How BLM’s Latest Policy Initiatives May Open The Door To The Mass Slaughter Of Wild Horses

Kevin Daley | Supreme Court Reporter

A pattern of new policy initiatives at the Bureau of Land Management has animal rights activists fearing a culling of thousands of wild horses.

The Bureau of Land Management manages, protects, and controls the population of wild horses and burros on federal lands, pursuant to the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. To maintain ecological balance, BLM determines the appropriate population of wild horses and burros on federal rangelands called the Appropriate Management Level (AML). Horses and burros in excess of AML are removed from the range and kept in BLM care. In recent years, the horse and burro population has soared, increasing approximately 15% per year since 2014.

Current AML is 26,715, while the Bureau estimates the current horse and burro population on federal lands is almost 70,000. The population of off-range horses and burros in BLM facilities was 46,000 as of April 2016.

To alleviate theses conditions, the Bureau is pursuing new strategies to maintain AML. Activists say these new strategies are inhumane, having the large-scale slaughter of horses and burros as their goal.

At issue is new language in the proposed 2017 budget for the BLM, which allows the Bureau “to more efficiently facilitate the transfer of animals to other public entities – local, State, and Federal agencies – who have a need for domestic work animals,” according to the Department of the Interior.

The Bureau allows public agencies or private owners to adopt horses or burros in their facilities. Per the 2004 Burns Amendment, BLM is prohibited from selling to slaughterhouses or so-called “kill-buyers.” However, activists say the phrase “work animals” in the new budget language is not sufficiently defined, providing BLM the prerogative to sell to unscrupulous partners.

“It’s an end run around the current Congressional prohibition on selling wild horses and burros for slaughter and a pathway into the slaughter pipeline for potentially thousands of wild horses and burros who are currently protected under federal law,” Suzanne Roy of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Roy says the new language and soaring number of captive horses and burros in BLM facilities are precipitating new policy conditions whose end game “appears to be legalizing slaughter as a management solution.”

A spokesperson for the Bureau of Land Management told TheDCNF that federal law prohibits the Bureau from selling horses or burros to other public entities.

“The U.S. Border Patrol uses nearly 300 wild horses for their patrols of the Mexican and Canadian borders, but each of these animals had to be adopted by individual agents in their personal capacity because BLM doesn’t have the legal authority to convey horses directly to other agencies,” spokesperson Kimberly Brubeck said. “We’d like to fix that.” BLM horses have worked in a variety of other capacities, including in ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery.

Activists are also troubled by a pending record of decisions BLM is expected to issue in the near future. The Bureau may allow research for several spay methods conducted by Oregon State University at the state’s wild horse facility, Burns Corral. The AWHPC characterized one of the experimental procedures, the ovariectomy via colpotomy, as “barbaric.” Roy says the procedure, described in detail here, is “highly invasive, risky, and strongly opposed by the public.” Roy claims 21,000 citizens submitted comments to the BLM opposing approval of the new method, though the Bureau would only confirm they are in receipt of 970 such complaints.

The National Academy of Sciences characterizes the procedure as “inadvisable for field application” given the risk of prolonged bleeding and infection. The United States Cattleman’s Association, a beef lobby in Washington, D.C., also called the method “inhumane” in a letter to BLM Rangeland Management Specialist Lisa Grant.

Brubeck says any research conducted on spay methods at Burns Corral will be conducted by licensed veterinarians in accordance with protocols established by OSU’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. The protocols require any person with direct knowledge or reasonable suspicion of animal mistreatment must make a report in short order.

AWHPC filed a petition with OSU, urging the University to decline the proposed research.

The animal rights group expects a final decision on the research this week. BLM made no specific comment as to the time frame of the decision, only saying it would be issued “soon.”

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