Senate funding package includes no-kill language for wild horses, burros

/ Featured, Staff Blog
Tomahawk photographed at RTF’s Lompoc, Calif., headquarters sanctuary by Irene Vejar.

By Chris Heyde

Earlier this year, it seemed Congress was on the path to consider most, if not all, of its annual appropriations bills that would have funded the government from Oct. 1, 2020, to Sept. 30, 2021.  However, because of ongoing negotiations over a supplemental spending bill in response to the coronavirus, action came to a standstill in July — especially in the Senate, where no funding bills were considered. The House was able to pass its bills, including Interior and Agriculture by the same time.

The Senate Appropriations Committee just released its FY21 Appropriations package containing 12 individual bills funding agencies such as the Department of Interior (which governs the Bureau of Land Management) and Department of Agriculture (which oversees slaughterhouses and horse slaughter).

While the bill contained a variety of good and bad animal measures, we will focus on those related to wild horses and horse slaughter: 

Interior Appropriations Bill:

  • Wild Horses and Burros– The Committee continues to advocate and fund humane management of wild horses and burros by giving the Bureau of Land Management an additional $15 million to implement a sustainable non-lethal management program that will break the ongoing cycle of massive roundups and warehousing of wild horses. The committee maintained language barring BLM from killing healthy wild horses and burros and barring the agency from selling them to slaughter. 

Agriculture Appropriations Bill:

  • Wild Horses and Burros:The committee maintained language barring the U.S. Forest Service (part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture) from killing healthy wild horses and burros and barring the agency from selling them to slaughter.
  • Horse Slaughter– The Committee did not include annual language barring the USDA from using taxpayer funds to hire horsemeat inspectors in its base bill, a result of the fact that there was no hearing or consideration of the bill before the full committee. That is when the horse slaughter defund language likely would have been accepted as a bipartisan amendment.  Thankfully, the House Appropriations did include the horse slaughter defund language in their bill so when the House and Senate meet to work out any differences between the two bills over the next month, the House will push to ensure the Senate accepts inclusion on the defund language. RTF’s team and colleagues working on the Hill will continue to lobby and ensure this happens during Conference.
  • Feral Wild Horse Management —For reasons that remain unknown at this point, the committee included language calling for “collaborative, science-based solutions for ‘feral’ wild horse animal management. The committee encourages USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to study the control of large feral animal populations that pose health and safety risks.”  RTF opposes the linking of feral to wild because its interpretation is ambiguous. We are also concerned that the committee did not specify non-lethal and proven, safe and humane management, which could potentially create a loophole in the bill. RTF’s team on the Hill will also work to ensure the language, if accepted for the final conference bill, will similar language in the Interior Appropriations bill that allows only for proven, safe and humane management tools (fertility control). 

RTF has remained strongly opposed to surgical sterilization methods and will work to make changes to close any possible loopholes in appropriations language. 

Though the Senate has released its funding package and the House has approved its package, that doesn’t mean Congress will reach a final compromise bill by the Dec. 11 deadline.  Given the continued uncertainty over several Senate seats and delayed presidential transition many things could stall a final bill. If Congress is unable to reach an agreement on the FY21 Appropriations bills, they could approve another extension and punt final action into next year.

In the meantime, RTF will be in constant contact with key Hill offices to voice our support both for the positive language and in opposition to any efforts that would allow lethal or harmful procedures like surgical sterilization to be carried out on America’s wild horses and burros. Please be sure to follow us on social media to get the latest information from Capitol Hill.

Chris Heyde serves as RTF’s lobbyist in Washington, D.C.

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