For immediate release
LOMPOC, CALIF.–Return to Freedom Wild Horse Conservation on Thursday thanked Congress for recommending increased funding for the oversight of wild horses and burros on public lands.
Return to Freedom (RTF), a national nonprofit wild horse and burro conservation and advocacy organization, continues to strongly urge lawmakers to press the Bureau of Land Management on the immediate implementation of proven, safe and humane fertility control to keep wild horses on the range.
The $1.7 trillion fiscal Omnibus Appropriations bill approved Thursday by the Senate would provide $148 million for the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Wild Horse and Burro Program – an $11 million increase from Fiscal Year 2022. If approved by the House, the Omnibus would fund the government through the end of the 2023 fiscal year in September.
“Return to Freedom is extremely grateful that Congress continues to allocate a higher level of funding to support a new direction for wild horse and burro management,” said Neda DeMayo, president of RTF. “For the first time, the BLM has broad support from stakeholder groups and Congress to implement a new sustainable direction prioritizing existing proven safe and humane fertility control to safely manage wild horses and burros on the range where they belong.
“However, RTF is very disappointed that the BLM has not utilized this influx of additional funding to create the infrastructure to effectively and comprehensively shift wild horse and burro management away from costly and traumatic capture, removal and warehousing —to — humane on range management alternatives. Sadly, roundups continue to be the BLMs primary method to control wild horse and burro populations. That needs to change NOW.”
For more than two decades, RTF has modeled and called for the implementation of proven safe, humane and reversible fertility control on the range as an alternative to capture and removal. If properly and robustly implemented, fertility control would slow (not stop) herd growth and could replace capture-and-removal as the BLM’s primary management tool.
Historically, more than 60% of the BLM’s program budget has gone toward the care of captured horses in crowded off-range holding facilities.
In FY 2022, $83.4 million went toward off-range holding. More than 64,000 wild horses and burros were living in corrals or on leased pastures at ever-greater taxpayer expense as of November compared to a BLM estimated 82,000 living wild and free on our public lands.
The cost of off-range holding has left little funding for range management, restoration, personnel, and administration — let alone fertility control.
To ensure the program budget is robust enough to handle all of the necessities of a complex program, including shifting it into an entirely new direction — toward fertility control and away from removals — a larger overall budget was needed. RTF supports the immediate changes needed for this complicated effort.
From FY 2014-2019, the wild horse program’s budget allocations remained largely flat at between $75 million to $80 million. Because of diverse stakeholder efforts, the program’s funding has grown by more than 85 percent – funding needed to support proven safe and humane fertility control to slow down reproduction as well as other solutions to create sustainable range management to benefit all wildlife and range resources. However, the BLM continues kicking the can down the road without addressing serious infrastructure changes needed to implement effective humane on range management alternatives, range restoration, increased public/private partnerships, and relocation of captured horses out of crowded corrals to natural pasture environments.
This increase is the only way the BLM can have the money to set aside for fertility control. Yet the agency has continued to prioritize removals. In FY 2022, 20,193 wild horses and burros were removed from their home ranges compared to 1,622 mares treated and released with some form of fertility control.
Population modeling by RTF and other stakeholders has shown that immediately implementing fertility control alongside any removal that BLM conducts is the only way to catch up with and stabilize herd growth so that on-range management can replace removals.
If the BLM does not implement fertility control immediately, the agency will continue to chase and briefly achieve its “Appropriate Management Levels” on some of the 177 Herd Management Areas, only to soon return to remove more wild horses and burros from their home ranges. This antiquated policy of costly and traumatic capture and warehousing needs to stop.
In regards to horse slaughter, the Omnibus would continue language barring the U.S. Department of Agriculture from hiring horsemeat inspectors. This year-to-year ban has kept horse slaughter plants from operating in the United States since 2007, but it does not affect the export of American horses for slaughter.
RTF fought for a ban of exportation to be included in the funding bill as well as a stand-alone bill that would ban horse slaughter. A minority of stakeholder groups that support horse slaughter blocked both.
Between January and October of this year, 16,915 American horses – including an unknown number that once roamed our public lands – have been shipped to Mexico or Canada for slaughter.