A US Senate committee is being hailed for a funding boost which advocates hope will be a first, important step in moving American wild horse management away from unsustainable and widely criticized roundups and long-term holding.
Return to Freedom Wild Horse Conservation thanked the Senate Appropriations Committee for voting to dedicate an extra $US35 million toward the first-ever large-scale effort to implement “proven, safe and humane” tools to curb wild horse and burro population growth. Key to this program will be long-acting fertility control.
The nonprofit advocacy group describes it as an investment that can be the first step toward ending the inhumane, costly and unsustainable practice of capturing and “warehousing” horses.
The organization, and a diverse coalition of stakeholders from both sides of this controversial issue, hope the new multi-faceted approach will halt the march toward the mass killing or unrestricted sale of tens of thousands of wild horses, which would put them at great risk of going to slaughter.
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 public lands.
For the first time, congressional funding will be allocated specifically for the use of 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 Return to Freedom’s president, Neda DeMayo.
“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.
“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;
- The 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 follows its own humane handling standards during roundups, which House appropriators also voted to mandate, would be another first.
When the Interior bill is signed into law after the House and Senate resolve funding differences, it will only mark the start of a new chapter in the efforts of wild horse and animal welfare advocates, Return to Freedom says.
It adds that wild horse advocates 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 are receiving strong bipartisan support.
There is also an acknowledgement that the status quo cannot continue without endangering the future of wild herds — and that Congress is unwilling to 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. The BLM has announced plans to increase to roundups in Fiscal Year 2020.
“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,” DeMayo said.
Return to Freedom said it was also grateful to the committee for barring the US Forest Service from destroying or selling without slaughter restrictions any healthy unadopted wild horse or burro, a request the group 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, the Forest Service 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
The group singled out for particular thanks the 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.