Congressman Calls for Oversight of BLM Wild Horse Off Range Corrals as CO Death Toll Mounts

Congressman Steve Cohen (D-Tenn) Spoke at the House Natural Resources Committee Hearing on Preventing Pandemics through US Wildlife-borne Disease Surveillance today.

WASHINGTON (April 28, 2022) —The nation’s leading wild horse advocacy organization, the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) commended Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN), Member of the House Natural Resource’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, for bringing attention to an on-going disease outbreak at a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) wild horse holding facility in Cañon City Colorado that has resulted in the deaths of at least 85 federally-protected wild horses since April 23.

Today, during a hearing on Preventing Pandemics through US Wildlife-borne Disease Surveillance, Congressman Cohen voiced his concern with the unfolding situation. 

“The facility currently holds 2,500 [wild] horses… so, 3.5% of the horses in that confinement have died in the last week,” he said. “These horses are kept in close quarters—if they were not penned, it is entirely possible that the pathogen would’ve not spread nearly as quickly.” 

Cohen also raised overall concerns about how wild horses and burros are being treated and managed by the BLM. He noted concerns about large-scale helicopter roundups, wild horses and burros being sent to slaughter, and subsidized livestock grazing within federally-designated wild horse and burro habitats. He noted the wild horses and burros are at-risk and called for a committee hearing on the matter.

“They should have rights in those lands to graze. They are an American treasure,” he continued.

When asked if she was aware of the incident at the taxpayer-funded corrals, Anne Kinsinger, Associate Director for Ecosystems at the U.S. Geological Survey testified that while she is aware of the outbreak in wild horses, it is not something her agency has been involved in, stating that she did deliver a request to the National Wildlife Health Center that also confirmed it has not been involved. 

According to the BLM, the Cañon City facility—where 2,500 wild horses are confined—is under investigation by the Colorado State Veterinary office. The fatalities have primarily affected wild horses captured from the West Douglas Herd Area (HA) in late summer of 2021. At the time, the BLM noted that West Douglas horses captured near the Utah state line were being segregated from other horses at Cañon City pending testing for Equine Infectious Anemia, a highly infectious disease that had been confirmed in horses in nearby Uintah County, Utah. This is the second government holding facility in recent weeks that has reported disease outbreaks resulting from the confinement of the wild animals.

“Congressman Cohen is a steadfast champion for wild horses and burros, and we are grateful that he is bringing awareness to the over 60,000 wild horses and burros being warehoused in crowded corrals,” said Holly Gann Bice, Director of Government Relations for AWHC. “The situation at Cañon City is evidence of a broken federal system that has resulted in serious animal welfare concerns, and yet the government plans to round up 19,000 more horses this year.” 

According to AWHC, the deaths in Colorado are just the tip of the iceberg as documents received through the Freedom of Information Act reveal that dozens of horses are dying every month at BLM holding facilities from causes other than infectious disease, including skull fractures, broken legs, foaling and gelding complications, failure to thrive, and many from unknown causes who are simply noted as “found dead in pen.”

“The disease outbreaks further demonstrate the dangers of the government’s plan to continue removing large numbers of wild horses from their habitat, and the agency should instead immediately begin to administer fertility control vaccines to humanely manage horse populations in the wild, thereby preventing more horses from entering these crowded facilities,” continued Gann Bice. “At a minimum, this situation requires an immediate pause on the roundups and a full investigation into the BLM’s off-range wild horse holding system.” 

AWHC is calling on Congress to halt the roundups and investigate the BLM’s Off Range Corrals before adding more animals to these facilities. Individuals can add their voice to the effort by visiting this page.

About the American Wild Horse Campaign

The American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) is the nation’s leading wild horse protection organization, with more than 700,000 supporters and followers nationwide. AWHC is dedicated to preserving the American wild horse in viable, free-roaming herds for generations to come, as part of our national heritage.