Buried in the Trump administration’s proposed 2018 budget is a shocking plan to remove longstanding safeguards designed to prevent federally-protected wild horses and burros from being killed or sold for slaughter. The proposal affects over 45,000 horses currently held captive by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), as well as an estimated 59,000 mustangs who’ve lived freely and independently for generations on public lands across 10 states – more than 100,000 horses in all.
Why would the BLM even consider something so obviously inhumane? Because apparently, it’s more convenient to kill defenseless horses than to responsibly address a man-made problem in their management.
The BLM’s primary argument – that insufficient rangeland for horses and burros necessitates their inevitable removal and slaughter – is incredibly hypocritical. It’s by the BLM’s own hand that these lands have been repurposed for the cattle industry and other uses, and the BLM has, for decades, been using helicopters to terrify, round up, and remove tens of thousands of wild horses and burros.
These actions are in complete contradiction to the spirit of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, which was enacted to not only protect wild horses and burros from harassment and death, but also to preserve the federal land these animals inhabit.
Even though the BLM – an agency under the U.S. Department of the Interior – is charged with protecting and responsibly managing America’s wild horse population, it has consistently ignored calls for a far more humane immunocontraception (birth control) plan. The new federal budget actually proposes reducing the use of birth control methods, in direct opposition to the recommendations of equine advocates and scientists, including the National Academy of Sciences.
These innocent horses should not pay the price of bureaucracy and poor land management with their lives. Nor should animal lives ever be seen as a line item in a cost-cutting proposal. America’s horses deserve better, and we owe them more.
Some may brush off this alarm, saying that Congress will never accept President Trump’s budget or that it’s merely the opening move in a larger negotiation scheme. But both scenarios still reveal frighteningly callous priorities, so I urge you to reach out to your local Congressional representatives, and tell them that protecting wild horses from grave danger is not only the government’s concern; it’s their job.
Matt Bershadker is President and CEO of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).