BLM chief says no mass killing for our American wild horses and burros

By on September 19, 2016 with 32 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

The Bureau of Land Management put many people at ease when it declared it would reject the recommendation made last week by the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board to euthanize up to 45,000 wild horses and burros in government-funded holding facilities. This recommendation of the nine-person advisory group was both a provocation and a sort of rhetorical gift to the ranching lobby. But even suggesting such a crude and callous action gives it the patina of respectability it has never deserved.

Still though, the BLM program is badly broken, and the managers of the program need to break out of their current mindset. As I explained in last week’s blog, the agency’s primary strategy over the past 20 years has largely consisted of rounding up and removing the animals from our public lands – an effort that has resulted in tens of thousands of wild horses and burros being kept in holding facilities at a cost now approaching $50 million a year — more than half of the BLM’s annual budget for the entire wild horse and burro program. Because the costs of caring for so many captive horses are cannibalizing the larger program, the agency continues to fail to commit any additional money to implement sufficient fertility control programs that would humanely lower range populations. This is both as a matter of expense and also explains the agency’s undue skepticism about the efficacy of the contraceptive vaccine.

In Colorado, using mainly volunteers and limited BLM staff, the agency is using contraception as a key strategy for managing several herds, as I write about in my book The Humane Economy. This is both fiscally responsible and the right management move, but it must be expanded to other western states with wild horses and burros. By preventing births, the agency is not under as much pressure to round up horses, which in turn means they won’t bear the expense of care and feeding in government-run holding facilities.

Maintaining roundups and removals as the primary wild horse management strategy is just kicking the can down the road – swelling the captive population and barely keeping the lid on the wild population. The only humane, sustainable way to address this conundrum and actively manage horses, is to undertake contraception on a much larger scale and to do it in an aggressive way.

We’re asking you to help us. Please let the agency know that killing horses isn’t the answer and that contraception is the only way forward. The American public demands humane treatment of our precious wild horses and burros.

Act now to save America’s wild horses »

Equine, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative), Wildlife/Marine Mammals

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  1. V. Egan says:

    Having been in “the horse business” in one form or another for over 50 year please understand that I love and value horses as much as anyone on the planet, and abhor the mistreatment of any animal, domestic or otherwise. That said, I fully understand the requirements of humane horse-keeping. Left to their own devices in an arid environment, and in the absence of meaningful population controls, horses and burros are extremely hard on the landscape, and would be so with or without the presence of cows. Anyone who’s ever kept a horse in the back yard has observed this. We are not doing them any favors to allow them to reproduce unchecked if we insist on relegating them to the bleakest, driest regions in the West. The practice of culling feral horse bands is the only way to ensure that they don’t all starve.

    Perhaps the thing that irks me the most, and which I have been observing for decades, is the practice by uncaring and misguided individuals of releasing their perfectly good, often trained and useful but also sometimes sick, lame or dangerous horses out on the public lands when they either no longer want or can afford to keep them. This is happening with ever greater frequency in the West. The “wild and free” horses that we love to watch and photograph are and have always been estray livestock or descendants thereof. In fact, in the 1930s and 40s the US Cavalry Remount Service even released Thoroughbred and Arabian stallions onto the public lands in an effort to improve stock for military use.

    “Wild and free roaming horses and burros” are also a very expensive proposition for US taxpayers. As of March 2016 there were approximately 67 thousand animals at large on the public lands. The Appropriate Management Level required by the BLM is 27 thousand. An average of 2500 animals are adopted annually. There are about 45 thousand in holding facilities around the country. These are the individuals that, for whatever reason, are considered un-adoptable. The total annual cost to taxpayers for all phases of the Wild Horse and Burro program is currently about 70 million dollars.Something’s gotta give.

    Anyone who knows me knows that I have been crusading to get private cattle off the public lands and tax roles for decades. In my fantasy world we would have a handful of “reservations,” in the West; some for very carefully managed bands of feral horses and burros and some for cows and cowboys. These reservations would be available for public viewing and enjoyment and would provide employment for the few folks left out here that want to live the cowboy lifestyle. The rest of our magnificent public lands and crucial watersheds would be freed of the scourge of domestic livestock, both bovine and equine. Wolves and bison would co-exist, cougars and mule deer, along with the myriad other plant and wildlife species whose very existence are threatened by non-native plants and animals.

