House Appropriations Committee Takes Major Step Toward Destruction of America’s Wild Horse & Burro Herds

Update: On July 19, 2018 the House of Representatives passed a Fiscal Year 2019 Appropriations Bill. It includes the dangerous sterilization language discussed below. Fortunately, the Senate version of the bill -- which will be voted on by the full Senate soon -- does not contain the dangerous provision. The differences between the two bills will be worked out in a conference committee, and we must continue to work to ensure that the Senate version of the bill prevails. Link to House bill and report language here

Washington, DC (June 6, 2018)… The House Appropriations Committee today adopted an amendment introduced by Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) that authorizes the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to manage wild horses and burros in non-reproducing or single sex herds, utilizing surgical sterilization of these federally-protected animals on the Western Range.

The American Wild Horse Campaign harshly criticized the action as a major step toward the destruction of America’s wild herds.

“If passed by the Congress, this will be the beginning of the end of the iconic free-roaming wild horses and burros of the American West,” said Suzanne Roy, Executive Director of the American Wild Horse Campaign. “Rep. Stewart was blocked by strong public opposition from enacting legislation to allow the mass killing of mustangs and burros. Now he and members of the Appropriations Committee are advancing new efforts to these cherished animals by directing the BLM to pursue mass sterilization using invasive, high risk and destructive surgeries that were rejected by the nation’s leading scientific body.”

The BLM has been pushing sterilization of wild mares through a procedure called “ovariectomy via colpotomy” in which their ovaries are literally ripped out with a rod-and-chain type tool. Video of a BLM contract veterinarian performing the barbaric procedure on burros can be seen here.

Removing the ovaries of mares would also fundamentally alter their reproductive hormones and  destroy their free-roaming natural behaviors - the essence of what makes them wild and distinguishes them from their domestic counterparts.

In a BLM commissioned 2013 study, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) warned that the surgery  was “inadvisable for field application” due to the risk of hemorrhage and infection.

The BLM also wants to castrate wild stallions, an action that would result in “reduction in or complete loss of male-type behaviors necessary for maintenance of social organization, band integrity and expression of natural behavioral repertoire,” according to that same BLM-commissioned NAS report.

“Surgically sterilizing wild horses is not in any way comparable to spaying and neutering domesticated dogs and cats,” Roy continued. “Sterilization will take the wild out of wild horses by destroying their natural behaviors. It will also endanger their lives since post-operative care required when domestic animals are sterilized cannot be provided to wild, untamed mustangs.”

Roy said that post-operative care for domestic animals undergoing sterilization surgery includes restrictions on movement, careful individual observation, pain relief and antibiotic treatment.

Complicating the situation, she says,  is the cost of the procedures and the fact that they would be conducted under non-sterile conditions in the field or at BLM short-term holding facilities.

AWHC said that instead of pursuing inhumane options like sterilization, killing of healthy horses and burros, and managing them on single-sex herds like domesticated pasture horses,  the BLM fully utilize the PZP birth vaccine, which was recommended by the NAS five years ago as an alternative to roundups and removals of wild horses from the range.

Other humane solutions include:

·      Changing extinction level population limits (“appropriate” management levels) that seek to reduce the wild horse numbers to 1971 levels when Congress determined that they were “fast disappearing” and in need of protection.

·      Ending the stockpiling wild horses in expensive short-term holding facilities and instead should take advantage of long-term holding pastures that are one-third of the cost. [The BLM currently spends more to house 8,000 horses in short-term holding pens than it does to support 34,000 horses in long-term holding pastures. In 2016, the Interior Department Office of Inspector General found “that BLM does not maximize the cost-effectiveness of its off-range holding facilities” and its “contracts do not ensure best value for services.”

·      Following the principles of humane management outlined in a unified statement signed by more than 100 U.S. horse welfare and wild horse advocacy organizations.

 “It’s time for Rep. Stewart and the BLM to respect the wishes of 80 percent of Americans who want wild horses protected and humanely managed, not slaughtered or destroyed,” Roy concluded. “Sterilization is a slow walk to extinction and one that will endanger the welfare and lives of our cherished wild horses and burros along the way. It’s a bad idea and we call on the Senate to definitively reject it. “

The American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) is dedicated to preserving American wild horses and burros 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.