While the 2018 budget, requesting the same elimination of appropriations language that outlaws the sale and destruction of wild horses, slowly works its way through Congress, the Bureau of Land Management renews the request for the 2019 fiscal year.
The Department of the Interior’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2019 continues to request the elimination of appropriations language that has been in place since 2010. This language has forbid the Bureau of Land Management, the federal organization tasked with maintaining wild horse range on public land, from unrestricted sale and euthanasia of healthy animals. The BLM, in its fiscal year 2018 budget proposal, stated that the lifting of this language would allow the agency to focus more of its budget on range management rather than maintaining the tens of thousands of unadopted horses in long-term holding.
Wild horses and burros have been protected since 1971, when the BLM was first charged with managing their range. The BLM seeks to maintain wild horse herds at its designated Appropriate Management Levels, or AML — a population cap assigned to each Herd Management Area or HMA. When population numbers grow beyond the BLM’s AML, herds are gathered, often via helicopter roundup, and excess horses are removed to holding facilities where they become available for public adoption.
The demand for adoptable wild horses has not matched the number of horses coming off the range, so unadopted horses are moved to long-term holding where they live out their days, fed and maintained through the BLM’s budget via taxpayer dollars. The BLM states that this money could be better used to actively manage the horses living on the range through other means.
The fiscal year 2018 budget has undergone lively debate in both the House and the Senate, with two versions needing to be reconciled: the House version lifts the ban on euthanasia of healthy animals, but does not allow unrestricted sale for slaughter; the Senate version continues to maintain full protection for wild horses from both euthanasia and slaughter. The Continuing Resolution keeping the government funded expires on March 23, and it’s expected that the 2018 budget will be finalized.
The specific language in the BLM 2019 budget proposal is as follows:
The budget includes $66.7 million for the Wild Horse and Burro Management program. The Wild Horse and Burro program budget is principally used to care for excess animals in off-range facilities. The Department’s primary legal obligation under the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971 is to achieve and maintain animal populations on the public range at appropriate management levels. Despite significant and consistent resource increases over the past nine years, the program’s budget has more than doubled since 2008 and the Department projects this trajectory to continue absent meaningful reforms. The 2019 budget continues to propose the elimination of appropriations language restricting BLM’s use of all of the management options authorized in the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act. This change will provide BLM with the full suite of tools to manage the unsustainable growth of wild horse and burro herds.
Wild horse advocates, while not always in agreement on the best way to effectively manage wild horse populations (or if management is even necessary), do agree that the BLM is not managing wild horses in the best interests of the animals or the public, which is largely opposed to the slaughter of horses both wild and domesticated.
How can you affect change?
If you have strong feelings about this budget plan for fiscal year 2019, we urge you to contact your representatives in Congress and explain to them why. There are numerous online petitions in circulation, but the most effective and meaningful way to affect real change is to speak with your lawmakers and make your opinion known. If you need assistance finding your representation in Congress, you can find your representatives here and your senators here.