Plan hatched by two animal protection groups and cattlemen association is a prescription for horse slaughter

Proposal plays Russian roulette with wild horses and burros

For years, the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has mismanaged wild horses and burros, failing to invest in proven fertility control programs and instead rounding-up and removing thousands of wild horses and burros from our public lands and shipping them off to holding facilities. There, they are supposed to be adopted by private citizens, but the program has been severely compromised by kill buyers masquerading as legitimate adopters and diverting the horses to foreign slaughter plants. Our wild horses and burros – in defiance of the Wild Horse and Free-Roaming Burros Act, and annual anti-horse slaughter proscriptions – have ended up as slabs of horse steak on the plates of diners from Italy to Japan.

BLM’s bungling of the wild horse and burro program has created conditions for maximum reproduction of remaining horses on the range, swelled the size of captive wild horse and burro populations, cannibalized much of the BLM’s annual budget, and created an adoption program that has been hijacked by horse slaughter interests. Rather than managing wild, free-roaming populations, the BLM is now managing wild, captive horses and burros, with adoptions not coming close to off-setting the number of horses flowing into short-term and long-term holding facilities. Too often, it’s given a wink and a nod to the predatory horse slaughter crowd circling the program.

Animal Wellness Action is advocating in the West for more tolerance for wild horses and burros on the range, but also in Congress for increased investments in humane management of populations through fertility control. We recognize that there must be active management to address the social concerns of ranchers and other users of our public lands. Fertility control achieves the key objectives of major players with a stake in the future of wild horses and burros; it reduces reproduction and stabilizes growth and it achieves active management through humane means.

With all of that as a sad historical backdrop for this government’s ham-handed approach to handling wild horses and burros, there now comes an unnerving, naïve, and ahistorical proposal from two large national animal protection organizations that have made an alliance on this matter with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA). Their joint proposal advocates for mass removals of tens of thousands of America’s wild mustangs and burros from federal lands on the open range, while conducting aggressive contraception for the horses and burros who would remain on our federal lands.

They’ve got the second part right, but the first part is deeply flawed. The NCBA, which gets millions in funding for the beef check-off program to run its operations and lobbying programs, has been the leader of the pro-horse slaughter movement, openly advocating for the reopening of slaughter plants in Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and other states since the last of the U.S. plants were shuttered in 2007. It has never once supported animal welfare legislation and has actively worked to kill wolves, grizzlies, and other predators with poisons, traps, and aerial gunning on our public lands; advocated for U.S. Rep. Steve King’s Farm Bill Amendment to wipe out state animal protection laws; worked to scuttle an agreement supported by the egg industry to give hens more space in their enclosures; opposed efforts to limit the use of antibiotics on factory farms; and so much more.

The “10 Years to AML Plan,” as it’s been named, is a thinly disguised two-step, with the second step being the slaughter of our wild horses and burros. If the plan is implemented, it will swell the population of captive horses by rounding up wild horses – perhaps to as many as 65,000 or more. One version of the plan called for the removal of 50,000 horses; the more recent effort involves a push to remove 15,000-20,000 horses. NCBA and other big agriculture interests will then argue – as some lawmakers already have – that there is a fiscal and population crisis and push for the shipment of these animals in large numbers to private citizens. The horse slaughter crowd is seeing a new reservoir of horses in its fantasies as this plan picks up momentum.

There’s no mistaking, the animal protection groups that have embraced this plan have been staunch opponents of horse slaughter, as they should be. But even if they have temporary assurances that language will be inserted in this year’s annual spending bill to forbid slaughter – already a fait accompli given the strong support that exists in both the House and Senate for the anti-slaughter policy – the implementation of this plan will significantly weaken our ability to hold on to anti-slaughter policies in the future. For those of us who’ve fought this battle, it’s been a policy right on the knife’s edge for years. The November elections have temporarily cemented our position, but it can quickly turn in the other direction if next November’s elections bring a wave of pro-slaughter advocates from Midwest states and the West.

NCBA has previously likened “horse slaughter” to “euthanasia” – a view that contradicts that group’s belief that inspected slaughter plants are a fine place for the lives of horses to end.

The reality is, there are far more cattle and sheep on our public lands than wild horses and burros. This is an attempt to further imbalance the ratio by liquidating populations of wild horses and burros, so that beef cattle can graze on more federal lands.

Animal groups should know better, and we’re appalled by their proposition. We’ll be fighting this effort with our allies in the wild horse and burro community – and with the American public that abhors this practice – on Capitol Hill and in the Administration. This is the wrong plan, and it’s not a close call. Please call your members of congress at 202-224-3121 and ask them to oppose any measure that promotes mass removal of wild horses and burros from federal lands.

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