By Doug Graves
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. House of Representatives has passed three key animal protection amendments and the measures will be included in the upcoming full spending package, H.R. 7608.
Amendment 69 would require the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to utilize $11 million of its allocated $102.6 million Wild Horse and Burro Program budget to implement Porcine Zona Pellucida (PZP), a humane, reversible fertility control to manage wild horse populations.
Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) and Rep. Steve Cohen (R-Tenn.) are spearheading this effort.
“The BLM spends approximately 70 percent of its annual budget on costly roundups and holdings of wild horses,” Titus said. “This has proven to be an ineffective and expensive strategy to address concerns about overpopulation on ranges. By comparison, the BLM has used more than 4 percent of its annual budget on fertility control measures, including the use of the fertility control regiment PZP to address these issues.”
The BLM regularly rounds up these wild horses and takes them to various states to have them adopted by the general public. But growing herds of wild horses have become the biggest public lands management crisis facing BLM today, some experts say. Overgrazing has led to a grassland full of invasive “cheatgrass,” grasses that are a major cause of wildfire and harm perennial grassland that provides diverse habitat for wildlife.
PZP can keep a mare from becoming pregnant for a year, slowing herd growth and reducing the need for BLM to perform wild horse roundups that lead to the animals sitting in holding pens or getting injured.
Titus called the amendment a “step in the right direction. Nevada is home to the largest population of wild horses in the nation. Taxpayer-funded roundups and removals are not only costly, not an ineffective management strategy, but they also endanger the lives of these animals.”
Advocates said the amendment addresses concerns raised by the BLM’s recent report to Congress outlining a plan to accelerate roundups and remove as many as 90,000 wild horses and burros from public lands at a cost of nearly a billion dollars.
“PZP is a step in the right direction,” said Joanna Grossman, equine manager at the Animal Welfare Institute. “We already know that PZP works very well because it’s been used for a long time on a number of herds. We believe that Americans don’t want to see their tax dollars being used to stampede wild horses by helicopter and then stockpile them in government-run holding facilities.”
Amendment 50 would provide $1 million to USDA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) for enforcement of animal fighting laws. Cockfighting runs rampant in Oklahoma, Alabama and Tennessee, and gamecocks are being illegally shipped from these states to Guam, Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories where cockfighting is also illegal.
Amendment 38 would provide $750,000 in funding for the USDA’s OIG to complete an audit report of the USDA’s Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service’s Administration of the Horse Protection Program, Enforcement of the Horse Protection Act and the Slaughter Horse Transport Program.
The last audit was completed in 2010 and detailed the ineffectiveness of the USDA’s Horse Protection Program that has failed to end the practice of soring. Soring is the intentional infliction of pain to the feet and limbs of Tennessee Walking, Racking and Spotted Saddle horses to achieve an artificial high-step known as the “big lick” that’s rewarded at prized events throughout the southeastern United States. The amendment provides funding over and above the $2 million Horse Protection Program funding provided for in the base bill.
The Senate has yet to take up companion legislation.
The BLM is an agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior responsible for administering public lands. With oversight of roughly 247 million acres, the BLM governs one-eighth of the country’s landmass. Most BLM public lands are in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
The BLM manages 221 wilderness areas, 27 national monuments and some 636 other protected areas as part of the National Conservation Lands. There are more than 63,000 oil and gas wells on BLM public lands. President Harry S. Truman created the BLM in 1946.