Opinion: Wild horse roundups are cruel and deadly. And the deaths don't stop when helicopters land

Originally published May 22, 2024, Reno Gazette Journal

By Tracy Wilson, NV State Director, AWHC

Last year, 267 captured wild horses died while being held at the Fallon Off-Range Corral, a short-term holding facility, according to Bureau of Land Management records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by American Wild Horse Conservation.

This corral is one of four federal holding facilities in Nevada and is by far the largest, with a capacity to house more than 7,000 wild horses. The facility holds wild horses that were rounded up with helicopters and removed from our public lands by the BLM. After capture, these once-wild animals join the 64,000 horses and burros held in facilities, like Fallon, across the West. This perpetual roundup and removal cycle is inhumane, costs the taxpayers millions of dollars each year, and leads to the traumatic deaths of far too many wild horses.

Horses in crisis at holding facilities

But the deaths don’t end when the helicopters land. The BLM records reveal that 9% of the approximately 3,000 horses housed at Fallon died within one year.

This means nearly five horses died each week in this one facility. Forty percent of the animals who died (109) were found dead in their pens with the cause of death “undiagnosed” or “unknown,” meaning BLM officials don’t know how the animals died. Another 49 animals died of traumatic injuries. Another 28 horses died during the gelding process — normally routine and safe — due to vague “gelding complications.

The closed-to-the-public Fallon facility has a troubling history. A 2022 Comprehensive Animal Welfare internal assessment found severe animal welfare violations: delayed vaccinations for horses, some by over a year; lack of simultaneous food access; and neglected hoof care, suggesting the facility barely met the horses’ basic needs.

These concerns will continue to escalate as more horses enter the holding facility. This fiscal year, the BLM plans to remove over 20,000 more wild horses, funneling them into this already overburdened system. More than 11,600 horses and burros will be removed from Nevada’s public lands.

Other ways to approach the issue

This practice is outrageous and any resident of Nevada who cares about the plight of wildlife in our region should be angered by these statistics — and by the cruelty these animals are subjected to. Worst of all, it just does not need to happen.

Humane alternatives exist, including scientifically proven fertility control vaccines. Right here in Nevada, AWHC implements the world’s largest fertility control program for wild horses.

Fertility control programs like AWHC's successfully maintain healthy wildlife populations around the globe, including for elephant populations in Africa. Taxpayers could be spared hundreds of millions of dollars over the next five years if the BLM focused on fertility control instead of the removal of wild horses.

Nevada’s very own Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV), a member of the animal protection caucus, has been a steadfast champion for wild horses and burros, advocating for humane in-the-wild conservation efforts. She has continually supported language in the Federal appropriations bills that allocate funding for fertility controls. She also introduced the Wild Horse and Burro Protection Act of 2023, which aims to end helicopter roundups.

Citizens must hold the federal government accountable for these unacceptable deaths and for its failure to ensure the well-being of our federally protected wild horses and burros. Please let your congress members know that reforming this broken, costly, and inhumane system is a priority.

Tracy Wilson is the Nevada state director of American Wild Horse Conservation.