January 8, 2019... It has been a momentous few weeks in Washington, DC, and specifically in Congress where Nancy Pelosi has taken over as Speaker and Democrats now control the House of Representatives as the majority. Additionally, the President and Congress have been unable to agree on spending bills for Fiscal Year 2019, which began on October 1, 2018, for various federal agencies including BLM and other offices charged with carrying out the Wild Horse and Burro Act. Unlike in past government shutdowns, this partial shuttering of unfunded agencies is unlikely to be resolved quickly, and according to our representatives in Washington, could drag on for a month or longer. And adding to the tumult, Secretary Ryan Zinke has resigned as the head of the Interior Department under an ethics cloud. As is so often the case for wild horses though, this may be an “out of the frying pan, into the fire” situation because it’s unlikely a new permanent secretary or Acting Secretary, David Bernhardt will improve on Zinke’s position on wild horses, which was, as we all know, atrocious.
There are a few small positives in this current shutdown. The BLM and the US Forest Service are unable to conduct roundups, wild horses and burros in holding facilities are still being cared for and deadlines for public comments on various proposed actions related to federally-protected wild horses and burros -- may be extended. Another upside is that we believe that Rep. Chris Stewart’s (R-UT) amendment to sterilized tens of thousands of horses is unlikely to be included in any bill that funds Interior and reopens the government. In order to pass, any bill will have to have Democratic support in the House and 60 votes in the Senate, which, for the time being, slaughter and mass surgical sterilization of wild horses does not have. AWHC is looking at 2019 as an opportunity to go on offense and expand and strengthen wild horse protections.
We will build on the winning coalition in the Senate, led by Chairwoman Murkowski (R-AK) on the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee and Chairman Graham (R-SC) and Ranking Member Udall (D-NM) who have consistently protected wild horses and burros, with some of the new Senators. In the House, the shift in power to the Democrats puts us on better footing to to defeat attempts to lift wild horse and burro slaughter bans and authorize other destructive practices. In the coming weeks we’ll work with new Members on both sides of the aisle who are likely to be key allies as committee assignments are finalized by Leadership. And, we will continue to rely on our current champions like Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY), the new chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, to help educate new Representatives on her committee about the importance and beauty of wild horses across the West.
One thing is certain though, we couldn’t convince anyone in Congress to protect wild horses without your help and direct participation. We need your help driving grassroots activism and contacting Members of Congress to insist they protect horses. And we need your help to make sure we have people on the Hill to hold Congress’s feet to the fire every week of the year. Please consider protecting our magnificent mustangs as a part of your regular giving in 2019—only together can make sure wild horses continue to roam the western range for generations to come.