Wild Horse Education

Ground Hog Day (or kicking off the 2023 legislative season)

A peek at the industrial squeeze our wild horses and burros exist within.

Many of you are writing to us asking about bills like Save Our Forgotten Equines (SAFE) and the Grazing Retirement Act. You want to know when they are being introduced so that you can take our action items. 

Before we address the bills, we want to address the landscape. After all, context is always vital. 

Jurisdiction: Federal bills (the federal government is where laws are made that cover public lands. Federal land management agencies control federal land. We know this sounds simple. But when we have grandstanding from states that are introducing resolutions to try to push wild  horse slaughter (like the one from Wyoming) or support Resolutions (like the one from North Dakota asking that the National Park keep wild horses) many people can get confused. There are a handful of herds where states have jurisdiction (these horses are not protected under the Act and most operate on a “complaint, remove, send to auction” mode as they have no infrastructure) and these horses are referenced as “feral” under state laws. Wild horses and burros is a legal term that applies to jurisdictions that abide under the 1971 federal law (the vast majority of wild horses and burros in the U.S. today… primarily due to the existing law). State legislatures have jurisdiction over small state herds, not federal herds, and most of the chatter is… chatter.

In the U.S. 118th Congress (right now) it feels like “Ground Hog Day.” This phrase has become representative of insane repetition. 

For those of you interested in public lands legislation on February 7th there is a must-watch meeting on schedule:

We urge all of you to watch the full committee meeting scheduled for Feb. 7. Recordings will be available. (click HERE)

The Committee on Natural Resources will hold a Full Committee meeting on Tuesday, February 7, 2023, at 10:15 a.m., in Room 1324 Longworth House Office Building. The purpose of this meeting is to consider the Committee Authorization and Oversight Plan for the 118th Congress.

This meeting should give you a clear glimpse into what the legislative picture will look like for the next 2 years (the 118th Congress). 

It is important to remember a bill needs to pass out of committee and go to a full floor vote in House and Senate. Identical bills need to be passed (or consolidated) before going to the President to be signed or vetoed.

It is highly likely that NOTHING will get through both House and Senate this session. 

Our view:

Habitat loss and fragmentation is the #1 reason wild horses are really being removed.

Did you know a bill has already been introduced to remove restrictions on lead ammo for hunting? 

H.R.615 – To prohibit the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture from prohibiting the use of lead ammunition or tackle on certain Federal land or water under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture, and for other purposes.

The absurdity of the bill above lets you know we are back to the days where lead poisoning of our wild places and wild things is (once again) seen as “fine” by many in Congress. Even before the full text of this bill is available it already has 31 cosponsors of anti-environmental names. 

We urge you to call your Rep and tell them to vote “NO.” More on the bill HERE. 

The bill has been referred to the Committee on Natural Resources and the Committee on Agriculture

Are you feeling a bit of “Ground Hog Day?” 

Another disturbing bill introduced last week: H.R.495 To amend the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 to authorize assignment to States of Federal agency environmental review responsibilities, and for other purposes.

Text of this bill is not available yet. But the title of this bill is pretty simple to determine intention: gutting NEPA, gutting national input and allowing states to control your public lands (remember, most western states have been involved in lawsuits to get BLM to remove and even kill wild horses including Utah, Nevada, Wyoming that represent an overwhelming majority of wild horses left in the U.S.). 

A trailer older mares being released after the massive triple B roundup last year.

Save our Forgotten Equines (SAFE) and the Grazing Retirement Act have not yet been reintroduced this session.

However, the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act (WFRH&B Act) will be open for debate. On February 1 the bill to open the WFRH&B Act to amendment was introduced. Text of the bill in a current form is not yet available. It has been referred to the House Natural Resources Committee for debate and amendment. (Yes, open sales to slaughter could be a proposed amendment that comes out of the current committee. Bills go through mark-up or edits in committees and are not usually passed as originally drafted. We feel this is really bad timing under this committee.)

H.R.726 – To amend the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act to direct the Secretary of the Interior to implement fertility controls to manage populations of wild free-roaming horses and burros, and to encourage training opportunities for military veterans to assist in range management activities, and for other purposes.

Once the text is available we will give you a rundown on the wisdom of current text, suggested amendments and an action item.

The last iteration of one of the “wild horse” bills (that died at the end of the last session) was basically a rewording of authorities land managers already have (things like abuse are already illegal; but it takes litigation to create accountability) and pushes new tools (fertility control) to continue the status quo of habitat fragmentation for industry and maintaining current practices. Simply repealing the provisions for sale to slaughter is not what this bill does, it opens the door to amending the Act itself while we have committees highly likely to push something like slaughter or killing horses in holding to make room for more.

When text is available, we will do an extended article. 

Hot shot to faces of young wild horses are already illegal. However, it takes a lot of money to get it into a courtroom.

The House Natural Resources Committee has not yet listed Democratic members. These are the people that will be debating/amending all bills before they go to a vote. (Check back to see if they fix the listing).

The current Natural Resources Committee includes a number of members that have extreme views on public lands (including anti-wild horse and pro-horse slaughter members). This is a dangerous time to hand them a pen and let them open up the 1971 Act to further gutting.

Could a bill pass that creates a priority for fertility control and private agreements? absolutely. If you look back at the beginning of the current agenda in 2018 (Path Forward) you can see that a few years of historically high removals would then be followed by prioritization of forms of fertility control. But will this bill end up giving more away than it could gain after going through the committee?

Why open the bill up to amendment? It should be noted: BLM already has the authority to enter into agreement (paid or otherwise) with private parties to do fertility control (all forms). A new law is NOT needed to create the authority; an Internal Memorandum could just be sent from the Secretary of the Interior to create the priority.

There is already authority for agreements with Veteran groups. No new law is needed, they just need to craft a proposal and apply. If a bill passes? they would still have to craft a proposal, conform with existing land use planning and apply for approval.

BLM also currently has the authority to do things like repatriating land taken from horse/burro use (referenced as the Herd Area)… they have simply never exercised the authority. Herd Management Areas (HMAs) are where BLM removes horses to get to the levels they want… Herd Areas are where land was taken from them. We need HAs repatriated, HMAs are where BLM just wants to be able to put a few additional horses if they screw up genetic viability because the numbers are so low. (We are talking about this because one of the last bills was misleading to the public about what it could do.)

Could debate loose more than it gains?

Let’s look at one item in the debate to pass the law in the first place: artificial boundary lines. 

Did you know that the debate to pass the bill had one version with “designated ranges” and one version that just had them as part of public lands? In order to get the bill passed, limiting ranges was added. (more HERE) Yes, boundary lines were politics, not science.

Since the Act passed (prohibiting sales to slaughter) the Act was again amended to allow it (Conrad Burns, 2004). However, the amendment does not require mandatory funding and in the Appropriations bill (spending bill) the provision has been defunded each year.

What will be the giveaways in 2023 in political poker? 

We often see lobbyists work to get one bill passed over another. Withdrawal of support for one bill (say SAFE) might help get a ban on battery cages for chickens. Or a withdrawal of a bill to gut NEPA might lead to an agreement to gut another bill (like the Wild Horses and Burros Act).

Politics is politics. This year, it is Ground Hog Day.

Our teams are tracking bills and will have action items for you soon.

You can check our “take action” page for updates. 

Help keep us in the fight


Categories: Wild Horse Education