The bill was introduced by U.S. Representative Chris Stewart (R-UT) on behalf of ranchers and their local representatives, including the Iron County Board of Commissioners, whose members have been emboldened by outlaw rancher Cliven Bundy and have threatened to kill or illegally round up federally-protected wild horses from BLM lands.
“This bill advances the agenda of an extremist minority and represents an end run around Congress and the American people. It aims to overturn the Congressional prohibition on the slaughter of America’s cherished wild horses and burros,” said Suzanne Roy, AWHPC Director.
“Putting states and tribes in charge of managing federally-protected wild horses and burros would turn back the clock four decades to a time when these animals were brutally rounded up and sold for slaughter,” she continued, noting that the abhorrent treatment of wild horses in the 1950’s and 1960’s, as accurately portrayed in the famous film The Misfits, sparked national outrage and resulted in the passage of the 1971 Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act.
“This legislation has been introduced on behalf of ranchers who want unfettered access to our public lands and who view wild horses as competition for cheap, taxpayer-subsidized grazing,” said Deniz Bolbol, AWHPC communications director. “Ranchers already receive nearly 80 percent of the forage allocations in designated wild horse habitat areas. This new attack is fueled by greed and callous disregard for the wishes of the American people, who strongly support protecting and preserving America’s wild horses and burros on our federal lands.”
According to AWHPC, 72% of Americans support protecting and preserving wild horses on public land and 80 percent oppose horse slaughter, while just 29% of Americans want public lands used for livestock grazing.
The coalition charges that wild horses are being scapegoated for damage caused by livestock grazing, which occurs on 155 million acres of BLM land, while wild horses graze on just 26.9 million acres of BLM land.
In Utah, 22 million acres of BLM land is grazed by livestock, while wild horses inhabit just 10 percent – or 2.2 million -- of those acres.
Recently, the BLM revealed that in designated wild horse and burro Herd Management Areas 77% of forage is allocated to livestock, leaving less than a quarter of forage resources for federally protected wild horses and burros.
AWHPC said that instead of this extremist legislation designed to hijack federal authority and the will of the American public, Congress should be focused on policies to:
• Implement the reforms recommended in the June 2013 National Academy of Sciences "Using Science to Reform the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program: A Way Forward" to make the program sustainable, scientifically-based and reflective of the will of the American people.
• Promote tolerance and equity in resource allocation in Herd Management Areas.
• Explore grazing buyouts, voluntary retirement of grazing permits, allotment swaps and tax credits to alleviate conflicts between ranchers and wild horses on the small amount of BLM land that is designated as HMAs.
The Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act declares that "wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West; that they contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people; and that these horses and burros are fast disappearing from the American scene. It is the policy of Congress that wild free-roaming horses and burros shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment, or death; and to accomplish this they are to be considered in the area where presently found, as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands."
At the time of its passage, Congress received more mail in favor of protecting wild horses and burros than it did on any other issue at the time besides the Vietnam War.
The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC) is a coalition of more than 60 horse advocacy, public interest, and conservation organizations dedicated to preserving the American wild horse in viable, free-roaming herds for generations to come, as part of our national heritage. AWHPC was founded by Return to Freedom, a national non-profit dedicated to wild horse preservation through sanctuary, education and conservation. RTF operates the American Wild Horse Sanctuary in Lompoc, CA and is AWHPC’s parent organization.