HSUS- and HSLF-backed plan for wild horses and burros rejects slaughter, offers much-needed reprieve
By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson
America’s wild horses and burros have long been engulfed in a political quagmire, and their place on our western rangelands has been hotly contested for more than half a century. But a comprehensive, science-based management proposal promises to break the stalemate that has vexed stakeholders within and outside of government for decades, and spare tens of thousands of wild horses and burros from ongoing threats, including mass slaughter. The Senate Appropriations Committee recently committed an impressive $35 million to that plan, following the House of Representatives’ $6 million allocation to the same goal back in May.
This ambitious new plan has been advanced by the Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society Legislative Fund, along with other humane advocates, ranching interests and other parties. For the past several years, there has been tremendous pressure to authorize the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to kill thousands of wild horses and burros as a “management” technique. That’s why the current proposal is striking. In forging it, we and other parties set aside our differences to secure the long-term future of wild horses and burros, as countless members of Congress pressed us to do. The proposal takes lethal control, including the slaughter of horses and burros, off the table along with surgical sterilization techniques, since none have been proven safe and humane, while acknowledging the need to continue limited removal of animals from the range in the short-term, to bring burgeoning populations in certain herd management areas under control.
It also places a much stronger burden upon the BLM to advance scaled-up, on-range fertility control initiatives and provides for strategic relocation of removed horses and burros to adoptive homes or long-term holding pastures. These pastures are expansive and replicate the animals’ natural environment as much as possible.
The proposal, properly funded by Congress and immediately implemented by the BLM, would eliminate any need for large-scale removals in six years. The BLM can begin to phase out holding facilities, its overall costs will go down, and a stable population of horses and burros can thrive on the range via fertility control management.
But every proposal, even the most balanced one, has its detractors. There’s a meeting of the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board taking place in Washington, D.C., this week with representatives from multiple interest groups and the public. In the run-up to the meeting, we’ve heard a few outside voices speaking out against the proposal (one of those inexplicably on the attack is a former colleague who directly championed such an approach with then-Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke two years ago). Some have insisted that fertility control alone will work on large populations without limited removals — a notion that has been flatly rejected by scientists who have pioneered the field.
Those attacking the proposal also gloss over the point that in areas that are difficult to access, the only way to deliver fertility control to wild horses and burros is to round them up and administer it. It’s easy enough to oppose round-ups, but it’s disingenuous to do so in light of what we know about the science and practice of fertility control. Moreover, these few critics offer no solution of their own, and, however well-meaning their criticisms, their mischaracterization of the proposal at this time is matched by a disregard of the political landscape, the reality on the ground and the fact that each year we do nothing, the closer we are to seeing mass killings of these animals.
Members of Congress from both parties have expressed rising frustration over stakeholders’ refusal to collaborate on a long-term solution, and the hourglass is running out. Standing pat isn’t a strategy; it’s posturing and it will allow the removal of thousands of horses and burros to continue each year, without end.
We have a national obligation to wild horses and burros on our rangelands, one codified in the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. Sadly, the lack of a comprehensive approach and continued reluctance on the BLM’s part to implement safe and proven fertility control has put lives at risk. By choosing to implement the proposal we and other informed advocates have advanced, and by ensuring that Congress will stay involved to guarantee that the BLM implements it correctly, we‘ll position ourselves to make good on our nation’s promise to provide these wild inhabitants of the American west a chance to survive and flourish in perpetuity.
Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.
BLM is owned by Cattlemen, oil & gas, sheep, goats, mining, fracking, and destroying our public lands which we the taxpayers support. The current administration is allowing the destruction of this land. The horses and burros only take up a small portion of BLM land and are being taken from public lands (SAFE ROAMING ACT) mean anything? BLM have found ways around the law and put in only those that want total destruction of our National Treasure. Millions and Millions of cattle and not enough room for the wild ones. Bull. Pure and simple.
These horses and burros live in their natural habitat. Due to need for grazing by Cattleman’s Association as well as the impending downsizing of their habitat, which all animals are facing; an average of over 20,000 horses are to be rounded up every year. BLM wants 26,715 removed a year and this will go on for 6 years to reduce their numbers. This has been woefully mismanaged and now there are already 45,000 in holding facilities. This is an atrocity. The round up is inhumane as horses are breaking legs trying to get away from helicopters who run them to exhaustion. These numbers are too low to realistically meet now as the population numbers are high.. These animals need more land and pasture to live on not herded in crowded pens or sent to slaughter because there are too many of them to handle.I agree with birth control PZP and wish it was started sooner before the population grew over the past decades due to mis-management by the BLM. The numbers are too low and 6 years is a long time to try and manage all these animals humanely.
Public lands belong to all Americans and most of us want the horses and burros to stay, not cattle or any other animal used for commercial purposes. Unfortunately, the “experts” tell us that they were brought here with Columbus, and that may be true, but they were here for thousands of years before that. Then they died out, killed to extinction by man. In Ashfall, NE there are large digs filled with many species of pre-historic animals. There are several types of horses, one of which is exactly like our modern horse. I mention this because of those who would have us believe that the equids don’t belong here, because they only go as far back as 1492, which is false.
Btw, I’ve adopted many mustangs and burros over the years, and they are exceptionally wonderful beings. One, Little Sky is just turning 30 and is still beautiful and healthy.
The recent house bill addressing the BLM round up : the committee gave the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) more than $102 million for the wild horse and burro program, even though the department has said it will round up as many as 30,000 horses a year. This goes on every year and the numbers keep increasing because it winds up being a money maker for the government and the Department of Interior. They, the BLM, are to humanely do this yearly and then plan is to scale down in 6 years. This is wrong. They should limit the cattle grazing land not the horses or burros.. The Cattleman’s Association wants the land and the horses have to go. To think that the BLM a government agency really cares about getting these horses adopted or providing holding facilities for them is not the answer. Every year 30,000 per year over 6 years. Do the math there is no way that many animals can humanely be cared for. You do have to use birth control. They do not want to do this because in the end money is made to send them over seas for slaughter. If they had slaughter houses in the United States they would all go there. I am against this but sending these animals overseas is a nightmare for them. This whole ordeal is a travesty. The HSUS should be against this not work to promote it or do it in humane way… as there is no humane way to care for 30,000 horses a year eventually they will be slaughtered.. The American public is not stupid.All our American horses as well as race horses have no one to speak for them. Sure some get adopted but how long can holding facilities take care of them? They waited too long for birth control like PZP which should have been done years ago and now they want to play catch up with these horses lives. Doing this every year and now giving them more money means more horses that will suffer. This sickens me. I have called my representative and am against this round-up. The HSUS needs to stand up against anti-animal organizations not work with them. This goes on every year and needs to stop. I implore you to help these animals do not work with the government which is against these wild horses and burros.
We need to continue the fight for freedom with wild horses and burros! Massive slaughter is an heinous resolution to the situation!