Congress Agrees to Spending Measure; Wild Horses & Burros Safe for Now

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(September 14, 2018)... Yesterday, for the first time in nine years members of the House and Senate met in a formal conference committee hearing to negotiate the final version of Fiscal Year 2019 spending bills for numerous departments, including Interior. Importantly, this spending bill funds, among many other agencies, the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) Wild Horse and Burro Program, which oversees wild horses on public lands in the west.

The outcome of these negotiations was somewhat different than anticipated. The spending bill (called a “minibus”) finalized by the conference committee funds the Departments of Defense, Labor and Health and Human Services. The Committee agreed on Continuing Resolutions (CRs) to fund ten other federal agencies – including the Interior Department.  The CRs carry forward Fiscal Year 2018 spending levels for those ten agencies. The CR will expire on December 7, so horses and burros should be protected until then, although there is a slight chance that Congress could reach agreement on the 2019 Interior spending bill and try to pass it sometime before Congress leaves in October until after the elections.

This is good news for wild horses and burros, as it means that current law protecting these animals from mass slaughter, killing and sterilization remains in place through Dec. 7. Interestingly, this substantially increases the possibility of a year-long CR for the last 10 agencies --meaning the status quo would remain in place for FY19.  (Chances of bipartisan cooperation are reduced in the lame duck session between the elections and the seating of the new Congress in January 2019.)

The upshot is: our wild horses and burros remain protected from slaughter and sterilization for now… thanks to all who wrote in and thanks to the legislators in the Senate and the House who are standing strong for humane and effective management policies for our nation’s wild horse and burro herds.

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A conference committee is a bipartisan and bicameral meeting where key Senators and Congressmen hash out differences in legislation before it can be passed by each chamber and signed into law. This is of the utmost importance to future of wild horses and burros because the House and Senate version of the bill differ significantly in how they direct BLM to manage herds on the range. In short, the House bill is a disaster and represents an existential threat to wild horses. The House legislation includes an amendment by Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) that spends $15 million and authorizes BLM to manage herds as "non-reproducing or single sex" using sterilization to accomplish this horrendous outcome.

Additionally, the House version has report language that requires BLM, "immediately begin designing the regulatory framework and technical protocols for an active sterilization program." The report requires this Federal Rule without even the fig leaf of determining whether the program would be effective or even legal. Spoiler: the program is doomed to be cruel, ineffective, and massively expensive. The Senate bill contains none of these awful provisions.

We are counting on the Senate, Appropriations Chairmen Richard Shelby and Interior Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski and Ranking Appropriations Member Patrick Leahy and Interior Subcommittee ranking member Tom Udall to hold the line and insist that the Senate version prevail. With a Continuing Resolution funding the BLM possibly through December 7, we may have to revisit this effort after the elections.

So stay tuned, stay ready and stay strong!