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is moving through Congress

August 11, 2009
Bill passes House, now in Senate Committee

Congressman Nick Rahall's (D-KY) bill to overhaul the Bureau of Land Management's Wild Horse and Burro Program passed in the House of Representatives by a majority of 54 votes. On August 5, 2009, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid submitted the Senate's version of the bill that was sponsored by Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV.) The Senate bill number is S.1579, and it has been referred to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources.

The ROAM Act will affect the management of wild horses and burros in a number of ways. It will basically repeal the Burns Stealth Rider. It will also require BLM to tighten its ship with respect to BLM's management policies regarding wild horses and burros. The Act will also allow BLM greater flexibility in how and where the agency can place wild horses, while strengthening standards relating to the agency's responsibility to maintain a "thriving ecological balance" in those locations where it manages horses on public lands.

The operative features that we have noticed in the bill include:

  • It provides a more concise definition of "thriving ecological balance" and it reasserts relevant Federal land use policies.

  • It converts some "authorized" activities and methods into "required" activities and methods with respect to taking inventory, making determinations and application of peer reviewed scientific methods as the basis for developing management strategies, and it requires consistent evaluation and management practices across all public lands.

  • It permits BLM to establish sanctuaries and exclusive use areas, however the Secretary is required to assess and report on a number of conditions specifically listed in the bill prior to establishing those areas.

  • It authorizes BLM to identify and appropriate additional rangeland for wild horses and burros through various means, subject to the conditions and requirements set forth elsewhere in the bill. Those conditions include avoiding any potential conflicts with other lawful public lands activities and uses as identified in the bill.

  • It requires BLM to develop and implement enhanced fertility control, as is presently used by a number of private sanctuaries and non-BLM horse management agencies. While the science of equine fertility control is relatively new, it shows great potential in reducing horse recruitment rates (expansion of populations as birth rates exceed mortality rates) without decreasing the genetic diversity of the herds.

  • It charges BLM with the responsibility of undertaking all practical options for maintaining a thriving ecological balance on the range.

  • It prohibits BLM from maintaining horses in prohibitively expensive contract corrals and short term holding facilities for longer than six months, upon which horses in such holding facilities must be moved to more cost-effective facilities or appropriate alternative ranges.

  • It charges BLM with improving its marketing strategies with specific examples provided.

  • It reinforces BLM's authority to remove horses and burros under conditions stipulated in the original Act.

  • It requires BLM to provide additional data with respect to its management activities, and that data is to be more transparent and available for public inspection on the BLM website.

  • It expands BLM's ability to enter into cooperative agreements to address program deficiencies and needs.

  • It outlines specific program reporting requirements so that Congress and the American public can be informed as to BLM's progress with respect to complying with the provisions of this bill.

Read the actual bill
(in a new window)

Read our mock-up
of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act
as amended by S.1579 (in a new window)