As you know, wild horses and burros have been part of American culture and landscape for centuries. Today, approximately 85,000 of them roam freely on ranges throughout the country and are integral parts of the environmental tapestry that makes these lands so extraordinary.
But as beautiful and iconic as these animals are, they are also shockingly vulnerable. Wild horses and burros have faced many threats over the years, from loss of habitat and competition for resources, to lack of effective management of their populations on the range. Our goal is to ensure that they remain healthy and safe from government interventions that rely on lethal control, including killing healthy wild horses and burros or selling them for slaughter.
In an op-ed published by The Hill, the urgent need was eloquently presented by ASPCA President and CEO Matt Bershadker, Humane Society of the United States President and CEO Kitty Block, Humane Society Legislative Fund President Sara Amundson, and Return to Freedom President and founder Neda DeMayo.
Wild Horse and Burro Management as It Stands
America’s wild horses are protected by the landmark 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, and while these legal protections remain essential, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has struggled to effectively manage these animals. On top of that, many of the groups involved with the wild horse management issue—including animal welfare groups, landowners, conservationists and ranchers—have disagreed on how best to balance the agency’s mandate with their competing needs.
This lack of agreement has caused paralysis for forward movement. Without a well-working management framework in place, the horses remain in serious jeopardy.
In addition, despite repeated demands from Congress and the public to implement humane fertility control, the BLM has continued to primarily gather horses from the range and warehouse them in holding facilities. This is a costly and short-sighted approach that enables those who argue for lethal solutions to gain ground and further jeopardize these herds.
We know that without intervention, this pattern will continue and the pressure will build for a lethal solution that we believe would be a national tragedy. The same strategies that have allowed herd populations to grow unchecked will eventually sign the death warrant for tens of thousands of wild horses and burros and possibly lock in a cycle of killing that we may never escape.
Without a solution, either public rangelands—their natural habitat—will no longer have enough food and water to sustain them, or legislators will grow tired of funding the expanding bill for their care and become convinced that no real alternatives exist, leading them to reluctantly approve unnecessary lethal options.
One thing is clear to us: Unless a comprehensive plan emerges that promises an end to the ineffective management strategy and political crisis surrounding the program, range populations will grow, expenses will rise, and the BLM’s current removal strategy will produce lethal outcomes.
A Bold New Equine Protection Proposal
Over the last few years, we’ve engaged with a very diverse coalition including animal advocacy organizations, range management specialists, local governments, and ranchers, searching for common ground and potential solutions that would result in effective, long-term, life-saving solutions for horses in need.
As the country’s longest-standing animal welfare organization and the leading organization that intervenes on behalf of animals in crisis, the ASPCA will not ignore these threats or leave them for others to figure out. Nor will we cling to outdated ideas that no longer work or keep our minds closed to bold ideas and partnerships that may be effective.
The vulnerability and victimization of wild horses is a challenge that requires new thinking and new collaborations. And we’re rising to that challenge. Over the last few years, we’ve engaged with a very diverse coalition including animal advocacy organizations, range management specialists, local governments, and ranchers, searching for common ground and potential solutions that would result in effective, long-term, life-saving solutions for horses in need.
The ambitious proposal focuses on deep commitments and investments in four integral areas:
- Robust fertility control program: Comprehensive large-scale application of proven, safe and humane population growth control strategies to help stabilize wild horse and burro populations on the range and achieve a better balance in herd numbers where necessary.
- Strategic gathering: Targeted gathers of horses and burros in densely populated Herd Management Areas that cannot sustain large numbers of animals to protect horses and burros from forage and water shortages and facilitate non-lethal fertility control efforts.
- Rehoming of horses: Relocate horses and burros lingering in holding facilities, and those taken off the range, to large cost-effective, humane pasture facilities that provide a free-roaming environment for wild horses and burros.
- Increased adoptions: Promote the adoption of wild horses and burros into good homes to improve the lives of horses and burros in holding pastures, reduce the total cost of the program, and redirect funds to long-term strategies for the care and sustainability of horse and burro populations. Provide handling and training that will dramatically improve the adoptability of rehomed horses and burros.
Implementing these ideas at the scale we envision will be challenging and require significant up-front investment, but population ecologists and economists we’ve hired estimate that these tactics, if adopted and implemented swiftly and with full commitment, will lead to sustainable population numbers within 10 years.
Read more details of the strategy behind this plan on ASPCA.org.
Forging New Partnerships
A critical aspect of this work will be partnerships with organizations both familiar and brand new. We won’t agree on all animal welfare issues, but we have put aside these differences to focus on the task at hand: finding real world, workable solutions to the humane sustainable care of wild horses and burros on and off the range. These conversations have been productive so far, based largely on a mutual willingness to learn and listen, as well as our belief that wild horses and burros will benefit from our efforts.
From a broader perspective, it’s inspiring to see experts from rangeland management, wild horse advocacy, equine welfare, wildlife conservation, and other specialties uniting under a single plan to save lives.
Let’s protect these majestic animals once and for all—please visit the ASPCA Advocacy Center now and ask your representatives to stand up for America’s wild horses and burros.
And read more about the proposal and find FAQs here.