“Burns Amendment”

Yearlings offered for

Yearlings offered for “adoption” at Stone Cabin. ADOPTION IS NOT “SALE”

Explanation of law (italics Laura Leigh, Article Mary Brown)

With the slaughter investigations into the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) “sale program” gaining attention we thought it important that the public have an opportunity to see the process that turned “protected” animals back into “vulnerable animals.”

In 1971 legislation was passed by both Houses of Congress, and then signed into law that December by President Nixon, to protect wild horses and burros on public land. The Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act was created specifically to protect wild herds that were “fast disappearing” from our public lands through the brutal practice of “Mustanging,” that sent thousands and thousands of wild horses and burros to kill after being brutally captured.

For years Americas made the assumption that wild horses were “protected” from horrific practices. Even now many are unaware how wild horses and burros are managed and that they are very vulnerable to entering the “slaughter pipeline.” Horse slaughter has been illegal in the US for a few years now but special interests are engaging in aggressive lobby campaigns and over-riding the vast majority of American opinion toward reopening slaughter houses in the US.

Our wild horses and burros are as vulnerable to ending up on a kill floor as any domestic… and this is why.

Please keep in mind that as soon as this was passed a bill was created to overturn it. But like most bills it had to go into committee. The same man that created this rider, sat at the head of the committee, Conrad Burns. The bill to overturn? disappeared into that black hole.


Overview of The Free-Roaming Wild Horse and Burros Act of 1971

Public Law 92-195

By Mary Brown

March 31, 2013

On December 15, 1971. The Free-Roaming Wild Horse and Burros Act was enacted by Congress and became law.  16 USC §1331. Congressional findings and declaration of policy At that time Congress found that the free-roaming wild horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West, that they contribute to the diversity of the life forms within our Nation and enrich the lives the lives of the American people. In 1971 these horses and burros were at that time fast disappearing from the American scene. Further, the Act protected them from capture, branding, harassment, or death in areas where they were found to be an integral pat of the natural systems of our public lands.

Management on the public lands was to be administered by the Secretary of Interior through the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and the Secretary of Agriculture through the Forest Service, (USFS).

At that time, their range was the amount of land necessary to sustain an existing herd or herds of free-roaming wild horses and burros which did not exceed their known territorial limits on public land.

In 1976 the Act was modified by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) of 1976. The modification added a “new” section 9 to the Act. This new section allowed for the use of helicopters and motor vehicles in rounding up and transporting captured animals.

In 1978, extensive amendments were made to the Act by the Public Rangeland Improvement Act (PRIA) of 1978. A new subsection 2 (f) “excess animals” was added. Excess animals meant animals which had been removed from the area by the Secretary pursuant to application of law or must be removed from an area to preserve and maintain a thriving ecological balance in the multi-use areas. Also at this time PRIA allowed for the adoption of free-roaming wild horses and burros to private parties, but not more than four animals a year. Section 3 (b, c and d) had major revisions as well, which developed the requirement of maintaining records and inventory to help determine overpopulation and appropriate management of the areas of public land.

It is important to note that from the time of the enactment of the Act in 1971 through 2004, including the amendments in 1976 and 1978, the Act at all times provided that Congress formally protect these free-roaming wild horses and burros, and mandated that they cannot be sold or processed into commercial products, in effect, slaughtered.

The “Burns Amendment” of 2004

Citation: Public Law 108-447

2004 H.R. 4818

In December 2004 Senator Conrad Burns from the state of Montana prepared what is widely known as “The Burns Amendment.” This bill was never introduced to Congress, never discussed or voted on. In fact few, if none, knew of its existence or insertion into this 3,000 page Omnibus Act. This bill amends Section 3 (16 USC §1331) of the original Act. It over turned 33 years of national policy on the care and management of free-roaming wild horses and burros by repealing the prohibition on the commercial sale and slaughter of these animals that had been covered by law.

He did so by amending Section 3 of the Act that removed language which protected the horses and burros from commercial sale (slaughter). He added subsequent paragraphs that included such language as: “sale of excess animals,” “shall be sold if more than 10 years of age or been offered unsuccessfully for adoption three times,” “shall be made available for sale without limitation“and “any excess animals sold under this provision shall no longer be considered to be a free-roaming wild horses or burros for purposes of this Act.”

The Burns Amendment effectively allows the BLM, after rounding up free-roaming wild horses, to sell “without limitation” and placing them in jeopardy of commercial processing (slaughter) because once sold they are no longer under the protection of the Act.


Captive Calico stallion at PVC 2012, a

Captive Calico stallion at PVC 2012, a “sale authority” wild horse

Relevant to discussion today are the provisions on appropriations (funding) placed by Congress on the BLM. The last round of appropriations had Congress place restrictions that funding not be used for selling wild horses for commercial product (slaughter). Also relevant are claims made by BLM to the public that they do not sell horses to slaughter. 

Yet we have shown that BLM does make possible repetitive sales to known kill-buyers (such a the 1,700 wild horses that went to Tom Davis). These sales are never tracked nor investigated. These sales are continually approved through BLM. 

After the investigation went public on the sales to Tom Davis (Davis claims to be long time business partners with, at that time, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar’s family) issued a “memorandum” that makes a new claim that no more than 4 wild horses or burros within a six month period of time. However the fine print allows BLM to continue the exact practices it engaged in prior to the issuance of the memorandum.


Hold Your Wild Horses! how did it get so bad? from Laura Leigh on Vimeo.