    I realize that my position is wildly unpopular with many, and I have learned to live with that. However, given the threats of global warming, human population pressures and shrinking budgets we must, in the end, manage our natural resources with the best current management practices, based on science, not emotion.

    • Dawn Mello says:

      Wow, how sad to think this way. We have NO right to take any animals lives any more than a human’s. They survived before we came along. There is an overpopulation of humans. So maybe you should think about that. Animals have a right to exist and maybe if we had a Government that wasn’t so greedy, it wouldn’t cost taxpayers so much money. Why punish animals? Why? I disagree with your way of thinking.

    • Monika Courtney says:

      If BLM just would use real science. They implement bogus science, self-serving deception, and scape goat wild horses since decades.
      BLM needs to be dissolved. Independent non-government agencies ought to be in charge of the horse program. BLM twists all facts and is clever in spreading propaganda.

    • James Berg says:

      Oh?? Where does it stop then?? Lets just kill all of the Elk. They are very hard on the landscape as well…? How about those cattle?? Especially in TEXAS?? Who gave the authority to yhe collection of IDIOTS @ the BLM to commit MASS GENOCIDE on a species of animal?? Who are these people?? WE WANT NAMES!! HEADS WILL ROLL!! From this EVENT that THEY unconcionably penned, WE THE PEOPLE demand an end to the BLM. This institution obviously doesnt even have the ability to make simple decisions & carry out these sensible actions, USING OUR TAX DOLLARS. Its time to put an END TO THE BLM. ITS NOT WORKING. AND the IDIOTIC,HEARTLESS,CRIMINALS, WE ARE PAYING TO WORK THERE, are OUT OF OUR CONTROL!! What is going on AMERICA.

    • m says:

      thanks v. egan for your well thought and heartfelt comments.

    • Jim Hart says:

      The horses aren’t starving unless the BLM is starving them. The horses on the range are very healthy and would stay that way if they were left alone.

    • Patricia Smith says:

      Omg what is the Gov thinking (they could careless) if those horses are really causing a problem and there water supply is running (i doubt it) then why have they grown so big and managed to make this far??? And if 100 horse knowledge people are willing to make it so these 50,000 horse cant bread so be it. Then gov if your so cancerned for these presious beautiful wild animals why would u want to sell them and cage them and allow there owners to wipe them to train them (disgusting) AMERICAN GOV SHAME ON YOU) GOV YOU HAVE PLENTY OF MONEY IF THERE WATER SUPPIES ARE RUNNING OUT HAVE THEM ALL RUSSELED UP FIND GOOD LAND WITH PLENTY OF WATER AND GRASS DONT BE IM IN GOV THESE HORSES ARE TROUBLE. I KNOW ITS HARD FOR ANY GOV PERSON TO CARE FOR ANYTHING OR PERSON BUT GOV PEOPLE BUT TRY AND PUSH OUT FEELINGS FOR THESE HORSES. MY GOODNESS I THANK GOD IM NOT IN GOV BECAUSE GOD WOULD JUDGE ME EVERY DAY AND I WOULD FEEL NO PITTY FOR NO EXCEPT GOV PEOPLE AND I DONT BELIEVE IN HATE. YOU GOV PEOPLE THERE IS ONE THING THAT MAKES ME HAPPY YOU ALL GO AGAINST WHAT GOD CREATED HUMANS AND WHOW HE WANTED US TREAT EACH OTHER AND HIS ANIMALS YOU MOST LIKELY GET A UGLY JUDGMENT DAILY FROM GOD AND JESUS BYE HIS FATHERS SIDE. SO YOU MADE YOUR CHOICE. POOR POOR HORSES

    • Patricia Smith says:

      You just want a chance to buy one of those huse Stailons greedy selfish person. Leave THOSE HORSES ALONE.I will not have you wipping one to train him so you can praid around town showing off your pride n joy you are sickning to the human race.

    • virginia white says:

      there is one problem with that them wild horses have been living out there for 200 years on all of that land it is not thier problem it is the ranchers and farmers crowding the land eating it into the ground then blame the horses for all of it they took care of them selves for that 200 years and now they have decided they are the problem.

