Positive signs for wild horses: More about RTF’s support of a joint proposal to change wild horse management

/ Featured, Staff Blog

More work, vigilance needed

Photo of Max taken at RTF’s American Wild Horse Sanctuary by Bari Lee Photography.

For Frequently Asked Questions and Myths & Facts about the joint proposal to Congress for Fiscal Year 2020, please click here.

Dear Friends,

I want to take a moment to thank you and all of Return to Freedom’s other supporters who’ve stood with us during our more than 20-year effort to forge a better future for America’s mustangs and an end to horse slaughter, educate the public about the behaviors and importance of wild horses and burros as well as their plight, and provide sanctuary for hundreds of animals in need.

We at RTF have always believed that it if we were ever going to solve the political issues that threaten our wild horses and burros on public lands we would need to build a dialogue with other rangeland stakeholders. That includes the government agencies tasked with managing those lands, livestock interests legally allowed to graze cattle and sheep there, and others, all with divergent views but who also have a stake in our public lands.

That’s not because we agree all of the time — or even often — but because the long-term future of wild horses and burros depends on building consensus for humane, on-the-range management rooted in real science.

This joint draft proposal is intended to end over four decades of capture and removal as the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) primary management tool for free-ranging wild horses and burros. The proposal urges Congress, through its appropriations power, to move the BLM toward exercising safe, proven and humane fertility control in a way that can be successful. It also calls for protections against the agency killing horses or selling them without protection from slaughter.

Importantly, the proposal ONLY includes the use of proven, safe and humane tools to curb population growth. By definition, that does not include the costly and dangerous surgical sterilization of wild mares. RTF’s strong opposition to those surgeries has never wavered.

Our efforts to find some common ground with diverse stakeholders have already played a direct role in achieving positive outcomes for wild horses, including:

–Last week, the BLM’s acting chief, Casey Hammond, said that that the agency will not pursue a plan to euthanize wild horses and burros as a management tool. 

–In March, the Bureau of Land Management 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. BLM returned the limit to four horses or burros every six months, with restrictions against slaughter.

We at RTF do not take these positive signs for granted. We will not be complacent – not with the lives of tens of thousands of animals on the line. And we will stay directly involved in these discussions, working to ensure wild horses receive the humane treatment that they deserve both on and off their rangelands.

We have and will continue to push for wild horses and burros to have a fairer share of grazing and water resources on our public land. RTF does not agree with the BLM’s current “Appropriate Management Level,” which, in our opinion, is an arbitrarily set low goal of 26,690 wild horses and burros nationally. We continue to advocate for each Herd Management Area to be evaluated independently and to increase AML for the horses. We believe that if there is to be any hope of that happening, it will be a result of the BLM showing progress in actively managing the horses and the range sustainably.

Misinformation spread about the proposal continues to confuse the public. This spring, the BLM estimated that there were more than 88,000 wild horses and burros on the range, and the agency has signaled plans to start increasing roundups in Fiscal Year 2020.

We drilled down to see if and how an on the range fertility control program could work and found that BLM would need to actively implement the vaccine to a high percentage of mares left on the range simultaneously with their roundups. There is no other way for them to catch up with foaling rates—and failing would mean more horses at risk and endless removals.

The proposal actually worked with numbers to show progress towards 20% above the BLM’s established AML. We hope that with proven results we can succeed one day in ensuring a higher population of our wild horses and burros a place on the Western range.

If the proposal is fully funded by Congress, the agency could remove fewer horses by year four and start phasing out this awful cycle of capture and removal after more than four decades and 270,000 wild horses and burros removed from the range.

Most of the elements of this joint proposal – including critical protections against killing and selling wild horses slaughter – have advanced in the U.S. House of Representatives. Appropriators included money in a multi-agency funding bill for specifically for fertility control for the first time ever.

Know that we have maintained our integrity for the horses and stayed true to our mission at every turn and in every debate. There will be no quick fixes. We must remain diligent.

Yet after decades of troubled management and increased polarization around the wild horse issue, positive change may be coming for America’s wild herds.

With your help, the work continues;

Neda DeMayo

RTF Founder and President