Budget bill provision places wild horse lives at risk

A contractor’s helicopter drives wild horses toward the trap in February at the Cedar Mountain Horse Management Area. Photo by Steve Paige.

 

The bipartisan, five-month spending deal likely to be approved by Congress this week includes a new threat to wild horses and burros: a provision stripping them of their federally protected status, opening a new backdoor to unnatural deaths.

In an accompanying report, the Senate Appropriations Committee also directed the Bureau of Land Management to increase the pace of wild horse roundups “to strive for appropriate management levels in Herd Management Areas (page 13).”

The omnibus spending bill, which will fund the government until September, does continue the prohibition on commercial horse slaughter within the United States.

Because there is no federal ban on slaughter, Return to Freedom and other animal- and equine-welfare organizations must make a year-to-year push to ensure that taxpayer money does not fund horsemeat inspection, which would make opening a slaughter plant viable.

The bill also states explicitly that federal money “shall not be available for the destruction of healthy, unadopted wild horses and burros in the care of the Bureau [of Land Management] or its contractors or for the sale of wild horses and burros that results in their destruction for processing into commercial products.”

For wild horses and burros, however, the devil is in the details.

Added on page 804 is a provision, Section 116, on “the humane transfer of excess animals” that animal- and equine-welfare organizations had worked to remove from the legislation — only to see it return from the grave in the final version.

The section enables the secretary of the interior to transfer “excess wild horses and burros that have been removed from public lands” to other federal, state and local government agencies as “work animals” immediately upon request of that agency.

Importantly, transferred horses or burros will lose their status under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act – effectively changing a landmark federal law with a 25-line provision buried deep within a spending bill.

The provision continues: The agency receiving the transferred horses or burros is barred from destroying it “in a way that results in their destruction into commercial products.” The agency is also prohibited from selling or transferring the animal in a way “that results in their destruction into commercial products.”

Lastly, Section 116 bars the receiving government agency from euthanizing the horses or burros they receive “except upon the recommendation of a license veterinarian, in cases of severe injury, illness, or advanced age.”

Putting aside that RTF and other advocates have long taken exception to how the federal government already defines “excess” wild horses as exceeding arbitrarily set “appropriate management levels,” or AMLs, this often vague provision could lead to the needless deaths of tens of thousands of wild horses and burros.

It does not define terms like “advanced age” or “humane.” It lacks even the basic requirements for care that BLM requires of those who adopt wild horses.

Look again: The provision fails to explicitly ban an agency that requests and receives wild horses or burros from selling or transferring the animals to third party intent on having the animals killed for any non-commercial purpose.

If that concern seems overblown, think again.

A recent, wrongheaded bill in the Utah legislature demanded the federal government reduce wild horse populations by euthanasia, if necessary — or turn the job over to the state. That Utah bill failed. However, it makes plain the eagerness at even the highest levels of some states to rid the West of wild horses and burros.

It also underscores the dangers of handing off the BLM’s responsibility of overseeing the wellbeing of our nation’s wild horses and burros.

In accompanying language to the spending bill, Senate and House committees noted that they are aware of proposals to improve the treatment of wild horses and burros in holding and on the range and improve the use of taxpayer dollars. They requested that BLM produce “a plan to achieve long-term sustainable populations on the range in a humane manner” within 180 days.

The Senate Appropriations Committee report outlines concerns about the “severe overpopulation” of wild horses and burros, concerns about their wellbeing due to drought and population trends, and impacts to the range.”

The committee directs the BLM to “accelerate gathers,” as well as addressing wild horse numbers through “innovative and cost-effective long- and short-term holding options and population control methods. Priority should be give to strategies that create cost savings over time.”

Sadly absent from the language: Any discussion of striving for a more equitable balance between ranching and other uses of public land resources and that afforded to wild horses and burros.

Notes:

  • The BLM received a $15 million increase, to $1.2 billion, with an $8.9 million going to sage-grouse protection. Wild horse and burro management received $80.6 million, $447,000 more than requested by the agency.
  • The omnibus bill enables the Secretary of the Interior to enter into multiyear cooperative agreements with nonprofit organizations and “other appropriate entities” to provide for the long-term care of “excess” wild horses and burros on private land.
  • The bill also creates a Bureau of Land Management Foundation, enabling it to assist BLM with “challenges that could be better addressed with the support of a foundation.” Examples cited include conservation, stewardship of cultural and archaeological treasures on public lands – and “activities related to wild free-roaming horses and burros.” According to accompanying guidance, those activities could include “educational, technical, scientific, and other assistance or activities to assist with wild free-roaming horses and burros” (page 6).

TAKE ACTION

Call or write your Congressional representatives today:

  • Urge them to take immediate steps to end the risk of mistreatment and even death now faced by animals because of language in the new spending bill, Section 116, which enables the Bureau of Land Management to transfer wild horses and burros to other government agencies for use as “work animals.”
  • Tell them this vague provision, which strips wild horses of their federal protections, contradicts the intent of Congress shown in the very same bill by barring the BLM from killing healthy horses and by not using taxpayer dollars to fund horse slaughter.
  • Be sure to explain why this matters to you personally — and that voters demand truly humane management, on the range, and full transparency and accountability measures necessary to ensure that our nation’s wild horses and burros receive it.

Unsure who represents you or how to reach your representative? Click here and here.

/ In The News