Stealth riders attack wild mustangs and migratory birds
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 2004:
WASHINGTON D.C.–Stealth riders attached to the “Consolidated
Appropriations Act, 2005″ on November 18, 2004 crippled two of the
oldest U.S. federal animal protection statutes.
The 3,600-page, $388 billion appropriations act, HR 4818,
was ratified in final form and sent to U.S. President George W. Bush
for his signature on December 6.
Buried deep within it, Section 142 in effect repealed the
1971 Wild and Free Ranging Horse and Burro Protection Act, virtually
mandating that wild horses and burros must be sold to slaughter.
Section 143 excised 94 bird species from the 1918 Migratory
Bird Treaty Act.
The HR 4818 riders followed four years after similar tactics
permanently excluded rats, mice, and birds from the definition of
“animals” protected by the 1971 Animal Welfare Act.
The effect of the three repeals is that even before the Bush
administration moves to roll back the “critical habitat” provisions
of the Endangered Species Act, as demanded in late November by the
Western Governors Association, animals have less federal protection
now than in 1974, when the ESA was adopted.
HR 4818 also incorporated riders that nullify court decisions
protecting wildlife habitat on Cumberland Island, off Georgia; in
all Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge wilderness areas; and within
the Frank Church/River of No Return Wilderness in Idaho.
Attached by Senator Conrad Burns (R-Montana), Section 142 of
HR 4818 stipulates of wild horses and burros captured on Bureau of
Land Management property that, “Any excess animal or the remains of
an excess animal shall be sold, if the excess animal is more than 10
years of age, or the excess animal has been offered unsuccessfully
for adoption at least three times.
“An excess animal that meets either of the criteria shall be
made available for sale without limitation,” Section 142 continues,
“including through auction to the highest bidder, at local sale
yards, or other convenient livestock selling facilities, until such
time as all excess animals offered for sale are sold, or the
appropriate management level, as determined by the Secretary (of the
Interior), is attained in all areas occupied by wild free-roaming
horses and burros.”
“The door is open for thousands of horses to go to
slaughter,” assessed Inter national Society for the Protection of
Mustangs and Burros president Karen Sussman, the organization
founded in 1960 by Velma Johnston. The Wild and Free-Roaming Horse
and Burro Protection Act is commonly called the “Wild Horse Annie
Act” in Johnston’s honor. Her effort won a big boost from the 1961
film The Misfits, the last screen appearance of both Marilyn Monroe
and Clark Gable.
“It is believed that sales of wild horses to the highest
bidder–the slaughter industry–will begin as early as January 15,
2005,” Sussman warned.
Most of the 14,000 wild horses now in BLM custody are eligible for sale.
“The BLM does not have to advertise adoption days,” Sussman
pointed out. “Unadopted horses will be sold to the highest bidders,
who are usually ‘killer buyers.’ Selling wild horses to slaughter
will no longer be considered a crime.”
“The BLM has always had poor adoption marketing,” Sussman
continued, “and we are not hopeful that it will improve. “
Agreed KBR Wild Horse & Burro News editor Willis Lamm, “BLM
has the most extensive resources of all the state and federal
agencies that manage and adopt wild horses, but it has by far the
poorest track record with respect to number of animals adopted. If
the Fish & Wildlife Service and State of Nevada can place virtually
100% of their animals, regardless of age, health, or physical
disability, the BLM should be able to place a much larger percentage.
“Of course some elements of the BLM would need to bring their
attitudes and approaches into the 21th century for this to happen,”
Lamm continued. “The Fish & Wildlife Service and State of Nevada
partner with private parties and nonprofit organizations to achieve
the results that they do, while some elements within the BLM seem
focused on empire-building.”
“Until now the BLM has only rounded up five-years-and-under
horses,” Sussman said. “HR 4818 will give the BLM the ability to
gather the most fertile horses, who are also the wisest, who know
best how to survive, now that they have an easy avenue to dispose of
them. We anticipate that another 10,000 to 20,000 wild horses will
go to slaughter beyond the initial 14,000.”
Emptying tholding facilities of older horses will enable the
BLM to more aggressively pursue wild horses still at large.
“BLM officials long have contended that adopters don’t want
to buy older horses, forcing the government to keep them at taxpayer
expense,” explained Las Vegas Review-Journal Washington D.C.
correspondent Samantha Young Stephens. “In fiscal 2004, the BLM
adopted out 6,650 horses out of the 9,900 horses it gathered from the
range. The rest were sent to sanctuaries in the Midwest.
