On Thursday, the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board recklessly voted to approve recommendations that call on the Bureau of Land Management to shoot tens of thousands of healthy wild horses and burros.
At its meeting in Grand Junction, Colorado, the advisory board recommended that BLM achieve its on-range population goal of 26,715 wild horses and burros while also phasing out the use of long-term holding facilities—both within three years.
If Congress allowed BLM to follow through on the independent board's recommendations, that would mean the government shooting at least 90,000 healthy animals. The advisory board has no power to control policy.
The board also called for allowing international adoptions and sales, which have not been allowed before. During its deliberations, the board repeatedly referenced a proposal made by a private party to have American taxpayers pay to ship upwards of 20,000 wild horses to Russia—where they would serve as prey animals for big cats.
"Killing tens of thousands of wild horses and burros would be a betrayal of millions of taxpayers who want wild horses protected as intended in the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act and who have invested tens of millions of dollars in their care," said Neda DeMayo, president of Return to Freedom Wild Horse Conservation.
"BLM has been tasked by Congress with the responsibility of protecting wild horses. The agency has failed over and over, wasting time on think tanks, challenge concepts and meetings that go nowhere instead of directing resources toward actually managing land, water and habitat on the range and building a robust volunteer effort to help with critical projects benefiting wild horses and other wildlife."
BLM has been close to its Appropriate Management Level before, but the agency balked at using fertility control despite ample evidence that it was safe and effective. The number of wild horses on the range stood within 1,071 animals of BLM's own population goal in 2007, yet even then the agency chose not to aggressively implement fertility control.
In fact, BLM has never spent as much as four percent of its Wild Horse & Burro Program budget on this safe, proven and humane solution for wild horse population control; instead, it spends upwards of 65 percent of its annual budget capturing, removing and warehousing animals.
Return to Freedom's American Wild Horse Sanctuary was among the first of many projects to use fertility control with great success. It has used the vaccine PZP for 19 years with an efficacy rate of 91 to 98 percent.
Meanwhile, wild horses continue to be dramatically outnumbered on federal land by privately owned livestock, which graze there at a fraction of the cost that ranchers would pay on private property.
"A balance must be struck between ranching and mining interests and wild horses and other wildlife as part of a fair interpretation of BLM's multiple-use mandate on the range," said DeMayo. "There needs to be a fairer distribution of resources—not more biased reports and recommendations aimed at capturing, removing or killing wild horses.
"BLM and the U.S. Department of the Interior must stop catering to those who profit from public lands and manage them for all Americans. It is time to stop treating America's wild horses and burros like an unwanted invasive species and start becoming real stewards by using the safe, proven and humane tools available, in keeping with the spirit of the Act and the will of the public."
Polls have repeatedly shown that about 80 percent of Americans oppose horse slaughter and a similar percentage want to see wild horses protected.
A March 1 BLM estimate—made before this year's foal crop—placed the on-range population of wild horses and burros at 72,674. As of August, the agency reported that 44,640 captured wild horses and burros were living in off-range facilities, including 32,146 on leased pastures referred to as long-term holding.
On Thursday, wild horse advocate Ginger Kathrens of the Cloud Foundation was the lone dissenting vote on recommendations that BLM achieve "Appropriate Management Level" of 26,715 in three years, close long-term holding in three years, and allow international sales and adoptions. She joined the others on the board in voting to recommend that BLM increase its funding of reversible fertility control to $3 million by fiscal year 2019, up from about $100,000 in 2017.
Kathrens noted that BLM's arbitrarily set Appropriate Management Level is only about 1,000 wild horses and burros more than the estimated population at the time of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act was signed. The law—which Congress passed unanimously—stated that wild horses and burros were "fast disappearing from the American scene."
The advisory board's recommendation would have BLM spend money saved on long-term holding on on-range management and increasing adoptions. Those adoptions would likely spare only a fraction of wild horses on the range or in holding from death. In 2017, BLM has adopted out only about 4,200 wild horses—its best total in years.
In September 2016, the advisory board voted to recommend destroying captive wild horses and removing all restrictions to their sale, which would allow buyers to purchase them on the cheap and transport them to Canada or Mexico for slaughter. Again, Kathrens was the lone "no" vote.
In July, the House Appropriations Committee approved an amendment to the Interior Appropriations bill that removed language that would bar BLM from killing healthy wild horses. The Senate Appropriations Committee could vote on its version of the Interior bill as soon as next week.
"It will take time, commitment and diligence—and a real plan—but we have science that clearly shows the path to a sustainable future for wild horses and burros," DeMayo said. "It's not going to happen overnight, but it must be done and it must start now. The American people need to rally and urge Congress to force BLM to humanely manage these iconic, federally protected animals on the range."
Robert Redford, Ed Harris, Elle Fanning, Ian Somerhalder and countless other equine enthusiasts joined The Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society Legislative Fund, Return to Freedom and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to draw attention to the threat posed to wild horses and burros.
"My family and I stand strongly against horse slaughter and against our government harming our wild horses," said actor and director Ed Harris. "I am pleading that a humane and common sense solution to the management of our wild horse population be mandated by Congress in keeping with the spirit of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act."
