Some of RTF's burro residents filling up
Dear Friend of RTF,
When it's a drought, you wish for rain, and when it rains, IT POURS.
Return to Freedom operates the American Wild Horse Sanctuary, which is currently home to 370 wild horses and 50 wild burros. Here at the sanctuary ranch, rain and heavy mud makes managing a large number of animals that more difficult, but we've been doing it for 25 years, rain, shine, wind and mud. When we look at the horses and burros, who rightly expect great care and food, we just put on our boots and forge ahead.
We have had substantial damage to several roofs, and to some hay. Two of the barns really took a beating. Major repairs are needed, but will wait until we raise the funds for construction. But as the challenging tasks of cleanup and repair from winter rainstorms continue at our sanctuary locations, wildflowers are now blanketing the rolling hills.
As Spring approaches, we start to dry out, and then we can conduct the workshops, volunteer events and tours that educate youth and adults and inspire new wild horse advocates. We have announced our 2023 summer schedule, and look forward to seeing old friends and making new ones as we walk through the herds and learn the herds' histories and work toward a better future for them on the range.
In March, RTF founder Neda DeMayo was featured in an article called "Wild, Wild Horses." in Red Canary Magazine! The article describes how Neda's devotion to horses began, and how it led to Return to Freedom and 25 years of work on their behalf. The link to the article is in the links section of this report.
We talk a lot about the wild horses living at RTF, but equally precious are our burro residents, Our 2,000-acre San Luis Obispo satellite sanctuary provides a safe home to 24 of our 50 smart and curious resident wild burros, while the rest live in a beautiful hillside oak forest at our Lompoc headquarters. All our resident burros once roamed freely on our public lands or were born in government off-range holding after roundups. They are visitor favorites, and it's easy to see why.
RTF has never been home to cows, but when we were alerted that a herd of pet Longhorn cows in Oklahoma needed a place to go, we began to network a solution and to raise funds to transport them, in bonded groups, to new homes. Their guardians were aging, and wanted to make sure their cow friends were well-situated before the kind couple became physically unable to care for them.
We still are looking for the transport funding, but the great news is that Rosette and her immediate family of 9—Cher and her baby girl, Shari and her baby girl, Precious, Berry, plus their babies soon to be born—in addition to Mary’s offspring and up to 30 more- depending on transport funds- have been promised a safe and beautiful new home on 1400 acres owned by a supporter of Return to Freedom. Here they will live among rescued cows, horses, burros and goats in the rolling oak studded pastures in San Luis Obispo County, California—protected for their lifetime.
On March 9, President Joseph R. Biden included $154.8 million for the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Wild Horse and Burro Program in his Fiscal Year 2024 budget proposal. That would amount to a $6.9 million increase, with $5.9 going toward skyrocketing hay prices and other off-range holding costs.
While RTF appreciates the president’s call for additional funding, that amount will only see the program tread water. Lawmakers will need to allocate more on the front end in order to create a successful program of safe, proven and humane fertility control that can also save taxpayer dollars over the long run by shrinking off-range holding costs.
Congress has been reluctant to micromanage the BLM, but RTF is strongly urging congressional appropriators to press the BLM harder on fertility control implementation.
Congress should no longer judge the agency’s work based solely on the BLM’s short-lived progress toward agency-set population targets for wild horses and burros on the range. Instead, lawmakers should demand measurable results for fertility control implementation, movement of captured animals from corrals to more natural and cost-effective pastures, and other landmarks of real change.
Adoption Incentive Program (AIP)
RTF continues to push for changes in the BLM’s $1,000 cash incentive program or an outright end to the program. AIP resulted in an unknown number of wild horses and burros being held for a year until title is transferred, then sold at auctions frequented by kill buyers who ship equines to Mexican and Canadian slaughterhouses.
RTF has called for a full outside investigation of the program and, if the program is to be continued, more thorough background checks for adopters, the replacement of cash incentives with vouchers for training or veterinary care, and other changes to better safeguard wild horses and burros.
Last spring, the BLM took what initially appeared to be the positive step of enlisting a mediator to discuss with RTF and other advocates problems with AIP and ways to improve it. RTF also sent the agency information that it has collected about recently titled wild horses turning up in sale barns.
In October, the Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board also recommended that BLM should continue to investigate vouchers for AIP, among other possible changes, and quickly respond to the suggestions and concerns expressed by RTF and other stakeholder groups.
As of this writing, the BLM has not responded to a report based on the stakeholder meetings, however. Agency leadership is reportedly calling for additional public comment.
RTF’s lobbying efforts in 2022 helped amass 225 bipartisan House cosponsors, a majority, in support of the Save America’s Forgotten Equines (SAFE) Act to ban horse slaughter, as well as thousands of supporter letters in support of the bill.
Unfortunately, a small number of pro-slaughter groups—among them a handful of tribal nations—slowed the bill enough to prevent passage before the end of the last Congress in January.
While RTF refused to compromise on a possible carve-out that would have allowed horse slaughter on tribal land, RTF and others did offer to meet with the tribes, advise them on horse non-lethal management strategies, and to seek funding support for them. Unfortunately, the lobbyist for the tribes showed no interest in compromise.
RTF is currently working with its colleagues and SAFE sponsors on legislative strategies for this Congress.
We are so grateful to everyone who chips in to make the care of our residents, our work on behalf of the horses still running free, and the ability to help innocent animals like the Longhorns possible. It's the only way all this good happens.
With deep thanks,
All of Us at RTF
Neda alongside RTF burros-photo Meg Frederick
More hay delight