“For each horse placed in a long-term holding facility, the
BLM spends about $465 annually, or about $6.8 million a year,”
Burns, whose rider was praised by the National Cattleman’s Beef
Association and Nevada Cattleman’s Association, claimed that the BLM
wild horse program as a whole costs $41 million to $43 million per
Mustangs and wild burros are resented by ranchers for
allegedly competing with cattle and sheep for water and grass,
though they tend to feed in different places; are hated by trophy
hunters, who blame wild equines for the repeated failure of bighorn
sheep reintroductions; and are detested by nativist conservationists
as a purported introduced species.
“In 1971, there were 303 herd areas designated for wild
horses and burros,” Sussman recalled. “Today there are only 186
herd areas left. In 1974, there were 60,000 wild horses and burros
on public lands.”
The BLM says there are now 37,135 wild horses in 10 western
states. The BLM hopes to reduce their number to 28,650.
This will mean,” Sussman predicted, that “70% of the herd
areas will have fewer than 100 animals. The great genetic diversity
of wild horses will be diminished as BLM reduces herds below viable
Until the early 1990s wild horses had no natural predators in
much of their range, but that changed with the passage of laws
restricting hunting pumas with hounds, stronger efforts to protect
grizzly bears, and the reintroduction of wolves to the Yellowstone
region, Arizona, and New Mexico. Wild horses are now subject to
approximately as much natural predation as they ever were.
ZooMontana director Jay Kirk-patrick has also demonstrated at
several sites that wild horse populations can be controlled through
the use of contraceptive implants.
Many wild horse herds have ancestry dating back to the
Spanish Conquistadors, but Kirkpatrick hypothesizes that some wild
horses were already in North America when the Spanish arrived.
Horses evolved in North America, before abruptly disappearing from
the fossil record following the last epoch of continental glaciation.
Recently, however, horse fossils appearing to be from 900 to 2,900
years old have been found in Saskatchewan and Ontario.
Kirkpatrick points out that when the Spanish horses arrived
not quite 500 years ago, they rapidly spread across the western half
of North America without visibly displacing any other species, as if
filling a vacant niche in the ecosystem, and did so before the
habitat was disturbed by European settlement.
Wild horse mass deaths from thirst and starvation occurred at
times in the 1970s and 1980s, but chiefly because the herds were
fenced away from food and water sources, as at Nellis Air Force Base
Fencing wild horses away from food and water was also at
issue during a decade-long land rights dispute between the BLM and
Shoshone tribe sisters Mary and Carrie Dann, of Crescent Valley,
In February 2003 the BLM moved to impound more than 500
horses from the Dann property, and–denying that they were wild
horses–was expected to sell them to slaughter. Just before the
horses were to be gathered, the Dann sisters sold them for $1.00
apiece to vegetable grower Slick Gardner, 57, of Buelton,
Gardner was praised and thanked in a joint press release by
the Fund for Animals and the Doris Day Animal League. Both groups
pledged to help provide for the horses.
But Gardner soon became a pariah.
In July 2003 the remains of 47 horses believed to be from the
Dann herd were found dumped on BLM land near Eureka, California.
Allegations that Gardner was allowing horses to starve soon followed.
In September 2003 county officials removed 167 horses from Gardner’s
ranch. In April 2004 he was charged with stealing 246 horses he took
from the Dann property but did not pay for. Pleading guilty to
grand theft and cruelty, Gardner at October and November 2004
sentencing hearings was jailed for a year, put on probation for five
years, and ordered to do 100 hours of community service at a vet
More than 400 horses still on the Gardner ranch, mostly from
the Dann herd, were offered for adoption. About 300 remained in
late November, when Gardner was evicted for nonpayment of rent,
after losing title to the property earlier.
Getting the birds
Section 143 of HR 4818 came to light when U.S. Department of
Justice attorney Kathryn E. Kovacs wrote on November 23 to the U.S.
Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that it might moot a lawsuit
waged against mute swan eradication efforts by Kathryn Burton of
“Section 143 amends the Migratory Bird Treaty Act by adding a
provision limiting the Act’s application to ‘migratory bird species
that are native to the U.S.'”
