Wildomar, Murrieta and Temecula have their share of horse lovers and horse owners, and some may have helped spur change on a federal level for wild equines.
The Bureau of Land Management announced this month several new policies associated with its Wild Horse and Burro program. The policies, designed to increase public transparency and ensure the humane treatment of animals, are part of a Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program that the BLM has been in the process of developing for several years.
As part of the policy change, the BLM is promising more humane horse-gathering and handling techniques. There are still thousands of wild horses and burros roaming federally managed lands in the United States. Most of the animals are in the western half of the country, with many in California, including some in Riverside County. The herds, which are managed by the BLM, are routinely culled to keep populations from growing too large.
Some horse lovers and animal welfare organizations such as the The Humane Society of the United States allege wild equines are repeatedly subjected to frenzied roundup practices that create dangerous stampedes, leaving some animals badly injured or dead. The HSUS also alleges young foals are sometimes hogtied and electric prods are routinely used on animals in holding pens. Also, the HSUS alleges wild horses are sold to slaughter, which is against the law in the United States.
Acting BLM Director Mike Pool said the new policy changes will help prevent such practices.
“These changes are part of our ongoing commitment to ensure the humane treatment of animals that are gathered from our public rangelands," he said. “In addition, increasing public transparency is a cornerstone of this Administration’s approach to our work. These new policies represent significant and substantial improvements, and we anticipate additional steps in the future to continue to strengthen this program.”
Holly Hazard, HSUS’s senior vice president of programs and innovations, said the changes are overdue.
“These new policies are striking in that they integrate specific new minimum standards for animal welfare, with a general department policy of compassion and concern. Many of the recommendations mimic The Humane Society of the United States’ report that we issued to the BLM in July 2011, and if these policies are put into action and incorporated into the BLM’s culture, they promise to result in a sea change in the day-to-day management of our wild horse herds,” she said.
According to the HSUS, the BLM has gathered more than 15,000 horses and burros since 2011, and there have been many instances of “documented inhumane treatment both during gather operations and in government holding facilities.”
Hazard said she is disappointed that it took public pressure to effect change.
“We are gratified that the BLM is addressing the treatment of foals, handling aids, electric prods and the balance of gathering demands and horse welfare. It is ironic, however, that many of the necessary changes come as a result of media attention and public observations and that, while championing transparency, the changes do not include the right of the media and public to witness the gather from a reasonable distance within the ability of the human eye to observe,” she said.
Hazard contends the BLM isn’t properly managing wild horses.
“The cycle of waiting until horses are over appropriate management level, gathering the excess and being unable to treat those remaining with contraception, has led the agency into a management and financial morass. It can only free itself by investing in a significant reform of its polices related to removal, herd management areas and disaster management. The HSUS is hopeful the agency will devote all necessary attention to this challenge until the program is stabilized,” Hazard said.
BLM officials admit they can do a better job.
“At the end of the day, we need to find better ways to manage for healthier animals and healthier rangelands so that we can keep these symbols of the American West on our nation’s public lands,” Pool said.