My friend Madeleine Pickens has been in the news recently with her passionate appeal to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to take up her plan to create a sanctuary for thousands of wild horses and burros on public rangelands. Right now, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), within the Department of the Interior, continues its costly, inhumane, and self-defeating roundups. Several years ago, in a late-night and little-noticed subversion of the democratic process, former U.S. Senator Conrad Burns of Montana succeeded in amending the law in order to allow the slaughter of horses and burros who are older than 10 years of age and who had been up for adoption three times.
Earlier this month, Madeleine and I both testified before a subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee in support of H.R. 1018, the Restore our American Mustangs (ROAM) Act, introduced by full committee Chairman Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), a staunch advocate of horse protection and an unyielding animal welfare advocate. Rahall’s bill, co-authored by Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), would reverse the Burns rider and ban slaughter of wild horses and burros, reopen millions of acres originally designated for horses so more can roam free, implement contraceptive programs as an alternative to the costly round-ups, and institute other reforms to honor the original intent of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 and to recognize the rightful place of horses and burros on our nation’s public lands.
This legislation, like Madeleine’s plea, could not be more timely. Currently, the BLM is taking more horses off the range than it can adopt, and as a result, the agency is amassing an enormous and unsustainable number of horses in short- and long-term holding facilities. For fiscal year 2009, the captive horse management program will consume an astonishing 75 percent of the agency’s total resources for horse and burro protection. There are at least 30,000 horses in short- and long-term facilities, at an estimated annual cost of $27 million. The new Administration must retool the program, and that’s exactly what Madeleine is asking Salazar to do.
The HSUS has been working to halt the destruction of the nation’s wild horse and burro populations since the late 1950s, and has been a vigorous defender of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act since its inception. But we’ve also invested scientific and financial resources into the management tool of immunocontraception, a birth control method that could be usefully deployed to help with the management of horse and burro herds.
If you have a chance, please do take the action step Madeleine Pickens recommends. You can also encourage your U.S. Representative and Senators to support H.R. 1018, which will provide the agency with the guidance it needs to get out of the rut it’s been in for the last several decades. The wild horses and burros who roam our public rangelands are a national treasure, and it’s time we took steps to ensure that they’ll always be there.