A wild horse advocacy group is worried about an upcoming invitation-only event to discuss federal management of the rangeland population.
Return to Freedom Wild Horse Conservation says the meeting planned for August 22-24 in Salt Lake City, Utah, will be “closed to the voices of wild horse advocates”.
The nonprofit group’s president, Neda DeMayo, said the list of those attending suggested that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke had created an “anti-horse echo chamber, not a solution-oriented meeting”.
The event was a far cry from the discussion about wild horses suggested by Zinke in front of the House Interior Subcommittee during a budget hearing on June 8, the group said. There, Zinke is reported as saying: “I think we should have a roundtable and include everybody, but let’s get a plan on how to manage the population.”
DeMayo said the upcoming Utah meeting was not a way to find common ground.
“There are readily available tools that could allow the Bureau of Land Management to end this costly, cruel system of helicopter roundups and off-range holding and manage wild horses in a humane, sustainable way, instead,” she said.
“This is yet another missed opportunity – just as in 2007, when BLM, within 1,071 wild horses and burros of its own population goal, failed to aggressively implement a safe, proven fertility control vaccine.”
The goal of the Utah meeting is said to be “Full implementation of the 1971 Wild Horse and Burro Management Act.” Wild Horse Freedom said this was often code for allowing the BLM to euthanize “excess” wild horses, which is an option included in the law but which Congress has previously forbidden with protective language placed in appropriations bills.
The group said Congress has moved to forbid the practice for good reason – polls consistently show 80% of Americans oppose horse slaughter and similar percentages want to see wild horses protected.
However, an amendment to the Interior appropriations bill that would allow the BLM to euthanize healthy, unadopted wild horses and burros was passed by the House Appropriations Committee on July 19 on a voice vote.
The group noted that Zinke had written off the use of fertility control as “by and large, a failure,” when speaking during the same June hearing, even though the BLM had never invested more than 4% of its annual Wild Horse and Burro Program budget on fertility control.
In 2013, the National Academy of Sciences issued a report that blamed the practice of removing free-ranging horses from public lands for promoting a high population growth rate, while calling fertility control vaccines “effective approaches.”
Return to Freedom argues that fertility control is one of several steps toward achieving balanced, sustainable management of wild horses on the range. Others include range and water restoration projects and creating incentives for public lands ranchers who voluntarily lower their livestock numbers.