Today, we face the most severe political threat to wild horses since the enactment of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, which Congress passed in response to the random and methodical killing of horses and burros on our western lands by ranchers and others who considered the animals trespassers. Now some players involved in the ongoing debate plan to have the government conduct this mass killing. Either way, people are targeting healthy horses, and that should never be allowed to happen. Not next month. Not next year. Not ever.
The pro-killing crowd is trying to create an atmosphere of crisis in an attempt to justify their cruel and radical plan. The drumbeat of exaggerated claims and doomsday talk is coming from a few powerful western lawmakers and certain officials at the Interior Department. And it’s not without effect. In July, a key House committee secured language in the 2018 annual spending bill for the government that would authorize the mass killing of wild horses and burros.
While we’ve heard the talk before, never have we faced such an imminent threat in the last half century. Some of the people trotting out the doomsday rhetoric are now in a better position to influence final outcomes, and we need to step up to the challenge and parry their attack.
Let’s remember that the mass killing plan would mark a U-turn on the government’s longstanding response to wild horse management. It was only in April that Congress passed a spending bill with sensible wild horse provisions for the remainder of FY 2017. That bill included language preventing the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and its contractors from sending wild horses to slaughter for human consumption and prevented killing healthy horses and burros. It further directed the BLM to create a plan, due to Congress in November, to maintain long-term, sustainable populations on the range in a humane manner. Key Democrats, including Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and House leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., had a lot to do with the right outcome, but they got an assist from with the Republican chairman of the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif.
Now, just five months after President Trump signed into law the 2017 omnibus spending bill that had this protective language, the Interior Department has spoken approvingly about the idea of mass killing because there are supposedly too many horses and no other viable options. This was foreshadowed in the president’s budget request for 2018, when the department asked for the ability to maintain wild horse and burro populations at dramatically reduced levels and to get there by slaughtering thousands of perfectly healthy animals.
When the full U.S. House took up the massive spending bill for FY 2018 on the floor, a group of animal-friendly lawmakers, led by Reps. Dina Titus, D, Nev., and Peter King, R-N.Y., made an effort to reinstate this protective language. But in a maneuver that indicated the fix was in, the House Rules Committee, led by Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, did not allow the amendment to be offered.
If we are to block the adverse language, we must do so in the Senate, which is set to take up its Interior spending bill next week.
There are major challenges in managing wild horses and burros on our western public lands and in satisfying the diverse stakeholders in the debate. But mass slaughter is not an option that should even be on the table. It’s outside the bounds of how these iconic animals should be treated. It’s an action that runs against the instincts of average Americans. And it nullifies nearly 50 years of federal policy that calls for the protection of these living symbols of the free spirit of the American west.
We’re not suggesting a hands-off policy. We’ve always brought a constructive approach to the resource challenges and a fresh perspective to the wild horse and burro issue. The only sensible move is for BLM to pursue humane and comprehensive management of the animals on and off range, and that means broadly implementing fertility control, instead of treating just 400-500 horses a year and calling it quits. The HSUS has invested millions in developing a working non-hormonal vaccine that reduces reproduction and slows the growth of herds, allowing reproduction and natural mortality to be squared. It works, if only the agency would commit to its use.
Please take action and urge your U.S. senators to fight back against the needless killing of America’s wild horses and burros. You can reach your two U.S. senators through the United States Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121. Ask them to ensure wild horses and burros are protected from being mass killed or sent to slaughter for human consumption.
Mass killing of horses and burros is an idea on the margins. It’s far from the mainstream. Federal lawmakers need to hear from you.