Congress Strips Federal Protection from Potentially Thousands of Wild Horses

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Omnibus spending bill passed with provision that opens back door to killing iconic American Mustangs

Washington, DC (May 4, 2017) ...The 2017 Omnibus spending bill has been approved by Congress with a provision that could lead to the slaughter or killing of as many as 50,000 federally-protected wild horses and burros, the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) warned today. AWHC said that language in the bill allows the government to strip wild horses and burros of federal protection and “immediately” transfer them to state and local governments for use as “work animals.”

But with no limit on the numbers of horses that can be transferred, no definition of work animal, and loopholes in prohibitions on commercial and non-commercial killing of these animals, the new law is ripe for abuse, AWHC warned.

“Despite the good intentions of some members, Congress is about to pass a law that strips wild horses of federal protection and creates a back door to slaughter big enough to drive a semi truck through,” said Suzanne Roy, Executive Director of the American Wild Horse Campaign. “ In so doing, they have used a spending bill to effectively upend a law that was passed unanimously by Congress almost 50 years ago to protect America’s wild horses and burros as part of our nation’s heritage.”

The provision was included in the Omnibus based on the Interior Department’s claim that it will apply to the transfer of not more than 200 horses to agencies like the Border Patrol. However, these weaknesses leave the law vulnerable to exploitation by those who seek to remove so-called “excess” horses from the range and destroy them via slaughter or “euthanasia.”

Loopholes in the Section 116 language include:

-       No provisions for accountability, transparency or tracking the fates of transferred horses and no penalty for violating the provisions. 

-       Allows the “euthanasia” of healthy horses due to “advanced age,” a term that is not defined. This could subject thousands of middle-age and older horses who are currently protected under federal law to being killed.

-       Does not prohibit receiving agencies from transferring horses to third parties who could then kill the horses or burros as long as it is not done for commercial purposes.”

“It’s clear that the intent of many in Congress is to prevent this provision from being used as a vehicle to kill or slaughter wild horses and burros,” said Roy. “We call on Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to put in place the mechanisms for transparency, accountability, traceability and enforcement to ensure that the will of Congress and the American people to protect wild horses and burros from mass killing and slaughter is upheld.”

The Section 116 language can be found on page 804 at this link. The Omnibus spending bill passed the House yesterday, and was approved by the Senate today.

The American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) (formerly known as the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign) is dedicated to preserving the American wild horse in viable, free-roaming herds for generations to come, as part of our national heritage. Its grassroots mission is endorsed by a coalition of more than 60 horse advocacy, humane and public interest organizations.