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February 24, 2011

A Gleam of Hope for Our Wild Horses

Even before the U.S. Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act in 1971, The HSUS had been advocating for the protection of America’s mustangs. In recent years, we’ve been pressing — with Madeleine Pickens; Congressmen Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), Dan Burton (R-Ind.), Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), and other lawmakers; and wild horse advocates throughout the nation — for reform of a seriously broken wild horse management program administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Now, there’s cautious reason for hope concerning America’s mustangs — and it relates to today’s announcement by the BLM to revamp some of its policies to better align this program with the sentiments of the American public.

Wild horses
Kayla Grams/The HSUS
Please contact the BLM to say thanks and urge further
reductions in removing horses from the range.

Last July, I urged you to submit comments on the BLM’s draft strategic plan in an effort to persuade the agency to create a more humane, fiscally responsible, long-term sustainable approach to managing wild horses and burros on our public lands. Your response was overwhelming — more than 40,000 of you submitted comments to the BLM. Many tens of thousands of others responded to a similar plea from Madeleine Pickens.

Today, in part as a result of your efforts, the BLM has announced its intent to open “a new chapter in the management of wild horses, burros, and our public lands” by fast-tracking “fundamental reforms” to its current policies and procedures. The changes include:

- reducing the number of wild horses removed from the range by 24 percent (or from 10,000 to 7,600 annually) for at least the next two years;

- increasing the number of mares treated with fertility control annually, from 500 in fiscal year 2009 to 2,000 in each of the next two years, with the “ultimate goal” of making fertility control “the primary means” of maintaining healthy wild horse populations on the range;

- improving BLM’s care and handling procedures to ensure humane treatment of animals; and

- improving transparency in all aspects of the wild horse and burro program, with “increasing public viewing opportunities during gathers and at short-term corrals and long-term care facilities.”

It is important to acknowledge and praise the BLM for its efforts to reevaluate failing practices and policies and to take a step in the right direction to build a humane and sustainable management program. I am especially pleased about the ramp-up of the fertility control component, which must be the centerpiece of such a population control effort.

That said, HSUS cannot ignore the fact that even with these proposed changes, by the end of fiscal year 2012, the government will remove an additional 15,000 wild horses from our public lands. Since there are already 40,600 wild horses and burros living in government holding facilities today — and, on average, the agency is only able to find homes for approximately 3,000 animals a year — that means by 2012, there could be more than 50,000 animals in captivity. That’s almost twice the number of wild horses and burros living in the wild on our public lands today. This is not economically sustainable and it is bad policy; BLM needs to slash the numbers of horses rounded up and removed from public lands far beyond its announcement today.

We’ve all encouraged the BLM to do better, and today’s announcement is a reaction to your concerns about this program. We now must call on the agency to live up to these preliminary promises. At the same time, we must urge the BLM to consider this a work in progress. A paradigm shift is needed in this program, not just a course correction. The U.S. House of Representatives recognized this during a floor debate last week leading up to approval of an amendment offered by Rep. Burton to cut BLM’s budget by $2 million and send a signal to the agency about the urgent need for an overhaul in its wild horse and burro management program.

The agency will post a detailed proposed implementation strategy on its website and will be accepting public comments on this strategy until March 25, 2011. Please take a moment to thank the BLM for its efforts to reform its wild horse management program, and urge the agency to further reduce the number of animals it plans to remove from the range over the next two years. The BLM can do this by increasing the number of mares treated with fertility control and released back on to the range.

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