Sec. Zinke on Capitol Hill to Continue Crusade Against Wild Horses

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June 26, 2017

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke was on Capitol Hill again last week, hoping to get Congress to endorse his wildly unpopular plan to slaughter wild horses and burros. On Tuesday, in the first of three Congressional hearing appearances last week, Secretary Zinke sat before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), which authorizes spending for agencies like the Bureau of Land Management and its Wild Horse and Burro Program. On Wednesday, he testified in the Senate Subcommittee on the Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, and on Thursday he went before the House Committee on Natural Resources to defend his proposed budget, which asks Congress to allow him the authority to euthanize or sell for slaughter up to 92,000 “excess” wild horses from across the west and in holding facilities. 

Defending the Interior Department’s proposed budget, in his testimony Zinke repeated his now well-worn mantra that, “This is what a balanced budget looks like,” in describing his request to slash the agency’s budget. Zinke’s proposal would eliminate $1.6 billion from Interior’s 2017 budget of nearly $12 billion and includes a $10 million cut to the already underfunded Wild Horse and Burro Program, which would reduce the program’s funding to just over $70 million for 2018. Zinke’s written testimony noted: 

“As part of a broader effort to consider all necessary options to manage the unsustainable growth of this program, the budget proposes to eliminate current appropriations language restricting the BLM’s ability to use the tools provided in the Wild and Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act and enable BLM to manage on-range herds more effectively and humanely.”

Secretary Zinke is unwilling to explicitly state his plans for “managing” wild horses and burros because he knows it flies in the face of the will of the American people and reveals years of BLM mismanagement. PZP fertility control is the only scientifically proven method for controlling herd growth, a problem they claim to be “devastating” public lands, but the BLM spends 0% of their budget administering it. BLM instead wants to brush their history of ineptitude under the rug and be allowed to round up and slaughter wild horses, and they want Congress to give them the funds to do it. So Zinke uses words and euphemisms like “tools” and “humane management” to hide his intention to implement the mass slaughter of wild horses and burros to reduce the BLM’s budget. However, the slaughter of healthy horses and burros is not humane and he has an obligation to tell the American people what he intends to do with the tax-payer’s money.

Several times in his testimony this week, Secretary Zinke noted that the Interior Dept. is exploring all options, particularly public-private partnerships, to make his agency more cost-effective and efficient. If this is true, then it seems that the only public-private partnerships he’s not willing to consider are those like the AWHC’s partnership in Nevada where we vaccinated more mares with the PZP birth control vaccine this year than the entire BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program did in all of 2016 with its $80 million budget. And, we’ve been implementing the program on a large population (~3,000 horses) scattered across a 300,000-acre habitat area — something the BLM claims is not possible to do…a ludicrous claim since the BLM spends zero percent of its budget trying to implement a PZP fertility-control program.

Another recurring theme in Zinke’s testimony before all three committees was his “commitment to transparency” with Congress and the public. However, when repeatedly asked if he would answer legislator’s inquiries in writing, he deflected, saying he would, “talk to [legislators] in person.” He also never committed to informing Congress about agency activity in writing and on the record. As the old saying goes, oral agreements are worth the paper they’re written on. 

The Interior Department’s current plans for wild horses and burros lack the transparency required for an effective government program, which, sadly, is not news to wild horse lovers. Lack of transparency was one of the many shortcomings of the Wild Horse & Burro Program that was revealed by the National Academy of Sciences in its in-depth, 2013 study of the program that took almost two years to complete.

At this point, only Congress can stop the slaughter of these iconic American animals. And they can do that by refusing to include the budget request in the 2018 appropriations bill for the Interior Department.  The fact is, contrary to Zinke’s testimony, slaughtering horses in not “necessary” nor is it “humane.” The only thing unsustainable on the western range is the BLM’s mismanagement.

Please get involved and urge your Members of Congress in the House and Senate to reject the Interior Department’s request to lift the prohibition on killing healthy wild horses and burros or selling them “without restriction,” which would lead to the brutal slaughter of tens of thousands in slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico.