Senate appropriators pick fights on wild horses

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A portion of the wild horses captured are released following last winter’s Cedar Mountain Herd Management Area roundup in Utah. RTF file photo by Steve Paige.


As published by E&E News

Senate appropriators opted to retain traditional language in their new Interior Department spending bill protecting wild horses and burros from being killed or sold, setting up a debate with the House over the controversial issue.

The Senate version of the fiscal 2018 Interior-U.S. EPA spending bill, unveiled yesterday, contains provisions that would allow “for the humane transfer of excess wild horses” and give the Interior secretary authority to work with nonprofit groups for the “long-term care of wild horses and burros.”

That language is in keeping with previous years’ spending bills, prohibiting the Bureau of Land Management from using federal money to sell or destroy the animals. There are more than 70,000 wild horses and burros on federal lands, nearly three times the number BLM says it can properly manage.

But the House’s fiscal 2018 Interior appropriations legislation contains a section that would lift restrictions on BLM to sell or, in specific circumstances, euthanize excess animals.

The House Appropriations Committee approved the amendment from Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah), which would also prohibit the horses from being used for human consumption.

The provision generated robust debate earlier this year between Republicans who supported it and Democrats who argued for a greater use of contraception to cull the population; ultimately, it remained in the omnibus the House passed in September.

The two chambers will head toward bicameral negotiations when lawmakers return from recess, with the goal of putting everything into a massive joint omnibus. But lawmakers may need another continuing resolution to give them time to address controversies, as current government funding expires on Dec. 8.

Proponents of transferring animals, or euthanizing those that cannot be adopted and are sick or old, say that the tens of thousands of wild horses and burros have exhausted resources and that some of the animals simply starve to death.

Opponents of euthanizing the animals have argued for increased use of contraception, and some worry that killing them will lead to bad actors selling horse meat for consumption.

The United States Cattlemen’s Association urged Senate appropriators recently to follow the lead of their House counterparts by including language allowing BLM to sell without restriction the tens of thousands of excess horses on federal rangelands and in holding pens and corrals — and to euthanize those animals that have been unsuccessfully offered for adoption more than three times.

The American Wild Horse Campaign, however, praised Senate lawmakers for rejecting the House language.

“The Senate has heard the voice of the Americans loud and clear and rejected the killing of our nation’s iconic wild horses and burros,” said Suzanne Roy, executive director of the group, in a statement yesterday. “The only humane and politically viable path forward is to use birth control to manage wild populations on the range, as recommended by the National Academy of Sciences.”

The Senate Appropriations Committee report accompanying the fiscal 2018 Interior-EPA bill said the panel “recognizes that bold steps must be taken” to put the wild horses and burros program on a more sustainable path.

“The Committee looks forward to the release of the report required by … the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2017 and is hopeful that it will contain a range of humane and politically viable options that can collectively be implemented to drastically reduce on-range populations and a variety of methods to limit unsustainable on-range reproduction,” said the report, noting that the panel had allocated $5 million to that effort.

“The Committee again asserts its position that no one solution will resolve this issue and multiple approaches employed together are necessary to controlling the current unsustainable trajectory of wild horse and burro population growth,” the report said.

The Senate Interior spending bill, which would boost BLM’s fiscal 2018 budget by $16 million to $1.23 billion, also includes some recommendations on another controversial subject: sage grouse protection plans in the West.


RTF statement on protective language for wild horses in Senate bill, Nov. 21, 2017

Senate takes crucial step toward protecting wild horses! Nov. 20, 2017

Hold your horses: Fate of the West’s mustangs still uncertain, Nov. 2, 2017

Panel blocks amendment to protect animals from slaughter, Sept. 7, 2017

Focus back on Senate as fight for wild horses intensifies, Sept. 7, 2017

Rules Committee rejects amendment to stop BLM from killing wild horses, Sept. 7, 2017

House Rules Committee rejects bipartisan horse slaughter amendment, Sept. 6, 2017

Bipartisan House amendment would restore wild horse protections, Aug. 25, 2017

Senate committee rejects horse slaughter, sets up key vote on wild horses, July 20, 2017

Senate committee passes anti-horse slaughter amendment, July 20, 2017

RTF statement on House vote to allow BLM to kill wild horses, July 19, 2017

House committee narrowly votes for horse slaughter, July 12, 2017

Trump-Zinke budget imperils thousands of wild horses, June 8, 2017

Groups say budget proposal would lead to horse slaughter, May 25, 2017

Trump budget plan would place wild horses in jeopardy, May 23, 2017

Take Action

Please call the senators listed below.

Sen. Mitch McConnell: (202) 224-2541; Sen. Chuck Schumer: (202) 224-6542; Sen. Thad Cochran: (202) 224-5054; Sen. Patrcky Leahy: (202) 224-4242; Sen. John Hoeven: (202) 224-2551; Sen. Jeff Merkley: (202) 224-3753; Sen. Lisa  Murkowski: (202)-224-6665; Sen. Tom Udall: (202) 224-6621

Tell them:

  • Thank you for listening to the American people, who overwhelmingly support an end to horse slaughter and who wish to see wild horses and burros protected from being killed to cover up BLM mismanagement.
  • There are humane solutions for managing wild horses and burros on the range that should be promoted – and they do not include the misguided proposals that include killing them.
  • Please stand strong on protecting horse slaughter defund language.
  • Please stand strong on protecting wild horses and burros from destruction, either by the BLM or by being sold to someone who would slaughter them.


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