and there are no easy answers. To find a viable solution that ensures the long-term protection of our wild horses and burros we must work with others who also share the Western range and its resources. We have to find common ground with those we do not agree with and whose interests often conflict with our own. If we don’t, nothing will change, and there is too much at risk for the wild horses and burros.
We met with a diverse group of rangeland management stakeholders, livestock ranching interest groups, and federal, state and local government representatives. These talks opened up communication and resulted in a new framework for preserving and protecting our wild horses and burros for the long term.
The proposal features four key elements:
1–Ensuring that BLM, for the first time, aggressively implements proven, safe and humane fertility control to slow population growth and help stabilize wild horse and burro populations on the range, thereby reducing the number and frequency of roundups and saving millions in taxpayer dollars over time.
2–Focusing roundups on Herd Management Areas that are densely populated.
3–Increased public-private partnerships to relocate herds of wild horses removed from the range and from short-term holding facilities to large, cost-effective pasture facilities that provide a free-roaming environment.
4–Promoting the safe placement of adoptable wild horses and burros from holding into good homes and redirect funds to promote long-term strategies to keep wild horses and burros on the range.
The proposal would also require BLM to:
* Not kill healthy wild horses and burros, something we’ve had to fight for from budget cycle to budget cycle in Washington, D.C.;
* Not sell wild horses and burros without restriction, something we’ve also had to fight for each year;
* Only use proven, safe and humane population management tools. It does not allow for any existing sterilization surgeries on wild mares, which RTF has opposed as unproven, costly and inhumane.
These would not be small results for wild horses if Congress signs off on funding for 2020.
We worked with scientists and an economist to model varied scenarios that could lead to a sustainable management plan, replacing never-ending roundups, warehousing, unrestricted sales and the looming threat of the mass killing of captured wild horses.
Without real population control, wild horse populations have of course increased and, with them, the conflict over range use. In 2018, 11,472 wild horses and burros were removed.
The estimated population on the range is now more than 80,000 wild horses and burros. Off-range, more than 50,000 wild horses live in holding facilities or on leased pastures. BLM’s “Appropriate Management Level” is set at 26,690, a number that RTF feels is low and arbitrarily set. Nonetheless, BLM is mandated to maintain the public lands for multiple uses, and, under that legal landscape, the agency has determined that management of wild horses are necessary in most Herd Management Areas.
We were disheartened to learn what the data modeling revealed. It will take the removal of a larger number of horses the first few years, especially from some of the most heavily populated ranges. This would need to be done along with a robust fertility control program for the mares left on the range if we want roundups to be replaced by humane on-the-range management. This is a path towards truly protecting the horses and burros on the range.
It is difficult to accept, especially for those of us desperately trying to stop roundups. We share your concerns, but it will be worse if action is not taken now. We asked ourselves many questions during this process. What would happen if we walked away from the table? What will happen to the horses that will continue to be removed from the range? What will it really take to do away with roundups?
We decided it was more important to be at the table and fight against inhumane sterilization methods, mass killing of healthy horses, and unrestricted sales which would result in tens of thousands of wild horses being trucked to slaughter.
For years, advocates have campaigned for fertility control to end roundups. If the goal is to have wild horses and burros managed on their rightful ranges and reduce pressure for lethal solutions, this is what it will take according to current immunocontraceptive vaccine research and recent data modeling.
This is the beginning of a dialogue between diverse stakeholders. For it to continue, we need to work together. If not, who will suffer? The horses will–because we continue to fail them over our own inability to work together.
Those who know us or have visited our sanctuaries know our hearts have always been, and will always be, with America’s wild horses and burros. We accept the responsibility of these difficult realities so that wild horses and burros can find sanctuary on America’s rangelands.
Our hearts will not waiver. We hope you will join us as we continue to fight for the horses.
With respect and appreciation,
Neda DeMayo and all of us at Return to Freedom