RTF, animal welfare groups meet with Rep. Stewart, ranchers

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Wild horses at the Onaqui Herd Management Area in Utah. RTF file photo by Steve Paige.

National animal-welfare and wild horse organizations representing tens of millions of Americans last week delivered a message that proven tools must be used to chart a new course for humanely managing America’s wild horses and burros.

Return to Freedom Wild Horse Conservation took part in a listening session hosted with Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) in Salt Lake City along with cattle interests, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Utah governor’s office, as well as the Humane Society of the United States, ASPCA and the American Mustang Foundation.

“We need to be able to have these difficult conversations with those that have a different point of view,” said Neda DeMayo, Founder and President of Return to Freedom. “Last year, in response to the very real threat of the mass killing of tens of thousands of wild horses, we worked with our colleagues to develop a proposal that was based on where we have common ground with ranchers and other stakeholders. Recent discussions with ranchers and legislators convey that mass euthanasia and slaughter is off the table as a result of these conversations.

“Like it or not, wild horse advocates need to accept that ranchers have a right under the law to graze their livestock on our public land — and ranchers need to accept that wild horses have a legal right to the range as well. We hope as things move forward, wild horses and burros will be given a fair percentage of the range resources, but it is clear that this will only be possible if Congress directs BLM to use the humane tools available to manage reproduction on the range.”

If there was agreement between those present at last week’s meeting, it was that both wild horse advocates and ranchers feel strongly that the current way of managing wild horses and burros isn’t working, DeMayo said.

Stewart has offered amendments to the last two Interior Appropriations bills that RTF and other wild horse advocates have strongly opposed. For Fiscal Year 2018, his amendment would have allowed BLM to euthanize – shoot — healthy, unadopted wild horses and burros. That language was removed during Conference with the Senate before the bill was signed into law.

For the Fiscal Year 2019 Interior Appropriations bill, Stewart’s amendment would allow the Interior Secretary broad power to decide whether a herd should be made single-sex or non-reproducing with field sterilization surgeries used on wild mares and jennys.RTF is urging its supporters to contact their senators and urge that they oppose the amendment language in Conference with the House.

The meeting presented an opportunity for RTF to explain its opposition to Stewart’s amendment, which it believes to be dangerous, costly and unproven — and underscore that BLM should turn first to aggressive use of the humane fertility control vaccine PZP.

RTF has used PZP at its American Wild Horse Sanctuary for 20 years, allowing stallions and mares to live together in family bands, as have other projects, on and off the range, with 91-98% efficacy. Yet BLM has never invested as much as 4% of its annual Wild Horse and Burro Program Budget in the use of fertility control.

In response to last year’s successful push by Stewart and others in the U.S. House Appropriations Committee to allow the mass killing (“euthanasia”) of wild horses and burros, RTF, ASPCA, HSUS and the American Mustang Foundation offered Congress and the BLM a plan to transition the agency away from rounding up and warehousing wild horses and burros at an ever-growing cost to animals and taxpayers, alike, and toward sustainable, on-the-range management.

The organizations have continued to work with biologists and economists to refine the proposal, which combines removals with on-range fertility control application, enhanced adoptions and long-term permanent sanctuary for horses taken off the range.

This spring, BLM drafted a plan to Congress with management options that do not have the support of wild horse advocates and the American public. The agency has suggested killing, en masse, healthy animals, unlimited sales (including sales to slaughter), sterilization surgeries and even the sale of wild horses and burros to foreign buyers..

More recently, it came to light that in May BLM quietly changed its sales policy to allow someone to purchase up to 24 wild horses or burros at a time with no waiting period.The immediate transfer or large numbers of horses leaves them utterly vulnerable to sale to slaughter and that is clearly where they would likely go. Sales agreements that purportedly disallow slaughter have been found to be ineffective in preventing it, legally, even though they are sometimes falsely represented as a protection. This new policy replaces a system that was specifically put in place as a reaction to a mass sales to slaughter incident in recent years and the prior approach was intended to reduce and prevent sales to kill buyers by limited sales to no more than four horses or burros every six months.

“It is critical that the public is given more reason, not less, to trust the BLM so their recent implementation of a mass sales policy for horses is threatening to the momentum we see building for a way forward,” said Nancy Perry, ASPCA Senior Vice President of Government Relations. “We cannot support moving horses to holding if they will then face the real potential of being sold for slaughter. This new sales policy must be shelved immediately to allow for swift implementation of a plan for safe, lifetime sanctuaries rather than shipping wild horses off to slaughter.”

Drew Lesofski, President of the American Mustang Foundation said that the meeting afforded his organization “the opportunity to correct misconceptions that prevent progress being made for the benefit of wild horses.”

Wild horse and animal-welfare advocates said that they left the meeting feeling as though progress can be made if both sides are willing to continue talking. Mr. Stewart listened carefully to every stakeholder, expressed his openness to all opinions, and even solicited views that he did not share, No specific plan was proposed, other than a general agreement to keep talking and to work together to find a way to manage based on our common ground.

DeMayo said that it was important “that the Congressman hear the facts from those who have a long, proven track record with wild horse management and utilizing fertility control, instead of only from those advocating to remove wild horses from the range at any cost.”

“Congress must demand the BLM act swiftly with proven, humane and viable solutions for long-term wild horse solutions,” she said. “It is time to put aside schemes that are unproven, inhumane and lethal especially when real and proven solutions exist. We must act now.”

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