Members of Congress Call on Salazar to Stop Wild Horse Roundups Pending Review of BLM

Rep. Raul M. Grijalva and Rep. Nick Rahall today sent a letter to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar urging an immediate halt to wild horse roundups pending a review of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) practices that have led to dozens of horse deaths over the past year.

The letter, co-signed by Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall and 52 other Representatives, calls on Salazar to stop roundups "until the agency demonstrates that it has addressed the failings of the current program and can ensure the safety and well-being of the animals [BLM is] charged with protecting."

Animal Law Coalition along with other animal welfare organizations, individual advocates and members of the public have been calling for some time for President Barack Obama or Secy. Salazar to stop the roundups pending an investigation by Congress and development of a humane, sustainable plan for the wild horses and burros that is consistent with the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act, 16 U.S.C Sec. 1331 et seq. Something other than BLM’s plan to round them up, place them in long term holding facilities or send them to live in non-reproducing herds in preserves in the midwest or East which Secy Salazar says could simply be feedlots. 

During the July 10 BLM roundup of the Tuscarora herd in northeastern Nevada, the agency captured and corralled approximately 228 wild horses during an extreme heat wave after running them more than 8 miles without any public oversight or ability to observe. The roundup has resulted in the deaths of 34 mustangs to date, most due to water intoxication, including several foals less than six months old.

Grijalva in the letter says BLM "must account for temperature extremes and the impacts of stampeding young, elderly or injured animals across long distances when planning roundups." He also says BLM "needs to ensure transparency by allowing members of the public to observe agency activities" – an issue frequently raised when horse advocates are barred from adequate viewing opportunities during roundups, as required by law.

The letter argues that current roundup policies are unsustainable not only because of health risks to the horses but also because of As the letter says, "BLM’s aggressive use of roundups has resulted in unsustainable increases in the number of horses in holding facilities (now at 38,000) and continues to undermine the BLM’s overall budget. Unfortunately, the frequency of roundups has only increased under this administration."

As part of the effort to reform BLM’s wild horse management program, Grijalva and Rahall recommend a review of BLM policies by the National Academy of Sciences. Such a review, the letter says, could provide "a clear determination of the most accurate, science-based methodologies to estimate wild horse and burro populations, provide an assessment of Appropriate Management Levels based on the goal of maintaining sustainable herds and provide an assessment of practical, effective, nonlethal and publicly acceptable management alternatives to current BLM policies."

In July of 2009, the House passed the ROAM Act, a bill to bar BLM from euthanizing tens of thousands of healthy wild horses, step up fertility control measures, encourage more adoptions, and provide up to 19 million additional acres on which more than 60,000 wild horses and burros, under federal control, could roam freely. Grijalva was the original cosponsor of the bill, which Rep. Rahall introduced in February 2009.

The bill provides a first-time legal definition for the term "thriving natural ecological balance," which appears in the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 without specific explanation. The ROAM Act makes clear that management of horses and burros should seek to achieve balanced, multiple use of public lands, ensuring the health of ranges and wild horses alike. The Senate has not taken up the measure. There are concerns about the bill. For more on this….