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July 27, 2010

Be Heard by BLM: Urge an End to Wild Horse Roundups

Yesterday I asked you to contact Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in response to the reported plans to kill more than 150,000 geese in New York state (please do call 202-720-3631 if you haven’t done so already). Today, I need your action on another urgent concern—urging the Bureau of Land Management to stop the cruel and senseless roundups of wild horses and instead to develop humane, sustainable programs for managing the herds, such as fertility control through immunocontraception.

Wild horse on the range
Kayla Grams/The HSUS

Over the past 10 years, the BLM has removed some 74,000 wild horses and burros from the range, and it intends to remove a total of 12,000 horses this year. The current program is costly, illogical, and has also had tragic consequences—you may have heard about the rising death toll associated with the BLM’s current Tuscarora wild horse gather in Elko County, Nev., where at least a dozen mustangs have died from dehydration, water intoxication and related complications.

The federal government has submitted a new policy proposal for wild horse management and is now accepting public comments. Please take a few minutes to make your voice heard—the deadline for comments is next Tuesday, Aug. 3, and we’ve provided instructions and guidance on our website.

I’ve asked Stephanie Boyles, a wildlife scientist with The HSUS, to elaborate on why the BLM must seriously reconsider its current policies and procedures given the program’s track record and the recent tragedy in Elko County.


So far this year, 18 wild horses rounded up by the BLM in Nevada have died. The BLM claims on its website that 16 of these horses died due to preexisting dehydration-related complications, congenital deformities or physical injuries, and that only two died as a result of “gather-related operations” (one horse was euthanized after sustaining a leg fracture in a temporary holding corral and another died from a neck injury).

Based on several factors, however, we can’t help but question the BLM’s assertion that all but two deaths were unavoidable, and that the agency was blameless and practiced due diligence prior to the gather.

First, the BLM has failed to answer the most basic, pertinent question posted in a Questions and Answers section on its informational site: “Why is the BLM using a helicopter to chase and capture wild horses in the summer’s extreme heat?”

Instead of answering the question, the agency simply describes the procedures used to conduct gathers during summer months—with no explanation for why they’re held in the hottest month of the year as opposed to the fall or winter, when the mares are not foaling and the new foals of the year are older and stronger.

For years, The HSUS has urged the BLM to use passive gather techniques, such as nutrient baits and/or water trapping (placing nutrients or water in an area where they are scarce to gradually lure horses, then building a large corral around the animals), to alleviate, to the greatest extent possible, the suffering, stress and trauma inherently associated with roundups.

In its Environmental Assessment for the Elko County gather, the BLM acknowledges that “water trapping can be very effective when water resources are scarce…”, but dismissed water trapping from detailed study for this gather because it claimed, among other factors, that the area has an abundance of public and private water sources.

Of course, we know now that at the time of the gather, water sources on the range were, in fact, scarce. So not only was water trapping a feasible option, it would have been preferable and should have been used once the BLM realized the targeted horses were suffering from dehydration due to inadequate water. The agency also knew that animals already suffering from dehydration are susceptible to toxic hydration if they drink too much water too quickly once it is made available.

Having contingency plans in place in the event of a crisis of this nature is one of the many critical changes that must be made to the BLM’s broken wild horse and burro management program. Instead of constantly defending its policies and procedures when things go wrong (and they clearly did in Tuscarora), the BLM needs to conduct a fair and objective evaluation of its procedures and make changes that will alleviate unnecessary suffering and save lives in the future.

You can help the BLM better serve the treasure it has been mandated to protect—our wild horses—by submitting comments on the agency’s recently released proposal.

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