Trump-Zinke budget imperils thousands of wild horses

Wild horses at Fish Creek Herd Management Area in Nevada. RTF file photo.


Return to Freedom Wild Horse Conservation today called on Congress to reject provisions in President Trump’s 2018 budget proposal that threaten the lives of tens of thousands of America’s wild horses and burros.

Speaking on Thursday before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior and the Environment, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said that he planned to host a wild horse seminar in Nevada. “I think we should have a roundtable and include everybody, but let’s get a plan on how to manage the population,” he said.

Yet, before crafting such a plan, the administration has offered up a death warrant.

The president’s budget would slash the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Program budget by 12%, about $9.7 million. The majority of the program’s budget goes to warehouse some 47,000 captured wild horses and burros living in short- and long-term government holding facilities.

The budget would cut those costs by allowing the BLM “to conduct sales without limitation,” eliminating the current policy of captured wild horses and burros being offered for sale without limitation when they reach 10 years of age or fail to be adopted three times. Many sold would likely fall into the hands of kill buyers.

The budget would also remove “language restricting BLM’s ability to use all of the management tools authorized in the 1971 [Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros] Act,” scrapping Congress’s prohibitions in previous appropriations bills that barred BLM from shooting healthy animals.

“Propaganda that there are no alternatives to horse slaughter continues like a mantra from a small but powerful lobby that does not want solutions. They want control over our public lands and natural resources — and anything they cannot profit from is dispensable,” said Neda DeMayo, president of Return to Freedom.

“Zinke is counting on this administration to load the bullets, but Americans would never recover from such an unnecessary and unjustifiable act. We hope that Congress listens to its constituents, rejects these proposals, and moves forward with solutions for the protection and preservation of our cherished wild horses and burros on their rightful ranges.”

During the nearly three-hour hearing, Zinke took just one question about wild horses, from Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah. He said that areas of his district are “just dirt because of the overabundance of horses,” hurting ranchers there, and showed a photo of a horse that he implied had starved to death.

Zinke replied that the ranges could only accommodate about 22,000 wild horses. In fact, the BLM  has set a national “Appropriate Management Level” (AML) of 26,715 wild horses and burros — just one horse or burro for every 9,171 acres managed by the BLM.

Wild horses are relegated to about 9.1 percent of BLM lands and, even there, the majority of forage is reserved for livestock.

Authorized livestock use on BLM lands for 2016 was 12 million Animal Unit Months (AUMs). That’s the equivalent of 1 million cow/calf pairs (1 AUM = 1 horse, 1 cow/calf pair, 5 sheep.). Authorized wild horse use on BLM lands was 320,580 AUMs, by comparison.

Zinke added that “the birth control part of the (Wild Horse) Program has been, by and large, a failure” – this despite BLM spending just $340,000 on fertility control in 2016 compared to $52.49 million on capturing and warehousing horses off the range.

A 2013 National Academy of Sciences report identified fertility control as an effective tool for managing the wild horse population while blaming BLM’s system of capture and removal for promoting population growth. An economic model published that same year in the peer-reviewed Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine found that the BLM could attain its management goals within 12 years by using fertility control.

In 2008, BLM was very close to achieving their desired population target and still they did not implement an effective fertility control program that has proven 91-98% successful in various programs.

“If BLM invested in fertility control properly not only would they slow down reproduction on the range, over time they would save millions of dollars a year,” DeMayo said. “This information has been available for more than a decade. This was a forced crisis.”

Should Zinke wish to “find a path forward,” in his words, a truly humane route does exist.

Return to Freedom and other advocates have long called for redirecting money spent on capturing and holding wild horses toward available solutions that do not include the needless slaughter of healthy equines promised our protection.

These include not only using safe, proven fertility control but revisiting population targets, based on a fair interpretation of multiple-use land management; providing incentives for ranchers who reduce livestock grazing in wild horse Herd Management Areas; increasing range stewardship, including much-needed water source restoration; and relocating horses, but only if truly necessary.

Shooting healthy wild horses at taxpayer expense or selling them out the back door, where they wind up slaughtered in Canada or Mexico, would contradict the will of Congress and the American people.

The recently passed bipartisan omnibus bill defunded horse slaughter plant inspections and explicitly prohibits BLM from euthanizing healthy wild horses or selling horses in a way that results in their destruction. Since January, 134 House members have also signed on as co-sponsors of the bipartisan HR 113 (Buchanan), dubbed the SAFE Act, which would permanently ban commercial horse slaughter or the transport of horses to slaughter.

The American people have repeatedly supported protections for wild horses and burros, dating to the public outcry that led the unanimous passage of the Wild Horse and Burro Act in 1971. Since then, taxpayers have invested tens of millions of dollars in the protection of wild horses on the range and after capture. A 2012 ASPCA poll found 80% of Americans opposed horse slaughter.

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