With the recent easing of public land grazing restrictions for private cattle, and a new bill that would allow the government to sell all rounded up horses, the fate of our remaining wild herds is more uncertain than ever.

Late last week, in a stunning display of hypocrisy, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced that they would be easing the regulations on private cattle ranching on public lands. These regulations, put in place by the Clinton Administration to protect wildlife and the eco-system of our public lands, allowed the BLM to restrict harmful grazing practices. Private ranchers, who lease public lands at below market rates, will now have expanded access to public lands. In addition the BLM must produce sufficient data before they can remove cattle and other livestock. If the health of the range or other wildlife that share those public lands requires the removal of more than 10% of a ranchers’ stock, then the BLM must phase in the removal over 5 years under the new rules. Yet, the BLM continues to tout over-grazing and poor range health as the reason that they are removing thousands of wild horses from public lands. 41 of which ended up at an Illinois slaughterhouse this past April.

Approximately 31,000 wild horses remain on public lands. Yet there are more than 4 million privately owned cattle in the public lands grazing program. Neda DeMayo, Founder of Return to Freedom, American Wild Horse Sanctuary, commented that “The Bureau of Land Management is charged with the stewardship of our public lands. For them to say that the vast acreage of America’s public lands cannot sustain some 30,000 wild horses, while millions of cattle graze that land is a shameful double standard. What’s even more outrageous is that they have the gall to announce that they are easing grazing restrictions on cattle, just weeks after the slaughter of wild horses that were removed purportedly because of poor range health and overgrazing. It is like a slap in the face to all Americans who cherish the wild horse as an enduring symbol of freedom and the American spirit.”

Adding insult to injury, Nevada Lawmakers Senator Harry Reid and Congressman Jon Porter announced the introduction of the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Sale and Adoption Act. This bill is a stark contrast to the similarly named bill from 1971 – The Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act — which sought to protect our wild horses and guaranteed them a home on our public lands. This new bill upholds the sale authority that was introduced in November 2004 by Senator Conrad Burns, but goes a step further by broadening the definition of what constitutes an “excess” of wild horses. Under Burns sale authority roughly 8,400 wild horses were at risk of slaughter. That number will increase to 22,000 if this new wild horse bill passes.

The bill attempts to provide a safety net from slaughter by requiring that the purchaser wait one year before gaining title to the horse. However, if purchased in large enough quantities and maintained in feedlot conditions, buyers could still turn a profit by selling wild horses to slaughter. The fact is that this bill simply increases the number of wild horses that could go to the feedlot. “What is sad is that these horses should not be removed in the first place. Overpopulation is a myth” DeMayo further comments.

Return to Freedom supports HR 297 and S 576, legislation that will reverse the Burns rider and reinstate the Federal protections that prohibit the sale and slaughter of wild horses.