  2. Doris Muller says:

    Hmm, sounds like someone needs to roundup the members of the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board and contain them in an escape-proof containment center so they don’t have opportunity to unleash their vicious nature’s on defenseless horses.

    BTW, who appoints/employees such brutal human predators to suggest the fate of wild animals occupying *PUBLIC* land, land that belongs to you and me, land that is managed with tax dollars. It’s of great concern that ALL the board members are like-minded.

    I am opposed to my tax dollars being used to subsidize such unfit, consciousless individuals who think nothing of animal serial killing to solve man-made problems.

  3. Mike Vandeman says:

    The horse evolved in North America and has a right to live here. Humans, on the other hand, are native to Africa and a newcomer (exotic) to North America. It’s humans who should get the contraception.

    • Sesaani Sass says:


    • Karen Erdos says:

      Well and concisely said. Too many humans eating too much meat is the problem, not the horses. If BLM would invest in humane contraception (their previous methods have been gruesome & heartbreaking) the numbers would stabilize & remove the need to remove them. Also not mentioned in Wayne’s blog is the fact that at least a few thousand of these wild horses have been sold at auction, which invariably means they were sold for meat, paid for by the pound. If you think factory-farmed cattle slaughter is bad, horse slaughterhouses (abattoirs) are the most inhumane places on Planet Earth.

      Keeping wild horses in sun-exposed ( NO SHELTER!) pens for the rest of their lives is not a solution. I am extremely wary of what will ultimately happen to these beautiful creatures. It doesn’t look good. I take little comfort in the recent announcement the euthanasia is off. More like the plan is on “temporary hold”. Kind of like the Dakota Pipeline…

  4. Dawn Mello says:

    I don’t believe them.

  5. Barbara Griffith says:

    If anyone can believe the horses reproduce at the huge rate the BLM claims don’t know very much about horses. From the inflated number’s BLM claims the horses would have to have litters of foals twice a year to come up with those numbers. No matter how the horses made it back to North America they still evolved here according to the fossils found st dig sites and in tar pits along with other animals whose fossils were found in North America such as the saber- toothed cat along with numerous other animal’s that are now extinct. No one knows the reason for the extinctions the only reason the horse’s ancestors survived is the fact that some of them grazed their way across the Bering strait when it was all grassland. If they hadn’t there would not be any horses on the planet earth simply because they didn’t exist on any continent but North America. So the horses are not feral they are simply a native returned to their homeland. How will the naysayers explain the 50,000
    year old horse fossils that have been dug up for years by science students and their professors found amid the fossils of cave bears?

    • Sesaani Sass says:


    • Karen Erdos says:

      I didn’t realize/remember that horses originated in North America, because of all the crap I’ve read about “imported from Asia”. But when I think about it, Native Americans rode horses long before the British came along. And I don’t think Christopher Columbus made it to Wyoming…

  6. Amy Robinson says:

    It is so sickening to hear that the government wants to kill 47,000 horses because they can no longer take care of them. They created this problem, it is their responsibility to take care of them for the remainder of their lives, not wash their hands of it.
    If they don’t want to do that then they should set them free. The government and so called “Cow boys” need to stop getting away with killing everything that gets in the way of their animal farming business’. They did it to the American Indian, the buffalo, and much more. These wild horses create headaches for the ranchers, but are otherwise harmless. They need to learn to live side by side with the wild animals, not against them.

  7. Monika Courtney says:

    In regards to HSUS / wild horses’ plight:
    Dear Wayne,

    Humane population control on the range and implementing Eco-sanctuaries to promote Eco-tourism, education and nurture cultural heritage- that is a path BLM must consider. Perhaps HSUS could foster that idea- Reserve Design. It is a model that has been carefully researched into phases that are of realistic nature – doable in stages. Yes, Dean, it is doable if you would shift your energies to put our mustangs first, not your cattle baron friends. Your statement in Salt Lake City that it is “far fetched” is as unpleasantly arrogant as the whole attitude of the decade long biased propaganda driven objectives.

