BLM Report Calls for Removal of Hundreds of Thousands of Horses In Next Decade from our Western Lands

Free-roaming wild horses and burros have never faced a greater threat if you read the long-term plan for management of these animals released to Congress by the Bureau of Land Management this week.

Here are its key features:

  • “Annually gather (through both helicopter and bait/water trap methods) between 20,000 and 30,000 animals”
  • “Annually remove 18,000 to 20,000 animals permanently from public rangelands’ for 15 years
  • “Treat (using various temporary long-term or permanent fertility control methods) 3,500 to 9,000 gathered animals annually over the initial 10 years,” mainly with an inhumane form of surgical sterilization

Is this anything but a corrupt, massive depopulation plan, a prescription for terror for hundreds of bands of horses, and a gutting of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act?

The plan is a direct follow up to “The Path Forward,” a naïve and reckless proposal cooked up mainly by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), the Humane Society of the United States, and a handful of other groups who now believe mass round-ups of wild horses should be a routine, accepted practice. Lobbying by these groups helped generate $21 million above the agency’s base budget this year for wild horse and burro “management,” with no limits on the use of the additional monies for horse and burro round-ups or the use of barbaric surgical sterilization. The BLM’s plan released this week confirms what we at Animal Wellness – and dozens of other animal protection groups – have warned all along.

Let’s face it, even when the agency had its recent base budget of $80 million a year, we’ve criticized it for annual round-ups of 10,000 wild equids a year and its pitiful record in applying PZP for fertility control. It’s been running horses to exhaustion at full gallop in helicopter chases and separating family groups before corralling and then shipping them off to short-term and long-term holding facilities. This latest plan, enabled by the animal welfare groups, is that same game plan on steroids.

With more than 50,000 wild horses and burros already in holding facilities, that number would balloon to 100,000 in three or four years. The holding operation already eats up two-thirds of BLM’s budget and doubling or tripling the numbers would have a budget-busting effect. With so many horses in holding facilities, the pressure to then send the horses to slaughter would be considerable.

I have negotiated hundreds of animal welfare agreements with industry and lawmakers during my career in our field. So, it’s anything but my instinct to scold animal welfare parties for trying work with adversaries. Indeed, securing an agreement from parties or industries doing harm may be the best pathway to reduce violence against animals. 

A good deal must, however, have specificity, clearly articulated benefits to animals, and leverage on enforcement. In this case, the deal has none of that. It’s an inexplicable capitulation to the cattlemen’s association and others who want the horses gone from our federal lands so that they can put more cattle and sheep in their place. 

There are more than 80,000 wild horses and burros over vast expanses in 11 western states, but on those same federal lands, there are more than 4,000,000 cattle and sheep.  But not a word from BLM about the need to control their numbers and prevent overgrazing. 

BLM is housed in the same agency (the Department of the Interior) that is seeking to remove federal protections for wolves and grizzlies in the West, working to gut the Endangered Species Act, scuttling a prior agreement between industry and conservation groups on sage grouse, and promoting oil and gas development on these same lands at a time when the planet faces a climate crisis.  With this plan to depopulate horses and burros, we see how all the pieces of the puzzle fit.

The management of these animals in the complicated political environment is a Rubik’s Cube, and I’ve come to see many colors and angles of it. While acknowledging the complexity of the problem, it doesn’t take much understanding to know that the so-called Path Forward” is leading us off a cliff.  

Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva and several other lawmakers recognize that mass depopulation and inhumane surgical sterilization are a terrible turn in the wrong direction.  AWA will work with him, other lawmakers, and numerous wild horse and animal protection organizations to turn this plan back and unwind the damage that’s been done. 

Only Congress, with the power of the purse, can stop this mayhem from playing out on our federal lands. This is an utter failure of two of our nation’s largest animal protection groups. 

Please join us in the fight to protect our free-roaming mustangs and burros by clicking here and asking your Members of Congress to derail BLM’s dangerous and misguided attack.

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