Wild Horses Under Siege on Public Lands https://t.co/5NSBGDDwBd @greenpeaceusa @Sierra_Magazine— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1488841225.0
Since the implementation of the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has attempted to maintain stable populations by rounding up and removing thousands of horses and burros from the wild, despite repeated directives that this was leading the program to financial instability.
The Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society Legislative Fund, Return to Freedom and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals have long called for the agency to cease these actions and instead redirect money spent on capturing and holding wild horses toward available solutions, including judicious use of safe, proven fertility control on the range.
The BLM did not listen, and now they want to fix their mistakes by slaughtering wild horses.
Provisions in the budget proposed by the administration would allow the BLM to kill captured wild horses or sell them without restriction—a change that would enable buyers to purchase wild horses on the cheap and haul them to Canada or Mexico for slaughter.
If Congress approves provisions in the president's budget, then tens of thousands of horses will die.
On Tuesday July 18, the House Committee on Appropriations will vote on the 2018 Interior Appropriations bill. The bill, approved by the House Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, maintains protective language, but there is a chance it might be amended in full committee and removed creating a pathway to slaughter.
Wild horse supporters are raising their voices to ensure the protections remain.
Here's the letter sent to Congress from actors, singers, screenwriters and scientists urging them to oppose wild horse slaughter:
We Stand with America's Wild Horses and Burros
Our nation's iconic wild horses are fighting for their lives and we cannot stand by silently and let that happen.
We the undersigned call on Congress to oppose provisions in the president's 2018 budget that threatens the lives of tens of thousands of wild horses and burros that will be senselessly killed or easily sold to those who would profit from their slaughter.
For decades, we have had available humane solutions, which would keep wild equines on the range and save tax dollars. Sadly, agencies continue to discredit proven alternatives instead of committing to implement them.
The American people have repeatedly and resoundingly called for wild horses and burros—the descendants of the animals who helped build our country, made our own freedom possible and shaped a vital part of our cultural heritage—to live free on the range.
Two years after the passage of the "Wild Horse Annie Act," which banned the use of vehicles to hunt down wild horses sold for slaughter, the 1961 movie "The Misfits" brought the brutal practices of the mustangers onto the big screen. Marilyn Monroe cried out on behalf of audiences when she pleaded for a roped and struggling wild horse to b set free.
A decade later, in 1971, the overwhelming passage of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act enshrined in law the historic bond between Americans and wild horses and the policy of Congress "that wild free-roaming horses and burros shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment or death."
Yet, for all that apparent progress, the lives of tens of thousands of captive wild horses are again at risk.
As American citizens and as voters, we do not accept the use of our tax dollars, which for so many years were invested in the health and safety of the captive wild horses and burros, to now pay for the destruction of these noble animals because they have been deemed inconvenient. It is unnecessary and unconscionable.
The American people would never forgive such a betrayal.
We respectfully urge Congress to take a leadership role by opposing mass euthanasia, slaughter and unrestricted sales and, instead, work together to forge a bipartisan, well-reasoned and humane management plan worthy of these "living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West" by recognizing and prioritizing viable alternatives that do exist.
As a nation, we can and must do better.
Robert Redford, Actor, Director, Advocate; Governor Bill Richardson, Politician; Wendie Malick, Actress, Advocate; Willie Nelson, Musician, Advocate; Ed Harris, Actor, Director; Amy Madigan, Actress; Lily Harris, Student; Elle Fanning, Actress; Ian Somerhalder, Actor; Carol Burnett, Actress; Ali MacGraw, Actress; Dr. Ross MacPhee Professor and Curator of Mammals, AMNH; Allen Rutberg, PhD, North Grafton, MA.; Bonnie-Jill Laflin, Fox Sports / BBC sportscaster; Priscilla Presley, Actress, Entrepreneur; Noah Wyle, Actor; Sam Elliott, Actor; Katherine Ross, Actress; Robert Gossett, Actor; Claire Forlani, Actress; Dougray Scott, Actor; Debbie Levin, CEO Environmental Media Association; Huey Lewis, Musician; Diane Warren, Songwriter; Scarlet Rivera, Musician; David Midthunder, Lakota Pipe Carrier, Actor; Amber Midthunder, Lakota Dancer, Actress; John Fusco, Writer; David Franzoni, Screenwriter, Geologist; Petrine Day Mitchum, Author, Film Historian; Robert Knott, Writer, Producer, Actor; Rex Linn, Actor; Rachael Worby, Artistic Director MUSE/IQUE; Lance Bass, Producer, Singer; Jill Rappaport, Media host, Advocate; Ed Asner, Actor; Mike Smith, Hall of Fame Jockey; Peri Gilpin, Actress; Laraine Newman, Actress, Comedian; Laura San Giacomo, Actress; Frances Fisher, Actress; Anjelica Huston, Actress; Jessika Van, Actress; Ray Abruzzo, Actor; Dan Lauria, Actor; Victory Tischler-Blue, Producer, Photographer; Tony Stromberg, Photographer; Amber Valletta, Actress; Kimberly Van Der Beek, Producer; Hart Bochner, Actor; Daryl Wein, Writer, Director; Olivia Newton John, Singer, Actress; Mickey Rourke, Actor; Jeff Franklin, Creator / Executive Producer; John Stamos, Actor; Beth Behrs, Actress; and Drew Carey, Comedian / Host
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Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.