By Kitty Block, Matt Bershadker, Sara Amundson and Neda DeMayo
Our nation guaranteed protection to wild horses and burros in 1971 by passing the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, which ensured they would remain safe and federally protected on our rangelands. But in the nearly 50 years since, these animals have suffered needlessly due to the ineffectual implementation of the law, as well as conflicting views amongst stakeholders over how best to protect them.
For the sake of these wild horses and burros, the time has come for a breakthrough. Without it, we are headed down a path that is likely to end in the use of lethal tools such as slaughter and mass killing to manage them.
Recognizing and acting on the common interest and compassion we share, a diverse group of organizations has agreed to a proposal that promises to break the stalemate — within and outside of government — and brighten the prospects for these majestic, free-roaming animals.
The stakes couldn’t be higher. Today, under the federal Bureau of Land Management’s wild horse and burro program, more than 50,000 wild horses and burros have been moved from the range to corrals and pastures, and an estimated 82,000 share their rangeland homes with competing interests. This has led to dramatically rising expenses with no end in sight, while the federal government and Congress are showing a greater willingness to consider lethal options such as slaughter and mass killing to reduce the herds.
One thing is clear to us: Unless a comprehensive plan emerges that promises an end to the ineffective management strategy and political crisis surrounding the program, range populations will grow, expenses will rise, and the BLM’s current removal strategy will produce lethal outcomes.
To break this deadly gridlock and take lethal tools — like slaughter or mass killing — off the table, we have proposed an integrated approach that would advance proven, safe and humane fertility control initiatives, fund expanded adoption efforts, and provide larger, more humane pasture facilities for horses and burros currently in short-term holding facilities and those taken off the range. After 50 years and the removal of some 270,000 horses from their homes, we need to see the BLM adopt real on-range management and protections. Half-measures that devote only a tiny percentage of the budget for fertility control are anemic and rather than producing any real results, they are doomed to fail, further inviting and justifying lethal measures.
If approved, the draft proposal would equalize removal numbers with adoptions. Within 10 years, large scale removals will no longer be needed at all, we’ll start to phase out holding facilities in favor of adoptions, and the BLM’s overall costs will go down.
Just as importantly, agency funding will go toward the most compassionate priorities: healthy on-range herds, improved data monitoring of wild horse and burro populations, and better adoption rates. These adoptions will also be facilitated by expanded and more sophisticated adopter awareness and education programs.
The bottom line: Upon successful implementation of this proposal, no more warehousing of horses, no more large-scale roundup and removals, and no more talk of selling off our mustangs to slaughter or killing as a means of controlling these herds. Our collective wisdom from impassioned advocacy to protect our wild horse and burro herds from harm compels us to support this proposal and we are convinced that the federal agency charged with their care is not able to do it alone. The threats have never loomed as large as in recent years and members of Congress have implored us to provide a proactive, feasible and humane option so that they do not have to reluctantly endorse lethal options like slaughter and mass killing.
In a political environment rife with discord and hostility, a coalition of diverse stakeholders — including horse advocacy groups, government officials, public lands interests and ranching groups — have come together with earnest commitment to forge a new path forward on this issue. The conversations were not easy, and it took several years, but they have resulted in a solution we believe is realistic, feasible and humane. It now falls to Congress to direct the BLM to shift its management of wild horses and burros from removals to rangeland, fulfilling the “free-roaming” promise of the historic 1971 act that bears their name.
Kitty Block is CEO and president of the Humane Society of the United States. Matt Bershadker is CEO and president of the ASPCA. Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund. Neda DeMayo is president and founder of Return to Freedom.