Animal Welfare Violations Mount as the Bureau of Land Management Accelerates the Roundup and Removal of Federally Protected Wild Horses and Burros from Public Lands
OREGON (September 15, 2021) — Today, the nation’s leading wild horse protection organization, the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC), is calling for a review of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) wild horse roundup practices in Oregon after the group’s observer documented multiple instances of inhumane treatment at a helicopter roundup. These include using high voltage electric shock cattle prods on horses; forcibly pulling a stallion into a trailer by tying him to the saddles of two domestic horses; knocking a foal to the ground by roping the baby horse from horseback; and six deaths of wild horses in the first five days of the operation.
In addition to an internal review, AWHC is pressing Congress to conduct an oversight hearing of the entire BLM program, which is plagued by mismanagement and has drawn criticism from the scientific, environmental, and wild horse protection communities.
“Instances of abuse during BLM roundups are escalating as the BLM accelerates brutal and inhumane roundups of federally-protected wild horses from our public lands,” said Suzanne Roy, Executive Director of the AWHC. “Wild horses are being euthanized at alarming rates, young foals are being stampeded by helicopters and left out on the range without their mothers, and the agency is now using high-voltage cattle prods to electroshock wild horses as a handling tool.”
“Meanwhile, the agency is declaring drought emergencies and removing federally-protected wild horses and burros from the public lands while failing to address the root cause of land degradation and harm to wildlife: the extensive cattle and sheep grazing authorized in wild horse habitat areas,” Roy continued. “It’s time for Congress to hold an oversight hearing on the scientific, environmental, humane and fiscal problems associated with this mismanaged federal program.”
The roundup in question is taking place in the Barren Valley Complex outside of Burns. The agency is using helicopters to capture and remove 1,900 wild horses living on nearly one million acres of land. The agency aims to reduce the wild horse population to just 459 animals, while authorizing enough forage to sustain up to more than 1,100 cow/calf pairs year round in the complex. The helicopter operation, which began Wednesday, is being conducted by Sun J Livestock of Vernal, Utah under a contract with the BLM and is costing taxpayers $488,000. The large-scale roundup is being conducted under a drought emergency declaration, however, the horses being captured are in good body condition.
On Tuesday, a representative from AWHC on-site to document the helicopter operation reported that the contractors rushed horses into the pens without allowing them any time to settle. In the trap, horses crashed into each other, and young foals were also observed in these stampedes. During the sorting of the animals, the BLM utilized electric cattle prods that deliver high voltage electric shocks. While electric prods are allowed under the BLM's Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program policies, these policies require that they be used sparingly as a last resort and only with explicit permission from the BLM official in charge of the roundup. Use of cattle prods has been rare in the dozens of roundups that AWHC has observed, making the more frequent use of these electric shock devices at the ongoing roundup in Oregon more notable.
AWHC’s growing concern for the horses’ safety comes off the heels of another controversial helicopter roundup that ended over the weekend in Colorado amidst intense public opposition and concern from Governor Jared Polis, Congressman Joe Neguse, and leading environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and Western Watersheds Project, which called for a halt to the roundup. During the Colorado operation, five foals were left alone on the range after being separated from their mothers during brutal helicopter stampedes. In addition, two wild horses died.
Also last week, the 3.8 million member national Sierra Club sent a letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland citing severe bias against wild horses in resource allocation on public lands, “initiation of the processes necessary to end all cattle/sheep grazing on all horse occupied BLM Herd Management Area lands” and noting that “management should prioritize keeping horses on designated HMA lands within ecological parameters that maintain or promote continued progress towards a TNEB [Thriving Natural Ecological Balance].”
AWHC’s representative is onsite at the roundup in Oregon this week and is available for interviews.
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 and burros in viable, free-roaming herds for generations to come, as part of our national heritage. In addition to advocating for the protection and preservation of America's wild herds, AWHC implements the largest wild horse fertility control program in the world through a partnership with the State of Nevada for wild horses that live in the Virginia Range near Reno.