By Wayne Pacelle, HSUS
At least 10 animals, including four yearlings, are dead after a poorly conducted and strategically suspect government roundup of approximately 800 wild horses in Wyoming. This loss of life, and the stress and trauma for the survivors, could have been avoided had the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) put in place a more humane and economically viable management plan for wild horses throughout the West.
The current roundup is being conducted in the Great Divide Basin, Adobe Town and Salt Wells Herd Management Areas in Wyoming. The BLM's records show that one yearling was found dead in a holding pen having suffered an acute neck injury, a three-and-a-half month old filly was found dead in a holding pen of unknown causes, and a six-month-old colt died in a horse trailer from pre-existing lung injuries that were exacerbated by the helicopter drive gather.
The HSUS has long argued that the BLM, which conducts these round-ups, should be working with the humane community to manage wild horses using fertility control methods. The broader implementation of this strategy would come with some costs, but those would be offset and then some by reducing the need for removals and the housing and feeding of tens of thousands of horses in short-term and long-term holding facilities. Implementing aggressive fertility programs is a solution supported by most stakeholders and the National Academy of Sciences. It would be much more humane for the horses if the government opted for this strategy.
It is a well-known fact that the BLM’s wild horse roundup program is a case study in mismanagement. There are now more than 40,000 free-roaming wild horses in the United States, most of them in Wyoming and Nevada, and the government has been rounding up and removing them, ostensibly to control these wild populations and minimize their ecological impact. Over the years, they have built up a captive horse population that now numbers in the tens of thousands, at short-term and long-term holding facilities. The cost of the roundups and housing and feeding the animals is now cannibalizing about two-thirds of the budget for the entire program.
Yet, BLM continues to view the roundup of wild horse herds as its primary management strategy, even as the continuation of this strategy threatens to break the bank. The Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program outlined by the BLM last year included several new animal welfare policies associated with its wild horse and burro program, and promised a sea change in the day-to-day management of our wild horse herds. Though the program had some shortcomings, we believed it was a step in the right direction, yet it’s not been put into practice in a meaningful way.
The feds have set a target of gathering 2,400 horses and burros this year – fewer than in prior years, but still too many. The deaths of the horses in Wyoming, and the recent deaths of animals transported from a long-term holding pasture in Kansas, are painful reminders that unless steps are taken immediately to implement the Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program, and to reduce roundups and removals in favor of fertility control, more loss of life and suffering and big expenditures are bound to recur.