A second addition stipulates that “native” means “occurring
in the U.S. or its territories as result of natural biological or
The Burton lawsuit, still underway, parallels a suit filed
by the Fund for Animals and the Humane Society of the U.S., settled
out of court in September 2003. As part of the settlement the Fish &
Wildlife Service withdrew all permits allowing state and federal
agencies to kill mute swans, and withdrew the Environmental
Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact that endorsed killing
mute swans in 17 states. The settlement was seen as a precedent on
behalf of many other species, including nonmigratory Canada geese.
Blaming mute swans for the costly failure of trumpeter swans
to recover to a hunt able abundance, the National Audubon Society
and other pro-hunting nativist conservation groups pushed to alter
the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to get around the settlement. When a
stand-alone bill failed to advance, Senator George Voinovich (R-Ohio)
and Representative Wayne Gilchrest (R-Maryland) attached Section 143
to HR 4818, erasing federal protection for more than 94 bird species
in all, including certain species of cardinals, cranes, doves,
parrots, pelicans, and storks, as well as mute swans and
non-migratory Canada geese.
Nativist conservatonists celebrated Section 143 along with
word from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources that 15
trappers have exterminated all 8,300 nutria who formerly lived in the
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, at cost of $2 million. Mute
swans will be the next targets.
The first response to HR 4818 from the animal advocacy
community appeared to be a mass-distributed e-mail from Chris Heyde
of the Society for Animal Protective Legislation, the legislative
arm of the Animal Protection Institute.
Heyde on November 23 thanked SAPL supporters for responding
promptly to a November 19 action alert about an HR 4818 rider by
Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho), “which would have exempted factory
farms from requirements of reporting toxic chemical releases into the
“Thanks to your swift and overwhelming response,” Heyde
wrote, “Senator Larry Craig’s rider to the Omnibus appropriations
bill was removed from the final version.”
Saying nothing about migratory birds, Heyde discussed the
wild horse rider halfway through the e-mail.
“It is too late to have this language pulled from the omnibus
legislation,” Heyde concluded. “There is still a solution to
protect wild horses and burros–Congress can pass the American Horse
Slaughter Prevention Act.”
First to take the wild horse rider to the public was DELTA
Rescue and Horse Rescue of America founder Leo Grillo, whose ads in
entertainment trade newspapers appeared in early December. Grillo
also posted a 45-minute video of a wild horse roundup at
Other groups reacted after that.
“This is abominable, outrageous, disingenuous, and
unethical,” American Horse Defense Fund president Tina Bellak told
Sacramento Bee Washington D.C. bureau reporter David Whitney.
“This sets the stage for a major fight,” promised Humane
Society of the U.S. president Wayne Pacelle.
Pushing the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act was the
response most often mentioned.
Introduced into the 108th Congress as HR 857 and S 2352, the
American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act “would prohibit the slaughter
or sale of horses, wild or domestic, for human consumption,”
elaborated ASPCA senior vice president for government affairs and
public policy Lisa Weisberg.
“These bills have widespread bi-partisan support in both the
House and the Senate,” Weisberg said, promising that, “The ASPCA
will work hard to get this legislation passed during the next
Congress and to repeal the effect of the Burns amendment.”
HSUS and the Fund for Animals set up links to enable web site
visitors to send separate e-mails to Congress protesting the damage
to the “Wild Horse Annie Act” and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and
endorsing the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act.
“We will begin a massive e-mail campaign,” Sussman pledged.
“Our goal is to amass at least one million e-mail addresses” on
electronic petitions opposed to selling wild horses to slaughter
“before January 1, 2005. A delegation of Native American chiefs and
spiritual leaders will go to Washington to speak with the President
and Interior Secretary Gail Norton. We will ask that the wild horses
not be slaughtered, and offer to take excess wild horses to
different tribal lands.
“The International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and
Burros already manages three wild horse herds on the Cheyenne River
Reservation,” Sussman reminded. “The Cheyenne River Sioux manages a
fourth herd whom we gave to them. Plans are underway to give a fifth
herd to the Osage tribe of Oklahoma.”
This may preserve wild horse bloodlines, but will not ensure
that wild horses thrive throughout their range.
The fate of the 94 bird species who may now be exterminated
was noticed by animal advocacy groups mostly in passing– except for
the National Audubon Society, who praised Section 143 in a press