Houses passes Interior funding bill that continues wild horse protections

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The House of Representatives on Friday voted 213-203 to approve an Interior funding bill that includes $154.8 million for the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Program.

The House bill’s guiding report language continues to bar the Bureau of Land Management from destroying healthy captured wild horses and burros or selling them to slaughter and requires the agency to follow humane handling protocols and calls for increased private-public partnerships, including with wild horse and veterans’ organizations; and adhere to humane handling standards.

The report language also encourages BLM to prioritize staffing up the program. In recent years, the lack of staff in key positions has resulted in the slowed approval of contracts, like those needed to administer fertility control, and Environmental Assessments.

The bill includes up to $11 million for fertility control. Unfortunately, the guiding language opens the door for research on permanent sterilization, which Return to Freedom strongly opposes. It does note that BLM should prioritize “existing immunocontraceptive vaccines when appropriate.”

Return to Freedom advocates for the use of proven, safe and humane fertility control to slow (not stop) herd growth and eliminate the removal of wild horses and burros from the range.

The report language adds for the first time a call for the BLM to “consider alternatives” (like the use of unmanned aircraft) to the use of helicopters to manage wild horses and burros, as well as the effects of those alternatives on herds.

Fortunately, the bill passed Thursday did not include a handful of proposed amendments that would have slashed the Wild Horse and Burro Program’s budget.

The Senate has yet to pass its own Interior bill, but the Senate Interior Committee’s version, passed in July, included $148 million for wild horses and burros. Its guiding report language includes an $11 million set-aside “to be spent to continue implementation of a robust and humane fertility control strategy of reversible immunocontraceptive vaccines.”

Both the House and Senate report language also stress that BLM should prioritize heavily impacted Herd Management Areas while expanding off-range holding and increasing adoptions.

Once the Senate passes its Interior bill, differences will be resolved in conference.

Return to Freedom will continue lobbying for the House’s funding level paired with the Senate’s guiding report language.