By Scott Froelich, Gazette Xtra
July 5, 2021
A Wisconsin congressman and a Janesville horse rescue operator are champing at the bit to support a bill meant to improve the federal government’s management of wild horse and burro populations out west.
The U.S. House Appropriations Committee recently passed a bipartisan bill that would dedicate $11 million for the Bureau of Land Management to safely control the fertility of the wild equine population.
Committee member Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., whose district covers western Rock County, said there is a need for a fertility program that is a “cost-effective, humane alternative solution” to the removal and killing of wild horses that encroach on ranchers’ land.
In a news release from the American Wild Horse Campaign, Pocan slammed existing practices.
“The current strategy in place to manage our population of wild horses and burros is cruel and inefficient, and places them in danger of slaughter,” he said.
In recent years, the bureau has been criticized for its handling of wild horses. According to a review of expenditures by the Congressional Research Service, it spent less than 1% of its funds on fertility control.
The agency introduced a horse adoption program in an attempt to alleviate overcrowding at holding facilities, but the program came under fire after an investigation found that some of the people adopting horses were taking them to slaughterhouses.
DeeDee Golberg, president and founder of Spirit Horse Equine Rescue based in the town of Janesville, works with both rescued and wild horses. Her nonprofit organization focuses on rehabilitating displaced animals by providing them with adoptive homes or on-site sanctuary.
Golberg knows firsthand the conditions some wild horses endure. In 2017, she traveled to South Dakota to rescue two pregnant mares in a group of over 800 allegedly neglected horses.
She said she thinks the bill in the House is a step in the right direction.
One crucial thing the bill would do, Golberg said, is put an end to “helicopter roundups” of wild horses. During these exercises, helicopters fly above a herd of horses to get them to collectively run in a desired direction. This practice is particularly dangerous for foals, which can be trampled to death in the stampedes that result.
“They are traumatic and can be deadly to the horses,” Golberg said of the roundups.
At the root of the problem of poor wild horse welfare, Golberg said, are turf wars between wild horses and cattle who graze on public lands. She points to cheap grazing leases granted to ranchers, which creates “competition.”
“Give (the horses) their land,” Golberg argued. “Management will not be necessary. It will actually go back to how nature intended it.”
Short of doing that, Golberg said the plan that won approval by the House Appropriations Committee is sensible and positive. “The fact that we are making any kind of headway is phenomenal,” she said.
The bill will now go to the Senate, where a final vote could be held later this month.