We don't have to round up or slaughter wild horses to manage them. Arizona is proof

By Simone Netherlands, AZ Central

December 3, 2020

Arizona’s wild horses and burros are part of what makes the state unique in the American West. Our state’s love for wild horses was evident five years ago when citizens and political leaders, led by Gov. Doug Ducey, rose up in opposition to the federal government’s plan to round up the beloved Salt River wild horses from their home in the Tonto National Forest.

Thanks to this effort, the Salt River horses are safe and humanely managed by my organization, the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group, in partnership with the Arizona Department of Agriculture and U.S. Forest Service.

Sadly, the same cannot be said for the vast majority of the West’s wild horses and burros, who fall under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and are mismanaged and treated inhumanely, despite being federally protected as national icons.

Sinema, Kelly can lead on fertility control

Fortunately, U.S. Sens Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly can play an influential role in how wild horses in Arizona and other Western states are protected going forward by leading the effort to reform the BLM’s wild horse and burro management program.

This summer, the House of Representatives, with the help of Arizona Reps. Raúl Grijalva and David Schweikert, took a strong step toward reform when it passed an amendment to fiscal 2021 spending legislation.

The amendment requires the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program to spend $11 million of its $102 million budget on humane fertility control as an alternative to cruel helicopter roundups that are used annually to remove thousands of wild horses from public lands. 

Now the Senate must support this important provision. Sen. Sinema is helping by signing on to a letter urging Senate leadership to ensure any final spending deal earmarks funding for wild horse fertility control. It is our hope that once he is sworn in, Sen. Kelly will join Sinema in supporting humane wild horse management.

You can look to our backyard to see this management approach works, and is a necessary change to 50 years of brutally chasing down wild horses with helicopters to round them up and remove them from the range.

On the Salt River, an all-volunteer fertility control program using the PZP birth-control vaccine has produced stunning results, reducing the number of foals born from more than 100 last year to just 15 this year. The goal is to humanely decrease the size of the wild horse population over time so that it can remain in balance with its habitat and keep these cherished animals healthy and protected for future generations to enjoy. 

This approach also saves tax dollars. By preventing 86 births instead of removing 86 horses from the population, we saved taxpayers more than $4 million in roundup and holding costs. We also spared our beloved Salt River horses the pain and trauma of capture, loss of freedom and separation from family. 

Roundups are counterprod

This is the paradigm shift that must occur nationally, not only to address the inhumanity of the current approach, but also because roundups simply don’t work as intended. In fact, they achieve the opposite. Rather than reduce population growth on the range, the roundups foster population growth; research shows that herds grow despite the roundups.

With tens of thousands of federally protected wild horses and burros targeted for removal over the next five years and the danger of slaughter always looming large, the timing of this amendment could not be more critical. 

We thank Sen. Sinema and urge her to continue to press for common sense and cost effective reform. We also applaud Arizona Reps. Grijalva and Schweikert for their tremendous support.

Now we ask Sen. Kelly to join his colleagues. We proved it’s an effective and cost-conscious means of humane wild horse management in Arizona, and should be implemented throughout the western United States.

Simone Netherlands is president of the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group, a volunteer nonprofit organization spearheading efforts to preserve the Salt River wild horses. She's also a national spokesperson for American Wild Horse Campaign. Reach her at [email protected].

Originally posted by AZ Central