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COMMENTARY: BLM must cease helicopter wild horse roundups

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is fooling fewer people.

The agency, which is charged with looking after our nation’s wild horses, claims that its frequent roundups of these animals in Nevada and across the West are necessary and humane. But more and more members of Congress aren’t buying it.

Nevada Rep. Dina Titus this month introduced a bill that would ban the dangerous and traumatizing helicopter roundups that the BLM uses to remove mustangs from the range.

Titus cited the inhumanity of the practice, which nearly always results in the severe injury and death of animals, as her reason for taking action. Broken necks and legs are common in roundups, as are horses dying from the stress of being chased to pure exhaustion.

“We need to find another method,” Titus said. Her colleagues in Washington seem to agree.

Also this month, Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen called on BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to suspend roundups entirely and instead manage horses with humane and more cost-effective fertility control vaccines. And last June more than 30 members of Congress called on BLM to halt its adoption incentive program after a New York Times exposé revealed wild horses adopted via the program are being funnelled into the slaughter pipeline and are at risk of being exported to slaughterhouses in Mexico and Canada.

Cohen’s letter points to the 2013 National Academy of Sciences report that shows roundups are counterproductive in controlling wild horse populations because removing horses from the range merely promotes increased population growth rates among the herds that remain. Instead, the academy called on the BLM to use humane fertility control to manage horse populations.

The cost to dart a mare with the safe and effective PZP vaccine to prevent pregnancy is about $250. Meanwhile, the agency states that the cost to round up a horse from the range and warehouse it for life is up to $50,000. And the BLM’s accelerated roundup and removal plan, which will add 19,000 horses and burros to overburdened holding facilities, will cost U.S. taxpayers nearly $1 billion in the first five years alone.

It’s heartening to hear these calls for change, which has been so long in coming in regard to our nation’s failed and costly management of wild horses. These majestic animals deserve better, and so do those paying BLM’s bills. Stone-Manning and Haaland should heed the call, ground the helicopters, halt roundups and use the best available science to cost-effectively care for wild horses in a truly humane way.

Grace Kuhn is the communications director for the American Wild Horse Campaign and an avid traveler to Nevada’s public lands.

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