Groups rally for new plan to save America’s wild horses

A diverse coalition of stakeholders have announced support for a proposal on the non-lethal and humane care of wild horses and burros on BLM land. © Kim Sella/Black Beauty Ranch

Several leading animal advocacy groups have announced their support for a new, four-pronged proposal for the care of wild horses and burros on US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) public rangelands.

The ASPCA, Return to Freedom Wild Horse Conservation, the Humane Society of the United States, and the Humane Society Legislative Fund, in concert with rangeland management stakeholders, are supporting the proposal, which they said offers a humane, non-lethal path forward to sustainably manage wild horses and burros in the American West.

Wild horses and burros are federally protected under the landmark 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act and such pivotal legal protections remain a critical component of a sustainable wild horse program. But without an effective management strategy, the number of wild horses and burros on public rangelands has continued to grow and threats to these populations have emerged both on the range and also in legislative arenas.

The strategy consists of four integral components:

  • Robust rangeland fertility control program: Comprehensive large-scale application of proven, safe and humane population growth control strategies to help stabilize wild horse and burro populations on the range and achieve a better balance in herd numbers where necessary.

  • Strategic gathering: Targeted gathers of horses and burros in densely populated Herd Management Areas that cannot sustain large numbers of animals to protect them from forage and water shortages and facilitate non-lethal fertility control efforts.

  • Rehoming horses: Relocate horses and burros lingering in 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.

  • Increased adoptions: Promote the adoption of wild horses and burros into good homes to improve the lives of horses and burros in holding pastures, reduce the total cost of the program, and redirect funds to long-term strategies for the care and sustainability of horse and burro populations. Provide handling and training that will dramatically improve the adoptability of rehomed horses and burros.

The groups say that the four tiers of the proposal – gathers, strategic and robust fertility control on range, public-private partnerships for off-range holding, and enhanced adoptions – are each crucial to the ultimate success of the program.

“If employed correctly, this proposal will result in a more sustainable wild horse and burro program over the next decade, and thereafter will eliminate the need for large-scale removals of wild horses. Most importantly, a fundamental aspect of the proposal is that it will prohibit the killing of healthy wild horses and burros or their sale to slaughter,” the groups said in a statement.

Wild horses at Return to Freedom’s San Luis Obispo, California, satellite sanctuary. © Paloma Ianes

With this plan, wild horses and burros will be managed humanely, the government’s costs will decrease over time, and federal public lands will be managed effectively, the groups say.

“Experts from all corners – rangeland management, wild horse advocacy, equine welfare and wildlife conservation – have put aside differences to unite under one effective, humane, plan to move the Wild Horse and Burro Program forward on a sustainable and non-lethal trajectory.”

Nancy Perry, senior vice-president of ASPCA Government Relations, said its goal had always been to find a humane way forward for the nation’s iconic wild horses and burros, and to ensure these herds will roam the West well into the future.

“For more than a decade, the future of our wild mustangs has been under serious threat, but we are now on the verge of converting what has been considered by many to be a lost cause into a success story.” Perry said.

Neda DeMayo, President of Return to Freedom, said that for more than 20 years the group had focused on and modeled minimally intrusive management methods that could be implemented on the range as an alternative to roundups. “We realize that to move forward with any long-term sustainable solutions that would truly protect wild horses and burros on their ranges – we need to work together with other stakeholders who have diverse interests.

“While horses continue to be removed from the range, this proposal ensures non-lethal management methods and the robust use of fertility control to minimize or eliminate roundups in the future,” DeMayo said.

Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, said the HSUS was proud that as a result of the many years of work by varied stakeholders across the country, there are finally moves to non-lethal solutions and away from slaughter.

“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,” Block said.