Senate Advances Historic Protections—and Funds—for America’s Wild Horses and Burros

a wild horse and its colt
a wild horse and its colt

By Matt Bershadker, ASPCA President and CEO

Today the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee approved a $35 million increase in funding to implement a historic proposal that will protect and humanely manage wild horses and burros on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) public lands. 

The ASPCA has been firmly committed to advancing a new vision for maintaining our wild horse and burro herds on the range, where they belong and where we hope they will roam forever. Our approach requires that we think and act preventatively rather than continuing to endlessly round up and warehouse these equines. 

This ambitious goal will take several years to establish on the range, but once implemented, it will forever break the cycle of removals by balancing herd numbers and using adoptions, rather than pens, to absorb any horses taken from the range. A necessary aspect of this proposal is a mandate that the federal agencies that handle these animals treat them humanely by following welfare guidelines, and that all methods for fertility control are proven safe and humane.

The Senate Appropriations bill released today directs funding to “implement an aggressive, non-lethal population control strategy,” and clarifies that “[a]ll removals must be conducted in strict compliance with the Bureau’s Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program and any population growth suppression strategies must be proven, safe, and humane.” Our proposal requested this reference to the Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program, which provides guidelines for humane handling of horses and burros both on and off range. Additionally, the language on population growth suppression ensures that the BLM cannot use inhumane methods of birth control for mares and jennies (female burros). The legislation further clarifies that “[t]he strategy will not include any sale or actions that result in the destruction of healthy animals, which continues to be prohibited by this Bill.”

This is a historic moment for our herds. This bill contains the strongest language protecting wild horses and burros we have ever seen in an annual appropriations bill. We are heartened that both the U.S. House and Senate have embraced our vision: not only have they adopted this humane management plan and provided robust funding for implementation—they’ve also specifically required protections we have sought for these majestic animals now that a viable, humane solution is on the horizon. Each chamber has doubled and tripled down on their commitment to protect these iconic animals from killing or sale to slaughter—extending protections to herds on U.S. Forest Service land and demanding that the BLM adhere to the Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program during all gathers. 

By providing a humane, non-lethal, implementable solution to the long-plagued Wild Horse and Burro Program, we have helped ensure that these majestic animals will be protected both now and in the future. Earlier this year the ASPCA, along with a diverse group of stakeholders, unveiled a groundbreaking proposal to abandon the destructive, ineffective cycle of mass gathers and removals in favor of a comprehensive fertility control program. This proposal is the only tangible plan provided to Congress or the BLM to humanely manage wild horses and burros on our public lands.

For too long, horses and burros have been the victims of misguided strategies. Our proposed management model offers the first real hope for setting the agency on a better course. Absent this vision, political support for protecting these herds was eroding. We knew action was needed, or their future was bleak.

Committee approval of this legislation is a crucial step in the right direction, but it still needs approval by the full Congress. Now is the time to let your federal legislators know that you want a sensible, humane management plan for wild horses and burros. Take action now!