New House Bill Aims to Protect and Preserve Wild Horses

Wild mare and foal
Photo by Ronnie Howard

Critical legislation would reform the government’s management of wild horses and burros amid record numbers of captured animals, welfare violations, and disease outbreaks.

Washington, DC—The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) and the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) applaud today’s introduction of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Protection Act of 2022, which — if passed — would represent the most meaningful update to federal law governing wild equine management in more than 50 years.

The bill — introduced by US Reps. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources; David Schweikert (R-AZ); Joe Neguse (D-CO); Steve Cohen (D-TN); Dina Titus (D-NV); and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) — would protect wild horses and burros from slaughter, prioritize humane management, restore western habitat, promote partnerships with American veterans and nonprofit organizations, and increase transparency in the wild horse and burro programs run by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and US Forest Service (USFS).

Wild horses and burros inhabiting public lands in 10 western states are federally protected under the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. But the law has been significantly weakened by amendments over the years, and the BLM and USFS management programs have been fraught with controversy.

“The federal government has fallen far short of its mandate to protect horses from harassment and death,” AWI President Cathy Liss said. “The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Protection Act of 2022 represents a long overdue upgrade to the law so that wild equines can be managed humanely in their natural habitats for Americans to enjoy. We applaud Chairman Grijalva and the other House sponsors for their foresight and vision; this comprehensive bill will deliver meaningful change in how herds are managed and promote real transparency and accountability from a federal program that has cost taxpayers billions.”

“We commend Chairman Grijalva and U.S. Reps. Schweikert, Cohen, Fitzpatrick, Titus, and Neguse for introducing bipartisan legislation that sets forth a better way to manage our nation’s wild horses and burros,” said Suzanne Roy, executive director for AWHC. “This bill promotes much-needed humane, commonsense, and fiscally responsible reforms that would stop the endless cycle of removals and keep these beloved symbols of freedom in the wild where they belong.”

Among numerous other reforms, the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Protection Act of 2022 aims to repeal the Burns Amendment, introduced in 2004 by Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT) to allow wild equines to be sold “without limitation” on slaughter. In subsequent years, Congress has used the appropriations process to prevent the commercial destruction of unadopted wild horses and burros, but this is a stopgap measure that must be renewed annually.

“It is crucial that we continue to provide federal resources and ensure the protection of our nation’s wild horses,” Fitzpatrick said. “I am proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation which will reform management techniques and accountability measures with regard to the sensible, humane treatment of wild equines.”

Currently, nearly 64,000 wild horses and burros are kept in holding facilities in the United States — a management approach that absorbs the vast majority of the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program budget each year ($93 million in fiscal year 2022). These facilities cannot keep pace with the BLM’s increasing captures, and have been associated with mass preventable deaths and widespread animal welfare violations such as inadequate vaccinations, insufficient access to hay, and understaffing. Earlier this year, nearly 150 horses in a BLM facility in Colorado died due to lack of proper vaccinations.

“Coloradans are uniquely aware of the vital role of wild horses and burros in the American West,” Neguse said. “We must update protections enacted decades ago to better reflect current herd-management needs and ensure the ethical and humane treatment of these animals.”

A 2021 New York Times investigation detailed how wild horses have been funneled from holding facilities into the slaughter pipeline after being acquired by unscrupulous adopters. The proposed legislation would prohibit the BLM’s use of cash incentives, while allowing for other types of incentives that would benefit both adopters and animals, such as vouchers for veterinary care.

“Wild horses and burros are American icons and an irreplaceable part of our nation’s landscape,” Grijalva said. “These special creatures deserve federal protections that recognize their importance and ensure they are treated humanely. I’m grateful to my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for working together to craft modern-day solutions that keep wild horses and burros on the range.”

The bill would also prioritize on-range management options, such as fertility control and relocation, strengthen and enforce comprehensive animal welfare guidelines, and require detailed public reporting of deaths and injuries of wild horses and burros during capture operations, among other measures.

“America’s wild horses and burros are majestic icons of our country and deserve protection to ensure their health and vibrancy,” Cohen said. “This legislation will modernize the 50-year-old protections and provide the Bureau of Land Management meaningful requirements to ensure the animals are safe in their environment.”

“This legislation is about more than just saving these incredible creatures who roam free today, it’s about ensuring the great wild horses and burros of Arizona and America live on for generations to come,” added Schweikert. “I’m proud to work on this bipartisan bill with my colleagues to secure protections for these important and threatened animals.”

Titus said: “Nevada is home to the largest population of wild horses in the nation and I have seen time and time again how they continue to be endangered, both during roundups and after they have been removed from the land. This bill will ensure that these creatures are treated with respect and care. I will continue to fight for animal welfare and the protection of these iconic denizens of the Wild West.”

Media Contact Information

The Animal Welfare Institute (awionline.org) is a nonprofit charitable organization founded in 1951 and dedicated to reducing animal suffering caused by people. AWI engages policymakers, scientists, industry, and the public to achieve better treatment of animals everywhere—in the laboratory, on the farm, in commerce, at home, and in the wild. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for updates and other important animal protection news.

The American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) is the nation's leading wild horse protection organization, with more than 700,000 supporters and followers nationwide. AWHC is dedicated to preserving the American wild horse and burros in viable, free-roaming herds for generations to come, as part of our national heritage. In addition to advocating for the protection and preservation of America's wild herds, AWHC implements the largest wild horse fertility control program in the world through a partnership with the State of Nevada for wild horses that live in the Virginia Range near Reno.

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