Washington, DC (May 24, 2023)—The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) and the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) commend US Reps. Dina Titus (D-NV), David Schweikert (R-AZ), and Steve Cohen (D-TN) for reintroducing today the Wild Horse and Burro Protection Act to prohibit costly and inhumane helicopter roundups of wild horses.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is tasked with managing the vast majority of our nation's federally protected wild horses and burros. For decades, as a method of limiting the number of wild horses and burros on the range, the agency has relied on helicopter roundups to chase wild horses into trap pens using low-flying helicopters. These chaotic operations, widely used in western states, often result in horse injuries and fatalities — and have cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars over the last decade. Horses who survive the ordeal are consigned to a life of captivity in government-funded holding facilities.
“We applaud Congresswoman Titus, Congressman Schweikert, and Congressman Cohen for their leadership in protecting our nation’s wild horses,” said Dr. Joanna Grossman, AWI’s equine program director and senior advisor. “Reforms are long overdue to the Bureau of Land Management’s failed management approach, which involves stampeding panicked horses through helicopter roundups. These roundups are cruel, expensive, and ultimately ineffective at stabilizing populations. Wild equines deserve to be managed safely and humanely in their natural habitats for Americans to enjoy.”
Helicopter roundups terrorize horses; broken necks and legs are common, as are horses dying from the stress of being chased to pure exhaustion. Titus originally introduced this legislation in February 2022, after a horrific incident in Nevada where a colt broke his leg while being relentlessly chased by a helicopter; footage showed the panicked young horse struggling to continue running. Eventually, after half an hour, the animal was euthanized.
In addition to the significant welfare concerns, helicopter roundups are a grossly inefficient use of taxpayer dollars and are ultimately counterproductive as a method of population control. Since fiscal year 2017, the BLM has spent more than $25 million in taxpayer dollars for helicopter roundups, according to federal records. The BLM states that the cost to round up a horse from the range and warehouse, the wild animal for life is up to $50,000.
However, as the National Academy of Sciences noted in its comprehensive 2013 report to the BLM on wild horse and burro management, such operations can spur population growth in horses remaining on the range through compensatory reproduction. Meanwhile, the cost to dart a mare on the range with the safe and effective PZP vaccine to prevent pregnancy is about $220. Yet the agency’s Wild Horse and Burro Program spends less than 1% of its budget on fertility control.
“We are thankful to wild horse champions Congresswoman Titus, Congressman Cohen, and Congressman Schweikert for standing up for our nation’s wild horses and burros,” said Holly Gann Bice, AWHC’s director of government relations. “Roundups are inhumane and cost US taxpayers millions of dollars each year. Grounding these helicopters and utilizing more humane methods of managing wild horse populations on the range, such as fertility control vaccines, would go a long way toward protecting our wild horses and burros and saving tax dollars.”
The Wild Horse and Burro Protection Act would require the US Governmental Accountability Office, within one year of the legislation’s enactment, to submit a report to Congress that provides an accounting of the impact of aircraft chases on wild horses and burros and outlines humane alternatives to helicopter roundups.
“Nevada is home to more wild horses than any other state in our country. Tragically, these animals are subjected to taxpayer-funded helicopter roundups and removals that are all too often costly, ineffective, and inhumane,” said Titus, a member of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus. “My legislation would eliminate the use of helicopters in BLM wild horse gathers and require a report to explore the benefits of alternative aircraft for humanely gathering horses and the workforce opportunities for traditional cowboys. I am proud to introduce this bipartisan proposal that would protect these icons of the American West which remain a source of pride for Nevada residents.”
“I am proud to co-sponsor and support this important legislation that protects wild horses from dangerous roundups that too often put the lives of these animals at risk,” Schweikert said. “The Wild Horse and Burro Protection Act encourages humane and cost-effective alternatives to capture wild horses and ensure they can continue to flourish in Arizona and
other western states.”
“I am pleased again to join Congresswoman Titus in introducing this measure to protect wild horses and burros by discouraging the use of helicopters in roundups and encouraging greater use of fertility control drugs on these iconic animals by the Bureau of Land Management,” said Cohen, a member of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus.
In 2021 and 2022, the BLM conducted the largest roundup in US history. The operation to remove more than 3,500 horses from the Wyoming Checkerboard region resulted in 37 deaths, including a mare who died of a ruptured uterus and horses who died after suffering broken necks and limbs.
Earlier this month, AWI, AWHC, Western Watersheds Project, and other prominent wild horse advocates sued the BLM over the agency’s plan to eliminate 43% of designated wild horse habitat in the Red Desert area of Wyoming, eradicating one-third of the state’s wild horse population.
Urge your representative to cosponsor the Wild Horse and Burro Protection Act, which would put a permanent end to helicopter roundups.