    BLM is not to be trusted, and the American people are very skeptical. This is also an opportunity to consider the use of drones for accurate counts on the range. Remember Wayne, you suggested the use of drones for wildlife agencies? BLM can do the same.
    Currently, Neil Kornze insists that there are “70’000” horses roaming on the range- we all know that this number is exaggerated and based on propaganda pushing more removals.
    This number is not verified nor truthful. It is a grab in the “wild guess number hat” to cajole the public into believing why BLM operates with the scape goating and removing the mustangs’ mindset.

    Most herds are known to be on the brink of serious risk to not be sustainable anymore at the speed the agency removes them.

    Remove, remove, removest. After 30 years of this repeat failure program, it’s time BLM learns something. To move forward and try something new, that has not been tried- to achieve success by working with folks who have the expertise for a solution oriented outcome.

    The misery in holding, boredom, loss of freedom- can be fixed by treating these majestic animals with the pride on which America was built- Living Legends .. deserve better than vegging in holding in a prison mentality that stinks to heaven.

    Let them run! Create a safe Eco-sanctuary where they can be visited in a natural habitat that reflects American freedom values, and creates an international platform for tourism and learning.
    People love wild horses (all but some, we know who you are) – so BLM could truly build on that and create an innovative sanctuary model- the land is available. Imagine the endless possibilities? Jobs, nourish knowledge, protect the cultural heritage –

    Hsus could assist in making this a reality. Imagine how this could become a destination goal of people around the world? Everyone in Europe I know who comes to travel here, would go!
    The wild horses at Camargue in France are one of the most beloved tourist destinations.
    America can do the same! Put efforts towards improvisation that meets the needs of these horses- space, freedom, their families- and create a vision that you can be proud of and will be noted on an international stage.
    It can be done. Please consider options that are available to you. The model is there, so are the people and manpower. And the land, if goodwill would prevail.
    Monika Courtney

  8. Kris R says:

    My question is this. While it is great news that these 44,000 plus horses will not be exterminated, what is going to happen to them? We’ve all seen the inhumane way they are being kept – often in large confinement pens with little or no shade, even in extreme heat. Little resources are being used to supply even the minimum 5 freedoms. Instead of actively culling them, are they going to let them die instead? It’s shameful that they won’t just man up, admit the problem and let others who CAN fix it.

    • Monika Courtney says:

      It’s very shameful how the agency has mistreated these animals and the minimalist survival standards they subject them too. They claim they must gather horses due to “starvation” etc., yet many did in these feedlot style corrals- it’s mind goggling that America stoops to such low standards – when BLM ought to create an Eco sanctuary.
      The agency is not to be trusted. The storm dies down…. And again you will see how they disregard these horses.
      BLM ought to be stripped of this program, and replaced with horse folks, not special interest and land “managers”.

  9. Dale Wall says:

    I especially like the comments of Monika Courtney and Kris R. I, too, believe there is a solution to this problem. I actually spoke on the phone with someone on the BLM Advisory Board who joined hoping to come up with some solutions and has found it to be a very difficult proposition. I have contacted my Congressman to request that Congress does not go about a solution through the back door, as in manipulating the upcoming Budget. They need to hear from “all of us” who care about the fate of the Wild Horses and Burros. Signing Petitions is not good enough. We need to make phone calls and write “real letters”. Contact the Representatives on the “Natural Resources Committee”. Google it and there they all are. The BLM says
    they will not euthanize these horses, but if Congress cuts the budget and slips in an end run around that decision and makes it part of the Budget, there may be very little that can be done. We have to let them know, as soon as possible, that we will not stand for any monkey business! Please don’t just stand by. There are people that want to do the right thing. We just have to show them our support in large numbers! PLEASE BE PART OF THE SOLUTION!!!!! I think, at this point, ideas may be welcome.

    • Sesaani Sass says:

      Great words of wisdom Dale. Perhaps we should form a coalition state by state strong. We The People United strong can only change these things.

  10. Judy Smith says:

    We have mucked up the natural control of wild animals. We kill predators who control overpopulation of horses, elk, deer, pigs etc. Then we cry about what we have wrought. I agree birth control is better than euthanasia but how sad we have interrupted nature by our meddling.

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