By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block
The Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Program is broken. Since inception of the program, the BLM has removed approximately 270,000 wild horses and burros from our public lands, without any significant use of fertility control tools, and without a plan to ensure the long-term viability and humane treatment of wild horses and burros.
For many years, BLM and equine advocates have been locked in a continuing cycle of ever-increasing removals, more and more horses warehoused in holding facilities (and the associated rising costs), and a political and policy stalemate between stakeholders—with no solutions in sight. Meanwhile wild horse and burro populations have grown—as have political tensions surrounding the program —and to date because no viable solutions have been presented to Congress, we are looking at a future in which the BLM will likely be directed by Congress to sell wild horse and burros without limitation, or destroy “excess” wild horses and burros.
Three years ago the HSUS, HSLF and its allies decided enough was enough, and started to work cooperatively with other stakeholders on a simple goal—find a responsible way forward. Today, we are announcing our support for a landmark proposal for the care of America’s wild horses and burros.
Working in concert with other animal welfare, wild horse advocacy, conservation and rangeland management stakeholders, we have developed a proposal for the non-lethal and humane care of wild horses and burros, with four key elements:
- Comprehensive large-scale application of proven, safe and humane fertility control strategies to help stabilize wild horse and burro populations on the range and to slow population growth.
- Targeted gathers of horses and burros in densely populated areas that cannot sustain large numbers of animals, to protect horses and burros from forage and water shortages, lower populations, and facilitate non-lethal fertility control and population control efforts.
- Relocate horses and burros in short-term holding facilities, and those taken off the range, to large cost-effective, humane pasture facilities that provide a free-roaming environment for wild horses and burros.
- Promoting the adoption of wild horses and burros into good homes to improve the lives of currently warehoused horses and burros, reduce the total cost of the program, and redirect funds to long-term strategies for the care and sustainability of horse and burro populations.
This proposal represents an entirely new, humane and comprehensive approach to wild horse and burro management—combining a number of techniques currently in use with new and innovative approaches into a larger framework for humane long-term care and rehoming of horses and burros.
One thing the proposal doesn’t include? The destruction or unlimited sale of healthy wild horses and burros. Although this proposal requires some interventions for horses that the humane community has fought in the past, the comprehensive plan, as a whole, is the best path forward to protect America’s horses from an ineffective status quo.
Fighting the big fights to protect all animals requires more than just objecting and opposing inhumane treatment of animals. It requires creative action to change the status quo. And this includes working with people from many different backgrounds and interests to find real-world solutions for animals. We’ve taken that approach here, as we have done in the past for many other animals on different occasions.
It wasn’t easy to get here, but it is the very best pathway forward. We all want to see healthy herds of wild horses and burros on the range in perpetuity, and we firmly believe something must be done now to prevent the suffering of horses and burros in the future. Working together we have broken the stalemate and presented to Congress a cooperative solution that focuses on the non-lethal and humane care of wild horses and burros, and also ensures the long-term protection of wild horses and burros on our western rangelands. Now we must call on Congress to fund this pathway forward to sustain these American icons for decades to come.
Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States and President of Humane Society International, the international affiliate of the HSUS.