As many of you have heard, earlier this month the House Appropriations Committee voted in favor of an amendment offered by Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) to the fiscal 2018 spending bill for the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency and related programs. This amendment strips away language from the spending bill that forbids the killing or sale for slaughter of wild horses and burros. Instead, the amendment allows BLM to slaughter wild horses and burros roaming on public lands. This would be the first time Congress has authorized BLM to slaughter wild horses and burros since 2007, when the last three horse slaughterhouses in the United States closed.
Friends of Animals adamantly opposes removing the protection from slaughter for wild horses and burros. If this amendment is allowed to stay in the spending bill, in excess of 20,000 horses could be slaughtered. Not only is the amendment cruel, it legalizes a highly unpopular proposal for managing wild horses in this country. Americans overwhelmingly oppose the slaughter of wild horses. Removing the language that protects the horses would be contrary to the will of the American people.
Supporters of the amendment, including Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) who chairs the appropriations subcommittee, argue that BLM’s wild horse program is costing the nation too much money, and that culling the herd makes the most economic sense. The problem with this argument is threefold.
First, it is difficult for most Americans to believe that money can ever justify the killing of a magnificent, intelligent wild animal like our nation’s wild horses.
Second, the fiscal concerns with the wild horse program are overblown. While it is true that the budget for wild horses and burros has increased to $75.7 million, this is just a fraction (about 1 percent) of the Department of Interiors’ FY2017 budget. Moreover, this amount could be trimmed if BLM, as indicated below, increased the amount of public lands available to wild horses.
Finally, it ignores the real culprit here—increasingly commercialized Western public lands. Today, upwards of 2 million cattle graze public lands, and the government has authorized thousands of oil, gas and mineral extraction projects on federally owned properties. The result truly is a crisis. These commercial activities have substantially fragmented and reduced the amount of habitat left for wild horses and other wildlife.
In actuality, at most approximately 55,000 wild horses remain free on Western public lands. These horses are spread out over more than 30 million acres in 10 states, and most are maintained in heads of less than 200 horses. This is just more than two and a half times the number of horses that existed when Congress passed the Free-Roaming Wild Horses and Burros Act in 1971 as a means to protect them from extinction, and is a far cry from the millions of horses that roamed the West in 1900.
If we are going to save the horses and other wildlife on our public lands, we need an honest discussion in Congress over reforming the laws that allow for unbridled development at the expense of wildlife. Just as we don’t want our parks, schools and housing in the middle of industrial sites, we need to separate commercial activities from wildlife habitats on public lands. Given the vast amount of Western lands, wild horses and other wildlife deserve open, unfragmented land to call home.
Please contact your local congress men and women to urge them to vote no on any legislation that would authorize the killing of our nation’s wild horses and burros. Find your U.S. representatives here.
It is especially crucial people contact their senators to tell them to protect America’s wild horses and vote no to this amendment instead of betraying them like the members of the House did. You can find contact members of the Senate Appropriations Committee here.