A Step Forward for Wild Horses
Return to Freedom on Wednesday applauded the House Appropriations Committee for taking an unprecedented step toward on-range oversight of America’s wild horses and burros by calling on the Bureau of Land Management to develop humane, non-lethal and sustainable management practices.
The committee approved as part of the Fiscal Year 2020 Interior appropriations bill $6 million for “a science-based removal, fertility control, and relocation pilot program targeted to the two or three most severely impacted Herd Management Areas, and to begin to implement and scale up such plans once metrics for delineating a positive outcome have been designed and achieved.”
The pilot would explore the elements of a joint proposal to Congress supported by RTF, the Humane Society of the United States and the ASPCA.
The proposal seeks to end capture-and-removal as the primary management tool for wild horses by implementing safe, proven and humane fertility control while removing the threat of the mass killing of horses either by BLM or through sales without restriction, a direct path into the slaughter pipeline.
The House bill provides funding for fertility control treatments alongside targeted removals. For the first time, the committee has demanded that the BLM follow its own humane handling guidelines in the agency’s own Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program for each horse removed from the range.
The bill further requires that BLM relocate captured horses from corrals to cheaper and more natural pastures, the owners of which will be required to provide humane conditions and protection from abuse, neglect or slaughter. The bill also mandates that BLM report back to Congress quarterly and continue its efforts to increase adoptions of horses and burros to good homes.
To be clear: Permanent sterilization is not part of the proposal, the House bill language, or the guiding report language from the appropriations committee to the agency. The proposal calls for only the use of proven, safe and humane fertility control strategies to stabilize wild horse populations on the range and slow population growth. RTF remains adamantly opposed to surgical sterilization surgeries for wild mares, which are inhumane, unproven and costly.
RTF is grateful to the members of the House Appropriations Committee, especially the chairwoman of the Interior Subcommittee, Rep. Betty McCollum, D-MN, and the subcommittee’s ranking member, Rep. David Joyce, R-OH, for their work on this issue. RTF appreciates that the committee has recognized for the first time that fertility control can help avert deadly outcomes for America’s wild horses.
“While we urged the committee to appropriate enough funding for the proposal to be implemented robustly, the committee has approved funding and given BLM direct guidance on how it’s to be used,” said Neda DeMayo, president of RTF. “This is the first time Congress has taken action to demand that the BLM implement a fertility control program and a step towards a management plan that can break the cycle of rounding up and warehousing wild horses in the not too distant future.
“Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have repeatedly expressed to RTF staff in D.C. that maintaining the current cruel and financially unsustainable path will not be allowed to continue for much longer before horses are killed or sold without restriction. We could not stand by and allow that to happen. RTF, the Humane Society, and the ASPCA worked hard to open up a dialogue with other rangeland interests so that non-lethal alternatives could be developed. It’s especially important to have protections for the horses in place because the agency is planning a more aggressive removal schedule starting in 2020.”
Crucially, the bill contains key protections for wild horses and burros for which RTF lobbied hard:
* Barring BLM from killing healthy, unadopted wild horses and burros and from selling wild horses to slaughter;
* Barring the U.S. Forest Service from killing healthy, unadopted wild horses and burros and from selling wild horses to slaughter. The addition of USFS was prompted by the agency’s ongoing effort to sell without slaughter protections wild horses captured and removed from Devil’s Garden Herd Management Area in Northern California, an effort that RTF is fighting in court.
In its report language, the appropriations committee wrote that it “recognizes and appreciates that several stakeholder groups who each have avid, although diverging, interests in the program, have come together” to offer the proposal. The funding for its partial implementation comes on top of the $75.7 million BLM requested for FY 2020.
The House bill language is the latest positive outcome resulting from the effort to break the stalemate over wild horse management by RTF, HSUS and ASPCA. In part because of the ongoing work on this proposal, BLM revoked a 2018 sales policy change that allowed a single buyer to purchase up to 24 wild horses per day with no waiting period and no questions asked.
A note to our valued supporters: We understand that there has been considerable misinformation spread online about this proposal to Congress. If you wish to delve deeper, please contact us to schedule a call. We’re also planning a webinar for RTF supporters.