Washington, DC—The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) and the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) applaud the Senate Appropriations Committee for including critical directives in the fiscal year 2022 Interior appropriations bill to protect our nation’s wild horses.
In a historic move, Senate appropriators provided $11 million for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)—which manages most of America’s wild horses—to administer reversible fertility control vaccines, such as the widely supported Porcine Zona Pellucida (PZP) immunocontraceptive vaccine, which is 90% effective at preventing pregnancy in horses.
Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) championed the inclusion of funding to “implement a robust and humane fertility control strategy.” The request was supported by numerous lawmakers from western states, as well as key members of the Appropriations Committee. The committee explicitly noted that reversible immunocontraceptive vaccines are available for the BLM to use immediately as a means of curbing population growth. The BLM must report back within 45 days with its strategy for a vaccination initiative—a move to ensure the agency is held accountable.
To date, the BLM has declined to implement effective fertility control measures that would keep herds on the range; instead, the agency routinely removes wild horses through brutal helicopter roundups that separate family bands and regularly result in injuries and fatalities to the horses.
The BLM currently spends less than 1% of its Wild Horse and Burro Program budget on fertility control, but spends approximately $60 million annually on removing federally protected wild horses from public lands designated for their use and shifting the animals into off-range holding facilities for the rest of their lives.
In July, House appropriators likewise set aside significant funding to scale up the use of proven and safe fertility control vaccines, meaning both the House and Senate bills are aligned in directing the BLM to pursue a more humane approach to wild horse and burro management.
Importantly, the Senate’s language also recognizes that a strategy premised on removals is counterproductive because it has the “unintended effect of increasing foaling.” This echoes the National Academy of Sciences’ key finding that roundups accelerate population growth rates through a biological phenomenon called compensatory reproduction.
In addition to maintaining longstanding critical provisions intended to prevent wild horses and burros from being sent to slaughter, the Senate bill further calls for the Department of the Interior to form an interagency council to address wild horse and burro management.
However, the Senate Interior appropriations language was not uniformly positive for wild horses. The committee noted its support for the prior administration’s report to Congress on wild horse management, which called for accelerated removals at a cost of nearly $1 billion in the first five years alone and would balloon the number of wild horses being warehoused in holding facilities. Notwithstanding this ill-advised stance, the House and Senate’s comprehensive directives would otherwise result in meaningful reforms to the broken federal Wild Horse and Burro Program.
“This is the first time that Congress has set aside dedicated funding for the Bureau of Land Management to develop a humane fertility control program—something that is desperately needed to break the costly and ineffective cycle of roundups and keep wild horses in their natural habitats,” said Joanna Grossman, PhD, equine program manager and senior advisor at AWI. “The BLM has largely refused to employ proven and safe immunocontraceptive vaccines, so we are grateful that House and Senate lawmakers have acted decisively to remedy this problem and set the BLM on a more sustainable path towards managing wild horses.”
“We applaud the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee for taking a historic step toward reforming the Wild Horse and Burro Program by providing $11 million in funding for reversible fertility control vaccines—a humane on-range management strategy that will ultimately help keep these animals in the wild where they belong,” said Holly Gann Bice, director of government relations for AWHC. “We’re deeply grateful to Senator Booker, subcommittee Chair Jeff Merkley, and others for providing the necessary leadership to place the BLM on a better track for the humane management of our Western herds.”
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.