As we enter 2019 – Return to Freedom’s 21st year – we are cautiously optimistic about the prospects for positive change for America’s wild horses. Given the daily chaos in Washington, that may seem counterintuitive – but hear us out:
- In 2017, wild horse advocates had to defend tooth and nail against proposals from the Bureau of Land Management with support from some members of Congress, to kill tens of thousands of healthy wild horses.
- In 2018, some lawmakers argued for mass permanent sterilization of wild mares using surgeries that were potentially dangerous, expensive and needless, given the availability of humane alternatives. The House included a mass sterilization in its annual funding packages while also rejecting the continuation of the temporary ban on horse slaughter in the United States.
- In both 2017 and 2018, the House rejected anti-horse slaughter amendments.
- In 2017 and 2018, the Senate included protective language for America’s horses, wild and domestic, in its version of the funding bills.
When the smoke finally clears on Fiscal Year 2019 funding, we believe the Senate will have again prevented the threat to wild horses from worsening and slaughter plants inside the United States from reopening.
When Congress returns on Jan. 3, the makeup of the Senate – solid on horse issues – will largely be the same. The House, meanwhile, will be under new leadership with a massive change in membership but with a strong history of wild horse protection and horse slaughter defense.
That change brings an opportunity – but also a considerable task for all who care about wild horses:
We’ll need to continue to educate legislators including a new class of lawmakers – many of whom come from states with no wild horses on public lands – about:
- The tragic cost being exacted upon wild horse herds to which our country promised protection.
- Safe, proven and humane alternatives to allow federal agencies to start moving away from costly and traumatic capture, removal and incarceration of wild horses to minimally intrusive on-the-range management alternatives.
- The connection between government wild horse management and horse slaughter. including the BLM’s new sale policy allowing a single buyer to purchase up to 24 wild horses or burros per day, with no oversight and no protections.
- The Forest Service’s plan, at California’s Devils Garden Wild Horse Territory, to sell older wild horses without a prohibition against them going to slaughter — a blatant betrayal of federal protections that we are currently fighting in court.
- The sentiment of the majority of Americans, who will never approve of our horses being shipped to their gruesome deaths in Canadian and Mexican slaughterhouses — because it is not only inhumane but a threat to human health, because of the many medications given to American horses raised as pets and not as food.
Time is of the essence: Through no fault of their own, wild horses are caught up in a battle over the use of grazing and natural resources on public lands managed by the BLM, as well as the U.S. Forest Service – a battle that is only exacerbated by the impacts of droughts and climatic changes.
Those agencies are required by law to manage public lands not just for wild horses and other wildlife, but also for recreation, livestock grazing, energy projects from mining to fracking – and those competing interests are often bankrolled by interest groups armed with money and influence.
Those of us who advocate for the wild horses and burros need to accept that livestock ranchers do have a right to graze our federal lands, whether we agree or not. Livestock and hunting interests need to accept the presence of the free-roaming horses and burros on the small percentage (11%) of federal lands made available to them. In fact, there is far more federal land available for private livestock that is impacted by climatic conditions and grazing, where wild horses do NOT exist.
We need to work together so that the horses can be treated fairly. It will take time using available humane methods to reduce the free-roaming equine populations in those areas where their growth creates the most pressure – but we can get there. In 2007, the BLM was within 1,000 horses of their goal but nothing was done to reduce reproduction on the range, so we cannot afford to delay implementing a robust fertility control program now.
It’s a tall order but our voices on these issues are getting stronger.
We know that politically viable solutions rooted in sound science and good policy exists. At our sanctuary, we’ve seen for 20 years how fertility control vaccines have reduced the population growth rate by 91% and allowed family bands of wild horses to remain together, and we’ve seen an increasing number of fertility control projects on and off the range meet with similar success.
We know, too, that pragmatism doesn’t mean abandoning calls for the humane treatment of wild horses above all.
To make progress, we’ll need your help. In the days ahead, we’ll be providing you with more ways to help spread the information and point your elected representatives toward proposals that promise a brighter day for wild horses on their rightful rangelands and to protect America’s horses.
This is a bipartisan issue, it is not about us versus them, blue versus red, or even horse advocate versus cattle rancher. We need to understand each other’s concerns and find common ground so that viable solutions can be delivered to Congress to ensure a non-lethal way forward for our wild horses and burros.
In 1971, with the country divided over the Vietnam War, lawmakers unanimously passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act signed into law by President Nixon – a law that marked a leap forward in protecting these living, breathing symbols of freedom. That law has been chipped away at over time and each amendment comes with a new set of loopholes. Management decisions made by the agencies tasked with protecting wild horses and burros have placed them at ever-greater risk.
Cooperation between opposing sides can feel impossible, but history shows that despite partisan rancor progress can be made. It must be again.
The future of America’s wild horses and burros depends on it.
President, Return to Freedom
Be prepared to speak out: Join Return to Freedom’s lobbyist, Chris Heyde, for a free Jan. 14 webinar to hear about what the new makeup of Congress may mean for wild horses burros and the horse slaughter issue — and how you can help.