BLM report to Congress on wild horses and burros falls short on fertility control

By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson

By on May 11, 2020 with 6 Comments

America’s wild horses and burros are in crisis and unless the Bureau of Land Management revamps its program to manage these animals in a non-lethal and sustainable manner, as Congress has directed it to do, the gridlock surrounding the program will continue to prevent progress. Recently, BLM released a report to Congress on how it plans to revamp the program, and while the agency took a step in the right direction by committing to some increased use of fertility control tools, the report fell short of the changes truly needed to create a humane wild horse and burro program.

The BLM’s report does include a nod to increasing the agency’s use of fertility control tools, but it seems to indicate that the agency will only use these tools once populations are near the agency’s target levels—a goal that has to be reached through removals and one that BLM has never been able to reach. While the report indicates that BLM plans to administer at least 3,000 fertility control vaccines to mares annually, and commits $21 million to fertility control in coming years, there is no guarantee that this commitment would be implemented on a large scale and used on a continuing basis to manage wild horses now, let alone in perpetuity. With over 88,000 wild horses and burros on BLM land, a plan for 3,000 treatments is a drop in the bucket to manage wild horse populations. Additionally, there is no commitment from the agency to use widely accepted, humane and reversible fertility control tools.

Instead, the plan appears to focus on large-scale gathers, as BLM always has done, instead of the implementation of safe, proven and humane fertility control methods, as the agency should. It’s these innovative methods that a coalition of diverse stakeholders, including the Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society Legislative Fund, have championed again and again in discussions with the agency and in public statements.

We appreciate the agency’s desire to correct course on its management of wild horses and burros on our western public lands after decades of pressure. But the agency needs to prioritize implementation of fertility control on a large scale to reduce its reliance on taking horses off the range and putting them into government holding facilities. They simply cannot continue their stated path of using fertility control only when enough horses have been removed for the numbers to be near desired levels. Stabilization and slowing population growth is the path to long-term solutions—that means using fertility control now, and making it the central focus of the wild horse and burro program. This approach would break the cycle of rounding up and warehousing horses as the primary means of lowering population.

The comprehensive proposal our coalition has put forward has gained traction with lawmakers across the political spectrum, including among those who just a few years ago were arguing for lethal control. It relies on safe, humane and proven on-range fertility control methods at great scale, and importantly, it takes surgical sterilization off the table. Instead, it would advance scaled-up, on-range fertility control initiatives.

BLM continues to call for more research into sterilization of mares. While it has shifted some of its focus to chemical sterilization of mares, which is less invasive and potentially has less complications than surgical sterilization of mares, it still does not take off the table money going toward surgical sterilization research—an approach we and other stakeholders unequivocally oppose. These procedures are extremely invasive and present a host of potential complications for the animal, including hemorrhage, shock, tissue damage and even death. Here too, we believe the agency could make better use of its limited resources by focusing on safe and humane fertility control tools already available for use. The fact of the matter is that currently there are no sterilization techniques for wild mares that are proven safe and humane, and as such, they should not be used to manage these animals.

This report simply doesn’t cut it, and we will be bringing hard pressure on BLM and other stakeholders to support aggressive implementation of humane contraception strategies. We’re going to press Congress to do the same, because its oversight and reinforcement of intelligent strategies is essential to overcoming the agency’s historical tendencies to look for the quick fix of round-ups.

In addition, we must continue our efforts to secure passage of the SAFE Act (H.R. 961/S. 2006), to prevent the horse slaughter industry from reestablishing itself in the United States and ban the export of American horses for slaughter elsewhere. Public health considerations alone make it plain that horses don’t belong on the menu. But the passage of this bill would also foreclose on the chance that America’s wild horses would end up in the slaughter pipeline, as they often have in the past.

Congressional leaders have made it clear that they want to see the challenge of managing wild horse and burro populations addressed humanely, effectively and comprehensively, to ensure the health of their herds while satisfying political and other demands for their management. To do that, we’re going to have to confront and remove any remaining obstructions and barriers to the expanded use of contraception. We will do that and more in our efforts to save America’s wild horses and burros and to ensure their future on our western ranges.

Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.

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

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  1. Ann Mond says:

    Did you seriously expect any other outcome? I’m not the least bit surprised.
    This is very sad.

  2. Barb says:

    Wild horses and burros need to be left alone. These wild horses and burros have been running wild and free and they need to stay that way. Stop interfering with Mother nuture. It is a real shame on how these wild horses and burros are treated from time to time. Let go!

  3. Sally Anne Hubbard says:

    I agree with humane fertility control tools. The animals have a right to live and not killed or sold for meat because of over breeding. Too many humans would rather just kill innocent animals instead of taking the time for humane methods of fertility control.

  4. Sally Anne says:

    I do approve of humane fertility methods. These animals should be allowed to live and be free. Humane fertility methods will insure they are not murdered or slaughtered for food when over populate.

  5. Karen Drennen says:

    In a new twist the BLM in an effort to promote horse adoption from the horse and burro roundups is using money from the adoption program to pay people to take one thousand dollars to adopt a horse or burro. It is promoted as a success as this year alone 25,000 horses and burros are inhumanely captured by the BLM due to the cattlemen’s association wanting land for grazing. However it is not reporting that people are pocketing the money and still sending horses for slaughter to kill buyers who send them to Mexico, Canada and Japan. There should not be any more roundups until all the horses in these pens( 25,000 a year is allowed for the next 6 years.) are adopted safely. The congress gave the BLM billions of dollars by the department of the interior to make sure that these animals are adopted. The pens have all the horses in one area in all conditions and a lot die fighting one another as they cannot escape. The entire process is cruel and they need to also start birth control which they have not done for years. There should also be tracking on what happens to each animal. The system is broken and there should not be anymore round-ups until the horses that are captive are adopted. 25,000 a year ( which has been going on for many years) is unrealistic. The PAST act needs passed to prevent horses from going to slaughter by exporting them to other countries. Race horses have the same outcome. Horses are big business and the government and racing is cashing in on them
    The wild horses and burros need to be responsibly managed on public lands.

  6. Karen Drennen says:

    It is not surprising to hear that the BLM is now making use of the adoption of wild horses and burros a financial ploy. They are giving people a thousand dollars each to promote these animals to be adopted. This is illegal and this is taxpayer money as they were given billions to the department of the Interior.. The twist is that the people adopting these poor animals are selling them to kill buyers and making profit. No animals in any shelters are given for free or paid to adopt them. This shows how corrupt the Bureau of Land Management is. There are over 50 thousand horses captive in holding pens from round ups and they continue every year with a huge surplus of horses. This is morally and ethically unfair as they are catering to the Cattleman’s Association for grazing on land and want more and more. Plan is for 25,000 a year to be rounded up for the next 6 years. The did not yet institute any birth control which should have happened years ago to control the population and now there are too many horses. The round ups need to stop until they take care of the horses they already have. The ones in the pens are all kept together herded up in all weather and cannot escape and often fight each other. The end result is many of these horses will be slaughtered and our tax payer money is not being handled by BLM to promote ethical and scientific treatment of this problem. Stop these round-ups. Ask your legislator to have the SAFE Act passed in congress to prevent exports of them by kill buyers to Canada and Mexico and Overseas.

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