New BLM Policies Address Mustang Welfare, Roundup Transparency

New BLM Policies Address Mustang Welfare, Roundup Transparency

Bureau of Land Management (BLM) wild horse and burro roundup operations will be more humane and transparent under new policy directives which, according to the agency, were developed in response to public concern about the animals' welfare.

Photo: Bureau of Land Management

Bureau of Land Management (BLM) wild horse and burro roundup operations will be more humane and transparent under new policy directives which, according to the agency, were developed in response to public concern about the animals' welfare.

The BLM assumed responsibility for managing wild horse and burro herds in 1971 when Congress passed the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act. At the time, wild horse and burros had access to 53.5 million acres of public lands in Nevada, California, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona. Since then, changes in land ownership and congressional public land use decisions, diminished ranges open to horses in those states. To prevent horses from overgrazing shrinking range lands, the BLM removes wild horses from the ranges every four years. In recent years, some mustang welfare advocates have criticized the BLM and its contractors on grounds that roundup and animal holding operations put the animals at risk for injury or death.

On Feb. 1, the agency announced a series of policy directives aimed at making gather operations more humane and more transparent. Under the new directives contractors conducting BLM wild horse and burro gathers must pace roundups to accommodate young, lame, or elderly animals that are unable to keep up with their herds, and contractors must make every effort to keep mares and foal together during roundups. The policies also require agency personnel and contractors to provide a safe vantage point for the public and the media to view gather operations, and to post daily gather reports, including photographs and video footage, on the Internet.

BLM spokeswoman Michelle Barret said that the new policy directives were developed based on public input, including from wild horse advocacy groups.

"We've tried to listen to all of the public and we realized we should do better and we can do better," she said.

Barret also said that further animal handling policy changes will be issued in the future.

"These are just the first ones out of the chute," she said.

However, some wild horse welfare advocates believe the new policies do not go far enough to protect animals under the BLM's care.

"This is nothing more than the same operational guideline, although now in writing, that has been in place on the range," said Laura Leigh, president of the mustang advocacy group Wild Horse Education. 

Barret said that the agency expects to issue further animal handling policy changes in the future.

"These are just the first ones out of the chute," Barret said.

The BLM's new wild horse and burro program policy directives are effective immediately. To view the directives online visit http://on.doi.gov/2013BLMPolicy.

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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