Las Vegas Sun

January 23, 2022

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Wild horses’ future in hands of senators

The great state of Nevada is home to half of the nation’s federally protected wild horses and is ground zero in the national debate over how these Western icons should be managed.

Nevada’s two U.S. senators, Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, have an upcoming opportunity to ensure that the wishes of their constituents — 82% of whom want wild horses protected as important symbols for the state and the nation — are upheld by supporting reform within the federal Wild Horse and Burro Program managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

These treasured animals have been mismanaged and inhumanely treated for decades, but Cortez Masto and Rosen can play influential roles in how they are protected and managed going forward.

This summer, the House of Representatives took a strong step toward such reform when it passed an amendment to fiscal year 2021 spending legislation requiring the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program to spend $11 million of its $102 million-a-year budget on humane fertility control as an alternative to cruel helicopter roundups that are used annually to remove thousands of wild horses from public lands.

In the words of veteran Nevada journalist John L.Smith, the House amendment “signals a new chapter for the treatment of horses and burros” and “shows members of Congress want to fix it instead of continuing to treat it by spending hundreds of millions of dollars chasing the horses around.”

Cortez Masto and Rosen can ensure that the Senate builds on this progress supporting inclusion of a similar amendment in its version of the fiscal year 2021 spending bill, which will be finalized after the election.

For 50 years, the BLM has used helicopters to inefficiently and expensively chase down and round up terrified horses to remove them from the range. Not only do these aerial assaults stress horses, they cause injuries and deaths as horses are stampeded into holding pens. The latest incident occurred Sept. 14 at the Diamond Complex outside of Eureka, where shocking footage captures a small, young bay horse being trampled in a crowded trap pen during a routine helicopter roundup.

Removed from their native range, horses who survive the roundups then live out the rest of their days at taxpayer expense in government corrals.

This cruelty is bad enough, but is made even worse because the roundups achieve the opposite effect intended. Rather than reduce population growth on the range, the roundups foster population growth; research shows that herds grow even more quickly after roundups.

The whole brutal and unsustainable practice costs us all dearly: an estimated $102 million per year and growing, only to exacerbate a growing problem we are trying to humanely solve.

Just a few years ago, the National Academy of Sciences stated that “continuation of ‘business as usual’ practices” regarding roundups “will be expensive and unproductive for BLM and the public it serves.”

As a better approach, the academy recommended the use of PZP, which is harmless to horses and is effective at controlling their populations, but the agency has spent virtually nothing on this approach.

The Wild Horse Amendment, which was recently approved by the House, is consistent with scientific recommendations and previous guidance from Congress urging the BLM to increase its use of PZP.

The amendment also addresses concerns raised by a recent BLM report outlining a plan to accelerate roundups and remove as many as 90,000 wild horses and burros from public lands at a cost of nearly a billion dollars. With no guarantee of funding for the lifetime care of wild horses and burros removed from public lands, the BLM’s plan would increase the risk of mass slaughter of these American icons, something that 80% of Americans oppose.

Democrats and Republicans supported the House amendment, and we believe a Senate measure would also enjoy bipartisan support. Humane treatment of treasured animals and thoughtful use of taxpayer dollars is something all Americans can get behind.

We urge Cortez Masto and Rosen to lead in the Senate in making this common sense and cost-effective reform.

Greg Hendricks of Carson City is director of Field Operations for the American Wild Horse Campaign.