As public and Congressional pressure mounts, BLM pledges change but continues costly and inhumane mustang roundups

Washington, DC; February 25, 2011 — The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC), Saving America’s Mustangs, and Return to Freedom today reacted to the Interior Department’s announcement of “accelerated reforms” for the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) wild horse and burro program with a challenge to the agency to put real action behind its rhetoric about change.

The first step toward reform, the AWHPC coalition says, is correcting the consistent misrepresentation by the BLM that wild horses are overpopulating the West. In reality, the BLM is systematically reducing habitat available for wild horses while allocating the majority of resources in the remaining wild horse areas to privately-owned livestock and setting artificially- low allowable wild horse population levels as a result.

“The Obama Administration is clearly feeling the pressure from increased public and Congressional scrutiny, and is to be commended for its desire to take the broken federal wild horse program in a new direction,” said Neda DeMayo, CEO of Return to Freedom and founder of the AWHPC. “However, we are troubled by the BLM’s plan to forge ahead with the removal of 15,000 wild horses from the range over the next two years, contributing to the fiscal black hole of holding captured mustangs at great expense to taxpayers and the horses themselves.”

In 2010, Return to Freedom offered a proposal which would serve as a model to redirect federal funding for on the range management alternatives. In a meeting with the BLM, RTF suggested that planned roundups in 2012 be utilized to initiate these pilot programs instead of continuing the broken cycle and increased expense of removal and long term holding

“If the BLM is truly interested in change, the agency will stop the mass mustang roundups that are devastating America’s wild horse herds and bankrupting American taxpayers,” said Madeleine Pickens, philanthropist and founder of Saving of America’s Mustangs. “A token reduction in the numbers of horses to be removed is not a show of good faith.”

Mrs. Pickens and Saving America’s Mustangs have offered a public/private partnership with the BLM to create a wild horse eco-sanctuary on private and public lands in northeastern Nevada. Last month, BLM announced that it was rejecting Mrs. Pickens proposal. The agency is also entering the final days of the largest wild horse roundup of the year in Nevada’s Antelope Complex, on the public lands portion of a large ranch that Mrs. Pickens purchased for the development of the eco-sanctuary. Late last year, BLM rejected Mrs. Pickens’ cost-saving offer to house captured Antelope mustangs on her private lands adjacent to their home range; instead the agency is shipping horses 1000+ miles to holding facilities.

The majority of mustangs captured from public lands in the West are sent to government holding facilities, where they are maintained for life at taxpayer expense. The BLM already warehouses over 41,000 wild horses in holding pens and pastures, while just 33,000 are left in the wild. This year alone, taxpayers will pay nearly $46 million to house captured mustang

Congress has recently taken numerous steps to address the controversial and fiscally-unsustainable wild horse program, including the House of Representatives’ passage of an amendment to cut the BLM’s budget by $2 million to “send a very strong message” about the need for reform.

Yesterday’s announcement must not deter Congress from taking the actions necessary to ensure that the BLM’s promises translate into for America’s wild horses, the groups said.

Last year, at least 70,000 American citizens, including members of Return To Freedom, Saving America’s Mustangs, the Humane Society of the United States, and other AWHPC coalition partners responded to the Interior Department’s request for public comments on its wild horse proposal, yet the agency is reporting only 9,000 comments were received.

Return to Freedom is dedicated to preserving the freedom, diversity and habitat of America’s wild horses through sanctuary, education and conservation, while enriching the human spirit through direct experience with the natural world. Return to Freedom provides a safe haven to over 300 wild horses and burros at its sanctuary in Santa Barbara, California and in Nevada where the group is planning to create a larger wild horse preserve.

Saving America’s Mustangs Foundation was created by businesswoman and philanthropist Madeleine Pickens to protect and preserve wild horses as living symbol of our American heritage and freedom. Through the Foundation, citizens from all walks of life are uniting to create a permanent home, a sanctuary, to save these magnificent national treasures.

The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign is dedicated to preserving the American wild horse in viable free-roaming herds for generations to come, as part of our national heritage. Supported by a coalition of over 40 organizations – including Saving America’s Mustangs and Return to Freedom, its grassroots campaign seeks:

  • A suspension of roundups in all but verifiable emergency situations while the entire BLM wild horse program undergoes objective and scientific review;
  • Higher Appropriate Management Levels (AML) for wild horses on those rangelands designated for them;
  • Implementation of in-the-wild management, which would keep wild horses on the range and save taxpayers millions annually by avoiding the mass removal and stockpiling wild horses in government holding facilities.