U.S. House committee takes key steps to reform federal wild horse program

WASHINGTON (June 29, 2022) — Today, the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) commends the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations for advancing bipartisan language in its Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies funding bill and its accompanying report, which includes an allocation of $11 million for reversible immunocontraceptive fertility control in FY23 to manage wild horses and burros. The measure also calls for evaluating other on-range management options that would keep horses and burros out of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) holding facilities. 

The 2023 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies funding bill includes an allocation of $11 million for reversible immunocontraceptive fertility control manage wild horses.

“We applaud House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro and Interior Subcommittee Chair Chellie Pingree for taking steps to make meaningful improvements to the wild horse and burro programs at the BLM and Forest Service,” said Holly Gann Bice, director of government relations for AWHC. “Congress has sent a clear message that the status quo must change—a robust fertility control vaccine program is a humane, cost-effective option to manage healthy wild horse populations. The BLM now has an opportunity to turn away from the outdated practice of helicopter roundups and move forward with fertility control vaccines as an effective, science-based solution.”

The $11 million allocation for fertility control vaccines administered by the BLM underscores the committee’s support for sustainable and humane management first established in the FY22 bill and report. The FY23 Committee report further called for BLM to pursue partnerships with veterans and wild horse organizations to aid in this effort. The appropriate use of fertility control vaccines will stabilize horse populations and end the cycle of removing and confining horses in overcrowded holding facilities. According to AWHC, the BLM has historically spent less than 1 percent of its Wild Horse and Burro Program budget on fertility control.

“I worked with the American Wild Horse Campaign to include funding for administering and researching wild horse fertility control in the House FY2023 appropriations package,” said Congresswoman Dina Titus (NV-01). “This is a step in the right direction towards a more humane program for controlling wild horse and burro populations. It will also save taxpayer dollars and help prevent cruel roundups and inadequate holding of these denizens of the Wild West.”

This action is particularly timely as the federal government is struggling to address the deadliest wild horse disease outbreak in BLM history. One hundred and forty-six wild horses recently died at a BLM holding facility in Cañon City, Colorado following an outbreak of the Equine Influenza Virus (“EIV”), a disease that captured wild horses were supposed to have been vaccinated against. AWHC believes the problems at Cañon City, however, are merely representative of larger, systemic issues with BLM’s off-range corrals across the West. An internal BLM assessment even documented significant mismanagement at the Cañon City corrals.

“I continue to be concerned about the Bureau of Land Management’s plans for large-scale roundups of wild horses on federal land and BLM’s commitment to a robust program of fertility control,” said Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), a member of the Natural Resources Committee. “Americans cherish these iconic symbols of the American West, and we want to know they are being cared for in the most humane ways possible.” 

Other key measures include: 

  • Calling for the BLM to evaluate options for relocating wild horses and burros to different Herd Management Areas (HMAs) as an alternative to keeping the horses captive in expensive government holding facilities.
  • Reviewing the agency’s Adoption Incentive Program (AIP) for any program weaknesses that jeopardize the welfare of the mustangs and burros placed into private care.
  • Emphasizing the importance of the U.S. Forest Service to screen adopters and purchasers to ensure safe outcomes for wild horses. Currently, the agency offers the animals for as low as $25 with no formal screening process in place, placing them in danger of inhumane treatment and slaughter. 

“I am so grateful that this Interior Appropriations bill protects our nation’s majestic wild horses and burros, including maintaining the bans that prevent the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management from sending them to slaughter. It is imperative that we guarantee adequate screening procedures for horses and burros adopted out or sold by the BLM or Forest Service, in order to ensure that they are not ending up in slaughter or otherwise abusive situations,” said Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40), who spoke today during the House Appropriations Committee markup.

“We’re grateful to U.S. Representatives Mark Pocan, Steve Cohen, Dina Titus, and  Roybal-Allard for their work to protect wild horses and burros and championing on-range management strategies to help keep horses and burros in the wild and out of dangerously overstressed holding facilities,” concluded Gann Bice.

The organization, however, expressed disappointment that the bill provides $19 million in increased funding, which could be used for inhumane helicopter removals. Yet, AWHC is thankful that the Committee provided $6 million less funding than the amount that the House Appropriations Committee provided in the FY22 House Interior bill. 

The bill further provides $1 million to the Foundation for America’s Public Lands for establishing an office and initial costs and urges the Foundation to prioritize FY2023 to assist BLM with “the challenge of wild free-roaming horses and burros.” While questions remain regarding the Foundation and what their wild horse and burro project would entail, AWHC is overall encouraged by the FY23 House Interior bill and hopes the pro-wild horse provisions move forward in both chambers. This bill comes on the heels of two recent legislative bills banning horse slaughter and the cruel practice of soring. 

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 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.

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