Expert Voices

As Wild Horses Swelter, Interior Secretary Must Act (Op-Ed)

Przewalski's horses. They are the last surviving type of wild horse, once declared extinct in the wild. A recent study shows they are the closest relatives to domestic horses.
Przewalski's horses. They are the last surviving type of wild horse, once declared extinct in the wild. A recent study shows they are the closest relatives to domestic horses. (Image credit: Patricia D Moehlman/IUCN)

Wayne Pacelle is the president and chief executive officer of The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). This Op-Ed first appeared on the blog A Humane Nation, where it ran before appearing in LiveScience's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

Those of you who regularly watch our good friend Jane Velez-Mitchell's show on HLN may have seen me last Thursday in a brief segment talking about a potentially dangerous situation for 1,800 captive wild horses at a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) facility near Reno, Nev.

At that site, temperatures have been reaching record highs this month, exceeding 100 degrees. Despite the fact that the BLM requires individuals who adopt wild horses from the agency to provide adequate shelter, there is no shelter for the horses at the Palomino Valley National Adoption Center (PVC). After several wild-horse advocates brought this matter to our attention, The HSUS wrote a letter to the BLM, urging the agency to develop a shelter to provide some protection from the sun at Palomino Valley.

The HSUS request is hardly unprecedented, since the BLM has installed shelters at other facilities, like one in Ridgecrest, Calif. Thus far, the BLM has installed a sprinkler system, but no shelter. Newly confirmed Interior Secretary Sally Jewell can take action to show she's serious about reform of this program.

While an important welfare issue for the horses, the situation unfolding at Palomino Valley is yet another symptom of a broken horse and burro program. The central problem is that the BLM continues to round up and remove thousands of wild horses and to aggregate more horses than it can responsibly care for at short-term and long-term holding facilities, all at an enormous expense to taxpayers and to horses — and in defiance of the spirit of the federal law designed to protect them.

The United States has only about 40,000 wild horses and burros living on public lands today, but the nation has almost 50,000 in holding facilities. This is not what the drafters of the original Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act could ever have imagined, and the BLM knows that it's removing more animals from the range than the agency can possibly hope to adopt out to loving homes — yet the round-up and removal treadmill persists. This is the larger problem that Secretary Jewell confronts.

The only way the BLM will ever right the sinking ship that has become its Wild Horse and Burro Program is by immediately implementing the recommendations of a report prepared by the National Academies of Sciences' National Research Council panelwhich, among its key findings, urged the agency to end its reliance on short-sighted roundups. Instead, the report recommends keeping horses on the range while humanely limiting reproduction through the application of a contraceptive vaccine. And just recently, The HSUS developed and presented a proposal to the agency for a bold new program that meets the challenges of the budget, the horse population and land-use issues head on.

The HSUS is ready to work with the BLM to address its continuing troubles in this area and to solve them for the long term. But in the meantime, the BLM needs to do right by the animals in its care, and the best place to start is by providing the 1,800 wild horses at Palomino Valley with the shelter they so desperately need.

Pacelle's most recent Op-Ed was Not Science, but Slaughter: Japanese Whaling Tried in International Court. This article first appeared as New Interior Secretary Can Turn Around Broken Wild Horse Program on the HSUS blog A Humane Nation. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. This article was originally published on