Return to Freedom Wild Horse Conservation warned on Tuesday that President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget proposal would open the door to euthanizing captured wild horses and burros and allowing others to fall into the slaughter pipeline.
The Bureau of Land Management’s budget justification calls for:
- “the ability to conduct sales without limitation,” eliminating the current policy of captured wild horses and burros being offered for sale without limitation when they reach 10 years of age or fail to be adopted three times;
- removing “language restricting BLM’s ability to use all of the management tools authorized in the 1971 Act,” scrapping Congress’s prohibitions in previous appropriations bills that barred BLM from euthanizing healthy animals;
- slashing the Wild Horse and Burro Program budget by 12%, about $9.7 million.
“Making short-sighted policy changes that could result in either shooting healthy wild horses and burros or shipping them off to Canada or Mexico for slaughter would betray both these icons of the West and the Americans who have invested tens of millions of tax dollars to protect them once they are removed from their ranges,” said Neda DeMayo, president of Return to Freedom Wild Horse Conservation.
“We always need to be vigilant about the lifting of restrictions. If these proposals are approved, it would eviscerate the few protections that wild horses do have.”
Trump’s plan also contains a provision raising further concerns about the transfer of wild horses and burros for use as “work animals.” The provision is akin to one that appeared in the stopgap spending bill that Congress OKed earlier this month.
Section 115 (page 679) of the president’s plan would allow the Secretary of Interior to transfer captured wild horses or burros “immediately upon request” by federal, state or local government agencies for use as “work animals.” The provision requires that such a request must include a commitment “not to destroy healthy transferred animals or engage in the sale of in the sale of animals that is intended to result in their destruction for processing into commercial products.”
Congress’s omnibus bill, which funds the government until September, contained a similar provision, Section 116 (page 804), but with more protections. RTF applauds the many representatives who worked hard to take into account the feedback of advocates, but concerns about both provisions remain. They include:
- stripping transferred animals of their protected status under the 1971 Wild Horse and Burro Act;
- allowing immediate transfers, raising a concern about whether the public and BLM will be able to track the care of the animals similar to the way the agency is required to check on other adopted horses;
- insufficient protections against euthanizing wild horses and burros for non-commercial reasons, for example if an agency decides a horse or burro has reached the end of its usefulness.
These proposals fly in the face of the wishes of the American people and of the majority in Congress.
In 1971, a public outcry led to the unanimous passage of the Wild Horse and Burro Act. Since then, taxpayers have invested tens of millions of dollars in the protection of wild horses on the range and after capture. A 2012 ASPCA poll found 80% of Americans opposed horse slaughter.
The administration’s proposals also contradict the wishes of Congress.
Its defunding of horse slaughter inspections and explicit prohibitions against BLM euthanizing healthy wild horses or selling horses in a way that results in their destruction – spelled out in the omnibus bill – make clear the wishes of the majority of lawmakers. Since January, 123 members of the House have also signed on to the bipartisan HR 113 (Buchanan), dubbed the SAFE Act. It would permanently ban commercial horse slaughter or the transport of horses to slaughter.
The fate of wild horses remains uncertain because the BLM has systematically favored ranchers over horses and has leaned on expensive, ineffective roundups over humane solutions. Even on the small amount of BLM land designated as wild horse habitat – about 9.1 percent of BLM lands – the agency allocates the majority of forage to private livestock, not wild horses.
Return to Freedom and other advocates have long called for redirecting money spent on capturing and holding wild horses toward humane solutions – solutions that will save taxpayers money, over the long run, while giving our nation’s wild horses and burros a sustainable future on the range.
These include the use of safe, proven fertility control in combination with: revisiting population targets based on a fair interpretation of multiple-use land management; providing incentives for ranchers who reduce livestock grazing in wild horse Herd Management Areas; range stewardship; and horse relocation, if truly necessary.
Instead, BLM continues to spend the bulk of its management budget on outdated practices, including 67% of its 2016 budget on capturing, removing and stockpiling horses, compared to 4% on fertility control and other measures to manage horses on the range.
The president’s proposal also calls for cuts to most BLM program areas — except for a $13 million increase, to $165 million, for energy and minerals management: an administration priority.