Congress Must Act Now to Prevent Reckless Government Agency from Imperiling Survival of America's Wild Horses and Burros

Monday, August 2, 2010

Washington, D.C. -- The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), along with leading Members of Congress, numerous wild horse advocacy organizations and the majority of Americans, is exceedingly frustrated with the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) gross mismanagement of America’s wild horses and burros. In a recent ad in the Washington, D.C., newspaper, The Hill, AWI called on Congress to take swift and decisive action to prevent the BLM from “managing” our nation’s wild horses into extinction.

"AWI has long been critical of the BLM's inability to responsibly manage wild horses on the range, and the agency's recent actions have amplified concern for the future of America’s wild horses," said Chris Heyde, deputy director of government and legal affairs for AWI. "BLM’s more aggressive campaign of rounding up and warehousing wild horses began under the Obama administration and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. Recent reports of horses dying during roundups due to broken necks and legs, sloughed hooves, and most recently water intoxication (allowing the horses to drink a toxic amount of water following a strenuous run), are unconscionable."

Thankfully, several members of Congress are stepping up to defend these national treasures.  House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall (D-WV) and Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) have led the way in holding the BLM accountable for its actions. They sponsored the Restore our American Mustangs Act (ROAM Act), which passed the House of Representatives by an overwhelming margin last year and have just sent a bipartisan letter signed by 52 of their colleagues to Secretary Salazar. The letter raises serious questions about the recent tragic deaths of several wild horses and addresses the dire need for an independent analysis of the wild horse and burro program by the National Academy of Sciences. As stated in the bipartisan letter, "We are concerned by the inability of your agency to acknowledge these disturbing outcomes, change what seems to be deeply flawed policy, and better manage the gathers so as to prevent the unnecessary suffering and death of these federally protected animals." AWI shares these concerns.

Yet despite all of this public and Congressional attention, the BLM continues to recklessly round up and remove thousands of wild horses from their legally mandated rangeland. In fact, Secretary Salazar has proposed spending millions of taxpayer dollars to build additional long term holding facilities in the Midwest and East to facilitate even more wild horse removals, which will add to the staggering 38,000 animals already in confinement.

Ever defiant, just last week, BLM Director Bob Abby sent a letter to all Members of Congress decrying increased public scrutiny of the wild horse and burro program. In this letter Director Abby wrote, "Some wild horse activists are waging a campaign in the court of public opinion, aimed at stopping the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from gathering"wild horses and burros from overpopulated herds on Western public rangelands.”

"The Obama administration came into office promising greater transparency and accountability, which is entirely contrary to the BLM's preference to keep its abuse of wild horses and burros behind closed doors,” contends D.J. Schubert, AWI’s wildlife biologist. "If the BLM is convinced that its wild horse management program is essential for the good of the horses and the land, it should provide the public with reasonable opportunities to observe its roundups – the good, bad, and ugly – instead of complaining when advocates expose the program’s inherent cruelties and deficiencies," adds Schubert.

AWI asserts that, like its sister Department of Interior agency, the former Minerals Management Service (MMS), the integrity of the BLM’s wild horse and burro program has been compromised by its relationships with special interests that occupy or use wild horse and burro range. A few thousand wild horses are being blamed for every natural and unnatural problem facing the Western ranges, while ranchers, oil and gas companies, and other commercial entities abuse the public’s lands with inadequate oversight. The BLM’s obvious favoritism toward these more politically connected and financially lucrative industries continues to jeopardize the survival of America’s last wild horses and burros.

"Based upon its record, it is no wonder the BLM balks whenever the demand for genuine accountability is discussed," states Heyde. "While the BLM has repeatedly ignored the public’s demands, we hope that the requests of Members of Congress will not be so easily dismissed."

##30##

Media Contact:
Chris Heyde, AWI, (202) 337-2332