Press release: Senate appropriators OK $35 M for non-lethal wild horse management

/ In The News, News

Wild horses at RTF’s American Wild Horse Sanctuary. Photo by Norma Fries.

Return to Freedom Applauds Senators for Investment in Fertility Control, Which Can Replace Wild Horse Roundups as Primary Management Tool After Decades of Controversy

Read the Senate bill language here. Read the guiding report language here.

Return to Freedom Wild Horse Conservation today expressed gratitude to the Senate Appropriations Committee for voting to dedicate an additional $35 million toward the first-ever large-scale effort to implement “proven, safe and humane” tools to curb wild horse and burro population growth — an investment that can be the first step toward ending the inhumane, costly and unsustainable practice of capturing and warehousing these American icons.

Supported both by Return to Freedom, a national nonprofit wild horse advocacy organization, and a diverse coalition of stakeholders from both sides of this controversial issue, this multipronged approach would halt the march toward the mass killing or unrestricted sale (to slaughter) of tens of thousands of wild horses, steps proposed by the administration and members of Congress in recent years.

It will also shift the Bureau of Land Management’s approach away from almost 50 years of divisive and often deadly roundups and towards a humane, minimally intrusive management of wild horses and burros on our public lands. For the first time, congressional funding will be allocated specifically for the use long-proven fertility control vaccines such as PZP – the only tools meeting the “proven, safe and humane” standard set forth by the Senate — to slow down wild horse and burro population growth so that wild horse roundups can soon be the exception, not the rule, as the agency’s main management tool.

“We are pleased that Congress has listened to the public and is investing in key steps that the BLM must take in order to break the costly decades-long cycle of rounding up and warehousing wild horses and burros,” said Neda DeMayo, president of Return to Freedom. “We supported this proposal because it ensures the protection of wild horses and burros from lethal management tools and redirects the agency’s program toward humane, on-the-range management with a focus on fertility control and increasing public-private partnerships, including range and herd monitoring.

“The intent behind the proposal was to offer Congress a humane, science-based path forward while gaining unprecedented support from stakeholders on the other side of the wild horse issue for a viable fertility control program. The senators’ support gives us an opportunity at last to end these horrible — and increasing — roundups of wild horses while saving taxpayer dollars over the long run. Doing nothing will only lead to the disappearance from the range and eventual deaths of our beloved wild horse herds. We hope to continue to build on the dialogue that has been created between stakeholders and with Congress to develop solutions that ensure wild horses and burros an equitable share of our public lands.”

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted to mandate that:

–the strategy “must not include any sales or actions that result in the destruction of healthy animals,”

–removals must be conducted in strict compliance with BLM’s Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program, a set of humane handling standards,

–horses be relocated from high-cost corrals to lower-cost, off-range pastures,

–and that BLM work with stakeholders to increase adoptions.

The House Appropriations in May voted to approve $6 million for a pilot of the stakeholder proposal as part of its Interior Appropriations bill. 

The Senate language is similar to that included in the House version. The requirement that BLM follow its own humane handling standards during roundups, which House appropriators also voted to mandate, would be another first.

Return to Freedom wishes to add particular thanks to Interior Subcommittee Chair and Ranking Member, Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-AK, and Tom Udall, D-NM, for championing America’s wild horses and to the full committee’s Chair and Ranking Member, Sens. Richard Shelby, R-AL, and Patrick Leahy, D-VT.

When the Interior bill is signed into law after the House and Senate resolve funding differences, this will only mark the start of a new chapter in the efforts of wild horse and animal welfare advocates. They will need to remain diligent about the details and implementation of a management plan that BLM must now develop and present to Congress.

“Our joint proposal and the science behind it provided proof that wild horses can be managed in a humane and sustainable way that both sides of this issue will support, but there is much work still to be done,” DeMayo said. “It will be critical both for the future of America’s wild horses and burros and to grow public confidence in the agency tasked with overseeing their welfare, that Congress continues to demand the transparency and accountability needed to ensure the BLM finally implements a plan on a Herd Management Area by Herd Management Area basis.

“If lawmakers continue directing funding toward proven, safe and humane fertility control, range improvements and public-private partnerships, they can help write a success story for wild horses of which all Americans can be proud.”

In recent meetings with House and Senate offices to discuss lasting solutions that will ensure the future of wild horses on the range, Return to Freedom found that the proposal and the effort to increase support from a wider range of stakeholders is receiving strong bipartisan support.

Equally universal: Acknowledgment that the status quo cannot continue without endangering the future of wild herds — and that Congress is unwilling to the allow the cost of BLM’s program to climb without a solid plan for the future. Over more than 40 years, the agency has captured and removed some 270,000 wild horses and burros at ever-increasing taxpayer expense. BLM has announced plans to increase to roundups in Fiscal Year 2020.

“For more than 20 years, Return to Freedom’s sole purpose has been to promote and protect America’s wild horses and burros,” DeMayo said. “Nevertheless, the easiest thing for us to have done over the last few years would have been to continue posting on social media against roundups, unrestricted sales and euthanasia without offering an alternative based on proven science, that was within BLM’s existing authority to implement and that had broad enough support from stakeholders on both sides of the issue to be politically viable.

“Members of Congress asked us to come forward with a way to avert disaster. We could not sit idly by when horses were in growing danger or ignore a window of opportunity to end the almost 50-year cycle of roundups that have already seen some 270,000 wild horses and burros removed from their home ranges on our public lands. It is our sincere hope that today marks a step toward turning a growing conversation between long-time political adversaries away from divisive rhetoric and toward how best to secure the future of wild horses and burros and conserve the rangelands of a changing Western landscape.”

RTF is also grateful to the committee for barring the U.S. Forest Service from destroying or selling without slaughter restrictions any healthy unadopted wild horse or burro, a request RTF has been working on since October 2018. That same month, the Forest Service announced plans to sell older wild horses removed from the Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Territory in Northern California without protections against slaughter, resulting in ongoing legal action by Return to Freedom and other advocates.

Over the course of the case, USFS has adopted or sold with restrictions all of the captured older horses, including 12 that are now living at Return to Freedom’s American Wild Horse Sanctuary, home to more than 550 wild horses and burros at four California locations.