Photo taken at Return to Freedom's San Luis Obispo, Calif., satellite sanctuary by Tony Stromberg.
The Bureau of Land Management released a tentative roundup calendar for May through October that would see 6,660 wild horses and burros captured and removed from their home ranges while treating just 205 with fertility control. This is a plan that indicates no real commitment on the part of BLM to implement fertility control immediately despite the demands of Congress and the public.
The agency has failed to scale up the use of available safe, proven and humane fertility control for 20 years. Further delay will only serve to perpetuate the inhumane, costly practice of capture and removal that has gone on for nearly five decades. Because of rising taxpayer costs and increasing numbers of wild horses and burros both on the range and in government holding, the present administration and Congress have come closer than at any time since the passage of the 1971 Free-Roaming Wild Horses and Burros Act to allowing BLM to sell wild horses without restriction (to slaughter) or euthanize them. As climatic changes increasingly impact the sensitive ecosystems within our public land ranges and special interests profiting from the use of our public land resources face economic uncertainty, it is critical that we remain diligent in presenting viable non-lethal solutions to manage wild horse and burro populations in the West for our federally protected herds.
Congress approved an additional $21 million investment into the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program for Fiscal Year 2020 to pursue a non-lethal management alternative, including funds specifically for fertility control. This marked a first step toward ending the inhumane, costly and unsustainable practice of capturing and warehousing these American icons. Lawmakers refused to release the additional funding until after the BLM produced a wild horse management report, which the agency did on May 8. Unfortunately, BLM’s report was unclear on several points, including whether the agency would for the first time begin a robust fertility control program right away or whether it would only implement fertility control once reaching its agency-set “Appropriate Management Level.” Though the funding had not yet been released, BLM’s planning should have reflected Congress’s clear call for increased fertility control.
Population modeling by ecologists has shown how different management paradigms affect wild horse populations. Immediately using available fertility control vaccines (while longer-lasting vaccines are being developed) on the range alongside removals is the only way to catch up with herd growth and stabilize BLM’s Wild Horse & Burro Program, enabling the phase-out of roundups and muting calls for the use of lethal management tools.
According to BLM’s most recent estimates, 95,114 wild horses and burros roam federally managed public lands. That’s an increase of 7,024, despite the agency removing 7,276 in 2019. As of April, 48,025 captured wild horses and burros were living in short-term holding corrals or on leased pastures.
America’s wild herds, the rangelands upon which they depend, and taxpayers all deserve much better than more of the same.