New House bill aims to protect and preserve wild horses

The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Protection Act of 2022 will help reform the federal government’s management of wild horses and burros as 2022 sees record numbers of captured wild horses and burros, animal welfare violations, and deadly disease outbreaks.

The nation’s leading wild horse protection organization, the American Wild Horse Campaign and the Animal Welfare Institute applaud the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva and U.S. Representatives David Schweikert, Joe Neguse, Steve Cohen, Dina Titus, and Brian Fitzpatrick  for introducing a comprehensive bipartisan bill, the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Protection Act of 2022, which will protect wild horses and burros from slaughter, prioritize their humane management, restore western habitat, promote partnerships with American veterans and nonprofit organizations, and increase transparency within the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service’s Wild Horse and Burro Programs. The bill contains the most effective and commonsense reforms seen in years.

“We commend Chairman Grijalva and U.S. Reps. Schweikert, Neguse, Cohen, Titus, and Fitzpatrick 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.”

“More than 50 years ago, Congress unanimously passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act to preserve America’s iconic mustangs. Unfortunately, over the years, the federal government has fallen far short of its mandate to protect horses from harassment and death,” said Cathy Liss, president of the Animal Welfare Institute. “The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Protection Act of 2022 represents a long overdue upgrade to the law so that wild horses and burros can be managed humanely in their natural habitats for Americans to enjoy. We applaud Chairman Grijalva, along with Representatives Schweikert, Titus, Fitzpatrick, Cohen, and Neguse for their foresight and vision; this comprehensive bill will deliver meaningful change for how our herds are managed and promote real transparency and accountability for a federal program that has cost taxpayers billions.”

“Wild horses and burros are American icons and an irreplaceable part of our nation’s landscape,” said Grijalva. “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.”

“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,” said Schweikert. “I’m proud to work on this bipartisan bill with my colleagues to secure protections for these important and threatened animals.”

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

“America’s wild horses and burros are majestic icons of our country and deserve protection to ensure their health and vibrancy,” said Cohen. “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.”

“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,” said Titus. “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.”

“It is crucial that we continue to provide federal resources and ensure the protection of our nation’s wild horses,” said Fitzpatrick. “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.”

The BLM and USFS are the federal government agencies charged with managing America’s wild horses and burros that inhabit public lands in 10 western states, but the programs have been fraught with controversy for years. Wild horses and burros are federally protected under the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, which sought to protect and preserve these animals, but the law has been significantly weakened by amendments over the years, deviating from the intent of the 1971 Act.

Among numerous other reforms, the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Protection Act of 2022 aims to repeal the Burns Amendment, a 2004 amendment introduced by former Senator Conrad Burns that allows for sale of wild equines “without limitation” on slaughter. While a prohibition on the commercial destruction of wild horse and burro slaughter is currently in place, this ban must be renewed by Congress each year through the Appropriations process — presenting a yearly challenge subject to the whim of politics.

More so, an AWHC 22-month investigative report into the BLM’s Adoption Incentive Program shows that since 2019, at least 1,020 animals removed from federal rangelands and adopted into private care were funneled into the slaughter pipeline. The bill would prohibit the use of cash incentives — eliminating the financial motivation of individuals who are looking to defraud the government — while still allowing other types of incentives that would benefit adopters and animals alike, such as vouchers for veterinary care.

Currently, there are nearly 64,000 wild horses and burros living in government holding facilities in the U.S., utilizing the vast majority of the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program budget each year, with removals and holding costing $93 million in FY2022. According to AWHC, the BLM system simply cannot safely hold the thousands of additional wild horses that the agency intends to capture this year. Meanwhile, the agency’s holding facilities have been associated with mass preventable deaths and widespread animal welfare violations such as inadequate vaccinations, inadequate access to hay, and understaffing. This year in Cañon City, Colorado, nearly 150 horses died due to lack of proper vaccinations. The bill would help make deadly disease outbreaks like this one a thing of the past.

The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Protection Act of 2022 Act is part of a solution to many problems afflicting the Wild Horse and Burro Programs.

The bill would:

  • Protect wild horses and burros from slaughter, repeal the Burns Amendment, and eliminate killing as a method of population management.
  • End the cash incentives for adoption; the cash incentive attracts nefarious horse buyers that often send horses into the slaughter pipeline.
  • Prioritize on-range management options, such as fertility control and relocation, which would end the cycle of removing these animals from their habitat and confining them in holding facilities.
  • Encourage partnerships with military veterans and non-governmental organizations.
  • Prioritize humane management of wild horses by requiring more humane, passive gather techniques when removals are required.

Increase transparency and accountability in the Wild Horse and Burro Programs by:

  • Requiring detailed public reporting of deaths or injuries of wild horses and burros during capture operations and posting public notice before removals occur.
  • Strengthening the Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program guidelines and making these enforceable through regulations.
  • Create self-sustaining wild populations, protect wildlife, and achieve true ecological balance within habitat areas.

About the American Wild Horse Campaign
The American Wild Horse Campaign 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.

About the Animal Welfare Institute
The Animal Welfare Institute 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.