Breaking It Down: BLM’s Path to Destruction for America’s Wild Herds

At A Glance

  • BLM submitted long overdue report to Congress on wild horse & burro management

  • It calls for mass roundups, 70% cull to herds, & surgical sterilization; will cost $1 billion in five years

  • Congress must force BLM reform, but deal between Big Ag and Big Humane blocked action last year

  • FY 2021 appropriations provide another opportunity to change BLM policy. Take action here

3 Takeaways on BLM's Report to Congress

(May 18, 2020)... The BLM’s long-overdue report to Congress was released last week, and the agency’s plan is as predictable as the sunrise: mass removals, a tripling of the wild horse population in holding facilities, use of fertility control as an afterthought following mass roundups. As House Energy and Natural Resources Chair Raul Grijalva noted, “This report envisions massive roundups without a viable plan for dealing with the horses once they’ve left the range. It’s almost as if the BLM is setting itself up for failure.”

In fact, by proposing a billion-dollar plan to slash America’s wild herds by 70 percent and prioritizing outdated and unscientific roundups and cruel surgical sterilization over sustainable and humane fertility control, the BLM is unquestionably setting the stage for the ultimate destruction of America’s wild horse and burro populations and the mass slaughter of these national icons. 

Takeaway #1: Continuing on a Path of Failure


The BLM’s new plan is based on two faulty premises: the need to reduce wild populations to the “Appropriate” Management Level (AML) of 27,000 animals on 27 million acres of land, and the reliance on mass roundups and removals to get there.

Both premises have been discredited by the nation’s top scientific body - the National Academy of Sciences - which concluded that the BLM’s national wild horse and burro AML was “not based on science” and mass removals were making the BLM’s management woes worse by facilitating high population growth rates on the range, thereby increasing the number of animals being removed to holding facilities. 

Undaunted by science and unwilling to change course, the BLM’s latest plan to Congress is just a polished up version of its failed previous management strategies. The agency proposes to: 

  • Roundup 20,000 - 30,000 horses and burros per year;
  • Permanently remove 18,000 to 20,000 “until AML is achieved;”
  • Treat 3,500 - 9,000 captured animals per year with “various temporary long-term or permanent fertility control methods”; BLM’s stated preference is for surgically sterilizing wild mares using the brutal ovariectomy via colpotomy procedure. 
  • Sell and adopt 6,000 - 7,000 animals annually.
  • Expand holding capacity by increasing contracts for short-term holding pen facilities and long-term pastures to warehouse the massive number of horses number of animals that will be removed from the range; 
  • Continue research into improving long-term fertility control treatments and humane permanent sterilization (with a particular emphasis on modern chemical sterilization methods).

The cost of the plan over the next five years? A staggering $1 billion. 

The plan is devoid of science and new ideas. Among its profound deficiencies:

  • No hard commitment to implement scientifically recommended, reversible fertility control to sustainably manage wild herds on the range.
  • References undefined “long term or permanent fertility control” methods but makes clear that BLM intends to surgically sterilize wild mares using an invasive and dangerous surgery to remove their ovaries.
  • Ignores options for saving tax dollars by reducing the number of horses targeted for removal. This can be accomplished by modest adjustments to livestock grazing levels on the 17% of BLM land that wild horses and livestock share.
  • Omits win-win solutions like compensating ranchers for reduced use or retirement of grazing permits and developing cooperative fertility control programs that pay ranchers for helping to implement them. 

Instead, it’s all about ‘getting to AML’ -  the BLM’s holy grail - no matter the cost, even if that cost is mass slaughter of America's cherished icons. 

Takeaway #2:  Only Congress can require the BLM to change course, but Big Beef and Big Humane cut a deal that blocked real action.   


The BLM’s report to Congress is a required step for the agency to unlock the $21 million increase for wild horse and burro management appropriated last year at the request of the Humane Society of the U.S., the ASPCA, Return to Freedom, based on a “compromise” plan they developed with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the American Farm Bureau and other livestock interests.

The new BLM report mirrors key elements of the Path Forward plan advanced by the Humane Society et al and the livestock industry, yet the Big Humane groups are now bemoaning its contents.  

“The report doesn’t cut it,” writes Kitty Block, Humane Society CEO in a recent blog, bemoaning the lack of guarantee that BLM will use humane, reversible fertility control implemented immediately to slow population growth rates on the range.”There is no commitment from the agency to use widely accepted, humane and reversible fertility control tools,” Block writes, while also stating opposition to the agency’s intent to permanently sterilize wild mares on the range. 

However, last year, when Ms. Block’s coalition lobbied for a massive increase to the BLM’s wild horse management budget (before even seeing the agency’s plan!), they lobbied against efforts by Chairman Grijalva and others to require the BLM to use funding to implement humane and reversible fertility control tools  -- thus blocking the very guarantee they now say is lacking. Then the groups touted the passage of the funding increase as a victory for “fertility control” even though the legislation lacked the language to require BLM to implement it. 

Of note: Rep. Grijalva’s proposed language also would have prohibited the BLM from surgically sterilizing wild mares, which these groups now say they oppose. 

Throughout the appropriations process, AWHC warned that, in the absence of strings attached to require BLM to implement humane fertility control, the agency would use the funding increase to accelerate the unsustainable roundup and removal of wild horses and burros from public lands. This was entirely predictable, given the BLM”s past history of claiming it would “fix” the wild horse program if only Congress would give the agency more money, then spending most of the money to round up tens of thousands of wild horses, ignoring science and making the problem worse. History is repeating itself with the BLM’s new report to Congress and its focus on mass removals. 

Take Away # 3: Congress can still right this ship, but time is running out. 


Thanks to Rep. Grijalva and a dozen of his House colleagues, Congress will have 60 days from on or about May 8, to review the BLM’s new report before funding becomes available. There is a small window for influencing how the BLM will spend the extra $21 million and evaluate whether BLM has complied with the requirement that it deliver a detailed plan to Congress for non-lethal management of wild horses and burros. 

The Fiscal Year 2021 appropriations process provides another opportunity to force BLM to change direction. Members of the House and the Senate have requested the following language to be added to FY21 spending legislation, which is being written now on Capitol Hill: 

No less than 10% of the Bureau’s budget shall be spent to implement scientifically proven, humane, reversible fertility control, and the Bureau shall report to this Committee within 12 months of enactment the detailed methodology and results of such a program. Of that 10%, the Bureau shall prioritize pilot public-private partnerships with non-profit organizations for the implementation of scientifically proven, humane, reversible fertility control programs where appropriate. No funds shall be used for surgical sterilization procedures on free-roaming horses and burros.

It’s time for the Humane Society, ASPCA, and Return to Freedom to move away from their "compromise" with the livestock industry (which, unsurprisingly, has embraced the BLM's new plan) and endorse this language to actually accomplish what the groups say they support.

Here’s how you can help: 

  1. Click here to ask your elected representatives on Capitol Hill to support this appropriations request.

  2. Thank Rep. Grijalva for being the top champion in Congress for the protection of America’s wild horses and burros. As Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, which has oversight over the BLM, he is a powerful ally!