Return to Freedom applauds Senate bill’s wild horse protections

Photo of Hart Mountain Horse taken at Return to Freedom's San Luis Obispo satellite sanctuary by Tony Stromberg.

Return to Freedom applauds Senate bill’s wild horse protections

Wild horse advocacy organization Return to Freedom Wild Horse Conservation applauded the U.S. Senate for passing on Wednesday a Fiscal Year 2019 appropriations “mini-bus” that would keep in place prohibitions against killing healthy wild horses and burros or selling them for slaughter.

The package also includes a provision continuing an effective ban on horse slaughter.

“For 20 years, Return to Freedom has successfully modeled humane management solutions for America’s wild horses and burros. We are pleased that the Senate has stood against the idea of field sterilization surgeries that are scientifically unproven, dangerous to wild mares and jennys, costly, and unacceptable to the American people,” said Neda DeMayo, RTF’s founder and president.

“We urge the Senate to stand strong in Conference and push the House to join them in calling for a long-term plan for on-the-range wild horse management built upon the humane, fiscally responsible solutions for which RTF has long advocated — including immediate implementation of safe, proven fertility control vaccines. We need to act now for the future of our wild horses.”

The Senate package does not include language like that in an amendment to the House’s FY19 Interior bill, which would grant the Secretary of the Interior wide leeway to order the use of dangerous sterilization surgeries on wild horses and burros.

The Senate bill also includes a $5.6 million increase for the Wild Horse & Burro Program budget, “as an investment to implement a multiple-strategy approach within its currents authorities that reduces the number of animals on the range and held off the range,” the Appropriations Committee added in guiding report language.

The House’s Fiscal Year 2019 Interior Appropriations bill contains an amendment that reads:  “…The Secretary of the Interior may hereafter manage any group of wild horses or burros as a non-reproducing or single-sex herd, in whole or in part, including through sterilization.”

This amendment would allow BLM to make any herd a non-reproducing one by performing field surgeries that threaten the lives of individual mares and the viability of entire herds for the benefit of special interests.

The House amendment is made all the more concerning in light of an effort by the Interior Department to streamline the National Environmental Policy Act in ways that could undermine government transparency and public involvement in wild horse and burro management. In a BLM response to a review of NEPA, the agency listed under wishes for future categorical exclusions wild horse roundups and other management activities.

Field sterilization surgeries, which Return to Freedom strongly opposes, were also included by the BLM in a recent report to Congress along with other inhumane options similarly unlikely to be politically viable – including shipping captive wild horses and burros overseas for use as prey animals for big cats.

Pursuing such unpopular proposals would only serve to further delay a long-overdue move toward a sustainable and humane long-term plan to manage our nation’s wild horses and burros on their rightful home ranges.

In addition, Return to Freedom is calling on Congress to end a new sales policy quietly implemented in May by the Bureau of Land Management that allows a single buyer to purchase up to 25 wild horses or burros, no questions asked, without a waiting period — a change that opens the door to kill buyers. Previously, BLM had limited sales to four horses per buyer with a six-month waiting period to, in part, prevent kill buyers from amassing wild horses to ship for slaughter.

In 2007, BLM stood within 1,071 animals of its own population goal. Since then, however, the agency has failed to invest more than 3.94% of its annual wild horse program budget allocation on fertility control or other humane, on-range management tools and practices, even as the cost of roundups and holding facilities to taxpayers – and to the animals themselves – keeps climbing.

BLM’s failure to adequately implement the safe, proven, fertility control vaccine PZP has resulted in 46,431 wild horses and burros warehoused in government holding facilities, costing taxpayers about $47.5 million annually to house, feed and care for them in 2017. About four of every 10 wild horses and burros under BLM management now lives in a corral or on a leased pasture.

Return to Freedom’s American Wild Horse Sanctuary in Lompoc, Calif., was the fourth among what are now many projects, on and off the range, using fertility control on wild horses with great success. RTF has used the vaccine PZP for 20 years with an efficacy rate of 91-98%. A non-hormonal vaccine, it has minimal effects on behavior.

The Senate package also contains so-called horse slaughter defund language, while the Fiscal Year 2019 House Agriculture Appropriations bill does not. The language would bar the U.S. Department of Agriculture from hiring horsemeat inspectors, providing an effective ban on horse slaughter until a permanent ban is passed.

Return to Freedom Wild Horse Conservation is a 20-year-old national nonprofit dedicated to preserving the freedom, diversity, and habitat of America’s wild horses and burros through sanctuary, education, advocacy and conservation, while enriching the human spirit through direct experience with the natural world.


Featured photo: Photo of Hart Mountain Horse taken at Return to Freedom’s San Luis Obispo satellite sanctuary by Tony Stromberg.