H.R. 1018: Restore Our American Mustangs Act

H.R. 1018

Restore Our American Mustangs Act

Sponsor
Rep. Nick J. Rahall II

Date
July 17, 2009 (111th Congress, 1st Session)

Staff Contact
Communications

Floor Situation

The House is scheduled to consider H.R. 1018 on Friday, July 17, 2009, under a structured rule.  H.R. 1018 was introduced on February 12, 2009, by Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) and referred to the Natural Resources Committee.  On April 29, 2009, the bill was marked-up and reported by a vote of 21-14.

Bill Summary

H.R. 1018 expands the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 and prohibits the processing of wild horses or burros for slaughter.  In addition the bill would require the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to vastly expand its wild horse and burro management programs and obtain new rangeland.  The specific provisions of the bill are outlined below.

The legislation provides that any person who processes, transports for processing, or permits to be processed into commercial products a live or deceased wild free-roaming horse or burro, will be subject to a fine of not more than $2,000 or imprisonment for not more than one year, or both.

H.R. 1018 requires that the acreage available for wild horses and burros is never less than the acreage where wild horses and burros were found in 1971.  The bill also requires the Secretary of the Interior to adopted peer-reviewed methods to count wild horse populations and promulgate standards for management levels on public lands.  The Secretary would be required to conduct a census of the wild horse and burro population every two years.

The bill would prohibit the Secretary from destroying, or authorizing the destruction of, wild horses and burros, unless the animal is terminally ill.  In addition, H.R. 1018 also authorizes the Secretary to remove and relocate wild horse if their health or safety is threatened.

Under the legislation, the Secretary would be required to find new rangeland for wild horses and burros.  In addition, the bill would authorize the federal government to acquire new rangelands and sanctuary areas through the use of land acquisitions, exchanges, conservation easements, grazing buyouts, and agreements with private landowners to allow for the federally supervised protection of wild horses and burros on private lands. 

The bill repeals a provision of current law which states that wild horses and burros shall be protected in the areas where they are currently found.  By removing this provision, the bill would expand the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) jurisdiction to areas where wild horses and burros are not currently found.

Requires the Secretary to research and implement new surgical or "immunecontraception" sterilization in order to reduce the reproductive rates of wild horses and burros. 

H.R. 1018 requires the Secretary to implement "creative" and "more aggressive" marketing strategies in an attempt to get more private individuals or organizations to adopt wild horses and burros.  The legislation also authorizes the Secretary to offer economic incentives for people who successfully complete the adoption process.

H.R. 1018 expands the definitions of a number of terms in the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act.  The bill also adds a new definition for the term "thriving natural ecological balance," which means a condition that protects "ecosystem health" and a diversity of species, including endangered species.

The legislation requires anyone who adopts a wild horse or burro to attest that its remains will not be used for commercial use and also prohibits keeping a wild horse or burro in a corral for more than six months.

The bill alters the make-up of the Joint Advisory Board that advises the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture on wild horse and burro management.  The bill would expand the Board from nine members to 12: three representatives of the livestock industry; three representatives of the environmental community; three representatives of the animal protection community; and three scientists with expertise in wildlife management or animal husbandry.

Background

In the 110th Congress, the House passed another equine bill, H.R. 249, by a vote of 277- 137.  That bill would have solely made it illegal to sell wild horses and burros for processing into commercial products (i.e., a ban on slaughter) and would have cost $2.5 million over five years.  H.R. 1108 has a much broader scope, as described above, costing up to $700 million.

In 1971, Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971.  This legislation stated that it is "the policy of Congress that wild free-roaming horses and burros shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment, or death; and to accomplish this they are to be considered in the area where presently found, as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands."  Effectively, management of these horses and burros fell to the federal government, under the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).  The bill identified 53 million acres of public land on which wild horse and burro herds could roam freely, although the BLM has since removed horses and burros from some of those lands.  Since 1971, more than 200,000 wild horses and burros have been removed from public lands and either adopted or placed in holding facilities.  BLM currently manages over 34,000 horses and burros in 181 herd management areas in 10 western states.  In 2008, a GAO report found that BLM currently has more horses in holding facilities than in the wild.  The report also concluded that the expanded use of contraception, creation of sanctuaries, and more aggressive adoption programs could address this challenge, but have not yet been utilized.

Members may be concerned that H.R. 1108 would expand wild horse and burro populations to all public lands and complicate management of these herds by limiting the methods by which the federal agencies can manage the herds and mitigate the damage done to native plants, wildlife, and rangeland.  Currently, the animals roam over 32.6 million acres-an area larger than the State of New York.

Republican Members of the Natural Resources Committee are specifically concerned that "expanding the range of free-roaming horses and burros to all public lands will have devastating impacts on rangeland health, damage riparian areas, and threaten long-term sustainability of native fish and wildlife resources and their habitat."  In addition, at markup, GOP amendments were rejected which would have studied the impacts on rangeland before creating new wild horse and burro sanctuaries and balanced the advisory panels by adding members with range management experience in the affected states.

Additionally, the bill includes significant dubious expansions of the federal government.  For example, H.R. 1108 would establish a horse census every two years, provides "enhanced contraception" and birth control for horses, and mandates that government bureaucrats perform home inspections before Americans can adopt these animals.

Finally, Members may be concerned that while the national debt is skyrocketing, spending is growing rapidly and unemployment is nearing double digits, Democrats are proposing a $700 million expansion of a wild horse and burro program.

Cost

According to CBO, H.R. 1018 would increase costs for the BLM for managing wild horses by "about $200 over the 2010-2014."  However, CBO also states that the bill would require BLM to begin acquiring new land, primarily after 2013.  According to CBO, the cost of acquiring new land could be as high as $500 million, which would bring the actual cost of the bill to $700 million.