Titus attempts to ban aircraft in wild horse roundups

Titus attempts to ban aircraft in wild horse roundups
The Bureau of Land Management uses helicopters in the roundup up wild horses in the Pancake Complex in January 2022. Image: BLM

by Dana Gentry, Nevada Current

WASHINGTON–Congresswoman Dina Titus (D-NV) introduced legislation Tuesday to ban federal helicopter roundups of wild horses, and another member of the U.S. House of Representatives is calling on the Bureau of Land Management to suspend all roundups.  

Titus’s bill would amend the Wild Free-roaming Horses and Burros Act to prohibit aircraft in management efforts. 

“The process terrorizes horses and nearly every roundup includes cases of mustangs injured or killed as a result,” says a news release from Titus. “Broken necks and legs are common, as are horses dying from the stress of being chased to pure exhaustion.”

Under the Trump administration, the BLM released a management plan calling for the roundup of more than 90,000 wild horses and burros over the next five years at a cost of nearly $1 billion.

Last month, wild horse activists filed a lawsuit against the BLM over an ongoing roundup in Nevada, and alleged the BLM, by prioritizing its bargain-rate grazing arrangement with ranchers over horses, has failed to maintain a thriving ecological balance. The BLM declined to comment. 

On the day Titus introduced her bill, the Bureau of Land Management began a roundup of the Sulphur Herd Management Area in Utah – 265,675 acres with an estimated wild horse population of 600, according to the BLM.  

The BLM intends to remove more than 350 wild horses from the area, says the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC), a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving free-roaming wild horses through birth control and other means of management. 

On Tuesday, the first day of the operation, the BLM captured 120 wild horses. One was euthanized due to a broken leg suffered during the roundup, according to AWHC.

Also on Tuesday, Tennessee Congressman Steve Cohen, a Democrat, wrote BLM Director Tracy Stone Manning and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, asking them to suspend roundups “until appropriate range assessments have been completed, animal welfare concerns have been addressed, and a robust fertility control vaccine plan has been implemented.”   

Cohen noted 2,300 mares are scheduled to receive the fertility control vaccine in 2022.

“However, the vaccine program must be much more robust in order to obtain positive results, achieve management goals, and avoid compensatory reproduction,” Cohen wrote. “I acknowledge that BLM has cited logistical difficulties in administering the vaccines, but that challenge seems to be a much more cost-effective solution than doubling the number of holding facilities over the next five years, with no end in sight.”

AWHC says the public has paid: 

  • $53.2 million for helicopter roundup and bait-trapping operations since 2006
  • $87.0 million for short-term holding corrals since 2010
  • $333 million for long-term holding pastures since 2004

The organization pegs the cost to “dart a mare” with contraceptive vaccine at about $220, while the cost “to round up a horse from the range and warehouse it for life” can be as much as $50,000. 

Activists complain the BLM spends less than 1% of its wild horse and burro budget on birth control and approximately $60 million a year on roundups and holding facilities.

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