Congress is Back: What This Means for Wild Horses

(Jan. 11, 2018) ... Congress is back in session this week, with Members of the House and Senate set to return to Washington to continue negotiations on the  budget for Fiscal Year 2018, which officially began on October 1, 2017. After a last minute deal before Christmas to pass a stopgap funding bill to keep the federal government open until January 19th, they must now do it all over again—and again, the fate America’s wild horses and burros hangs in the balance. It’s a particularly perilous moment, with controversial issues such as a border wall, immigration, and defense spending getting enormous national attention, critical issues like protection of wild horses and their habitat can get lost in the noise.

Here’s why these next two weeks are so important: Congressman Chris Stewart (R-UT) sponsored a provision in the House version of the Bureau of Land Management’s annual spending bill that allows the agency to “manage” wild horse and burros on the western range by killing tens of thousands of these cherished animals. The Senate version of the bill, written by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and supported by AWHC, keeps the long-standing ban on the destruction and slaughter of healthy wild horses and burros. Now the two bills must be reconciled before Congress can pass the budget and they must decide whether the House or Senate version becomes law, likely in an “omnibus” spending bill. The lives of thousands of wild horses and burros are on the line in this decision.

There are three likely outcomes prior to January 19th when the "continuing resolution” (CR) runs out, and three of them are positive for horses and burros: 

1.    Congress passes another stopgap funding (CR) through the end of January or even into February to keep the government running while negotiations on a final FY 2018 spending bill continue. 

2.    Congress passes an omnibus spending bill for 2018 that continues current protections for wild horses;

3.    Congress fails to reach agreement and passes a CR through September 2018—this protects horses because it continues current law for the rest of the year; or

Congress passes a bill that allows BLM to begin killing horses they deem excess—nearly 90,000 as of today.

Negotiations between the House and Senate, and further negotiations between Democrats and Republicans are ongoing at this hour. The AWHC is actively working for option #2 and helping support Senators and Representatives like Senators Murkowski  and Udall who are seeking the same outcome A full year CR is also an acceptable outcome, as it protects horses and burros at least until October 1, 2018. We continue to remain concerned that the fourth option may pass however. Secretary of the Interior Zinke and his special interest cronies are working overtime to push Congress into allowing slaughter, and they are closer to succeeding than in many, many years. Slaughter is opposed by nearly 80 percent  of the public and approving it would be a classic Washington backroom deal.

As of today, the most likely scenario is that the Congress will pass another short-term CR to keep the government running while it finalizes FY 2018 spending legislation. This could push a final decision on the fate of wild horses and burros off until the end of the month, or longer.

AWHC is on the ground in Washington, making the case for wild horses to the key staff and Members everyday. We're also monitoring the Hill in anticipation of a BLM Report to Congress, which was due months ago but is now expected in the next week or so, detailing the agency's plan for achieving "long-term sustainable wild horse and burro populations on the range in a humane manner." The report will likely contain a number of destructive proposals for wild horses and burros, including the removal of 50,000 animals from the range, which would reduce wild populations to extinction levels, and the sterilization of large numbers of wild horses and burros on the range via castration and surgical removal of ovaries - methods that take the "wild" out of wild horses by destroying their natural behaviors. It's also expected that BLM will maintain its request for permission to kill thousands of wild horses and burros in holding facilities and on the range. 

We are fighting wealthy ranchers and Big Agribusiness and we need your help, and especially your voice, to ensure Congress makes the right decision and protects wild horse and burro populations in the wild. Thank you to everyone who has already called, written and visited their members of Congress and please stand by for alerts for further action. We want you to weigh in at the time when it will make the most difference and will not get lost in the noise of all the other issues swirling around Washington at this time. So stay ready, stay energized and stay tuned!