The bipartisan bill aims to protect wild horses and burros from slaughter, prioritize humane management, restore western habitat, promote partnerships with American veterans and nonprofit organizations, and increase transparency in the wild horse and burro programs run by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service (USFS).
Wild horses and burros inhabiting public lands in 10 western states are federally protected under the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. However, the law has been significantly weakened by amendments over the years, and the BLM and USFS management programs have been fraught with controversy.
“The federal government has fallen far short of its mandate to protect horses from harassment and death,” Cathy Liss, President of Animal Welfare Institute, said in a statement. “The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Protection Act of 2022 represents a long overdue upgrade to the law so that wild equines can be managed humanely in their natural habitats for Americans to enjoy. We applaud Chairman Grijalva and the other House sponsors for their foresight and vision; this comprehensive bill will deliver meaningful change in how herds are managed and promote real transparency and accountability from a federal program that has cost taxpayers billions.”
Among numerous other reforms, the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Protection Act of 2022 aims to repeal the Burns Amendment, introduced in 2004 by former Montana Senator Conrad Burns to allow wild equines to be sold “without limitation” to slaughter. In subsequent years, Congress has used the appropriations process to prevent the commercial destruction of unadopted wild horses and burros, but this is a stopgap measure that must be renewed annually.
“This bill promotes much-needed humane, commonsense, and fiscally responsible reforms that would stop the endless cycle of removals and keep these beloved symbols of freedom in the wild where they belong,” stated Suzanne Roy, executive director of AWHC.
Currently, nearly 64,000 wild horses and burrosare kept in holding facilities in the United States, a management approach that absorbs the vast majority of the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program budget each year. The flawed system accounts for$93 million in the fiscal year of 2022 alone.
These facilities cannot keep pace with the BLM’s increasing captures, and have been associated with mass preventable deaths and widespread animal welfare violations such as inadequate vaccinations, insufficient access to hay, and understaffing. Earlier this year, nearly 150 horsesin a BLM facility in Colorado died due to lack of proper vaccinations.
The passage of this new legislation would prohibit the BLM’s use of cash incentives, while allowing for other types of incentives that would benefit both adopters and animals, such as vouchers for veterinary care.
The bill would also prioritize on-range management options, such as fertility control and relocation, strengthen and enforce comprehensive animal welfare guidelines, and require detailed public reporting of deaths and injuries of wild horses and burros during capture operations, among other measures.