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
Report from RTF Lompoc Headquarters
Dear Friends of RTF,
Time flies, and it's time again to check in with our Supporters to say thanks, and give a little bit of ranch news. While the care of nearly 450 rescued wild horses and burros is a constant and challenging task, our days are also peppered with landmarks, large and small, that season our daily caretaking chores.
As we've described previously, keeping horse family bands intact and even reuniing horses torn from each other in roundups, is an over-arching principle at RTF. We've accomplished this a number of times, but only with the help of our supporters. These are detectiver stories, takng time and resources, without which these family members and friends would be lost t each other forever. Reunions are a happy time for all of us, horse and human.
Ares and Gracie reunited
Ares and Gracie were reunited a year after the roundup that tore them from each other.
The following report is from Meg Frederick, a celebrated equine photographer who has befriended these horses on the range, and remained a fierce advocate and protector after some of the horses have been heartlessly rounded up and separated.
“Today I wanted to talk a little about family. A wild horse band is made up of the stallion, his mares and the offspring. I keep hearing that these horse don’t care about being with their mares. I live out with the wild horses 7 months out of the year. I can tell you for a fact they do care. Some stallions stay with the same mares for years and years. Yes the young ones do move on. I am focusing on the stallion and his mare. Another argument I keep hearing is once they are gelded they longer care about their mares. I was involved in reuniting two family bands last year and I can tell you that is false. The first photo is Ares and his mare Gracie when they saw each other. A once confident band stallion was cowering in the corner of the corral at the auction. His mares were very skittish and terrified. The second we reunited these horses you could see a hundred pound weight just drop off their shoulders. They knew they were safe back together. Yes in the wild bands split up. I have watched several bands at a sanctuary and they stay together and the geldings still fight to keep their band together. So many false narratives out there and mostly said by people who have not spent one day watching a wild horse in the wild. Mustangs are not solitary animals and need to be with a herd. “
We thank all the supporters, volunteers and advocates who work so hard to bring these shattered families and lost friends find each other again. It’s one of the most rewarding aspects of our work, but it would not happen without your help..
Amante is now Fully Sponsored
It's very important for us to find personal sponsorship for our horses, burros and herds. Knowing that these animals have ongoing support from outside the ranch not only increases our confidence and stability, it also frees us to do more outreach and advocacy for the wild ones still on the range.
Our handsome friend Amante now has that all-important backup. There are a number of RF residents and groups that still need friends to help ensure their happy lives. Please visit www.returntofreedom.org/sponsor to see the beautiful faces you could be feeding!
Our deep thanks to those who have already put their arms around horses, burros and herds—you can't know how great it makes us feel!
Special Film Screening
In October, RTF hosted a special theatrical screening of The Mustangs: America’s Wild Horses.
The 200 seat theater was sold out and remained packed for the panel discussion with a truly engaged audience. The feature documentary--executive produced by Robert Redford, Patti and Jessica Springsteen, takes audiences on an odyssey throughout America to meet just some of the people helping America’s mustangs and burros in different ways.
The journey begins with an introduction from Robert Redford and continues with a narrative from Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Philipps, songs by Bruce Springsteen, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson and an original song written by Diane Warren and performed by Blanco Brown.
Then, a dynamic panel was facilitated by Elizabeth Kaye McCall and included producer Steven Latham, RTF founder Neda DeMayo, Las Cumbres Ranch (regenerative agriculture and holistic land management) owner Patricia Selbert and renowned wild horse photographer Meg Frederick.
"It was a truly engaged crowd filled with familiar and new faces of all ages,” said Neda DeMayo
"America's wild horses are fighting their last stand," said Executive Producer Robert Redford --
Thank you to everyone who came to the film and to all of you who stand with America’s wild horses and burros.
RTF In Print
RTF is grateful to have been featured recently in Young Rider Magazine!
"On the central coast of California, a special place for wild horses is nestled among the rolling hills and native oak trees. It’s a place where both horses and burros find refuge, where the grass grows high in spring and the sun shines warmly nearly all year-round."
So begins a feature article about RTF's American Wild Horse Sanctuary in the September-October issue of Young Rider magazine. The story touches on RTF's efforts to provide a home for wild horses and burros displaced by roundups, even as we work to change the way those still on our public lands are managed by government agencies. The magazine also highlighted our work to conserve rare strains, such as the Choctaw Indian pony, and our ambassador Spirit, the Kiger stallion who acted as muse and model for the beloved animated film "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron."
We hope you will visit our website to read the article in full and share with any young wild horse lovers in your life. Thank you to Young Rider Magazine for featuring our work in such a thoughtfully written article.
Until Congress takes action, the needless slaughter of American horses will continue day after day.
Between January and September of this year, 14,402 American horses were shipped to slaughterhouses in Mexico or Canada.
Slaughter is not euthanasia. It is horrific. and even the truck transport there is a living hell.
Time is running out for this Congress to pass the SAFE Act (H.R. 3355 / S. 2732), which would permanently ban horse slaughter in the United States as well as the export of American horses for slaughter.
ACT NOW: Please contact your representative at 202-225-3121 and urge him or her to push for the movement of the SAFE Act (H.R. 3355) to end horse slaughter.
As always, we homnor those people—like you— who love and respect America's symbols of Freedom.
To the Wild ones, and those who stand with them,
All of Us at RTF
Dear Friend of RTF,
Thanks for looking in with us at life at Return to Freedom over the past few months.
Both our care of over 450 displaced wild horses and burros, and our advocacy on the national stage to assure the future of America's symbols of freedom have, as always, kept us more than busy.
RTF Ranch Manager Jason Buckingham directed a number of recent facility improvement, maintenance, and preservation projects at RTF, including repair work on the front hill pasture’s fence, replacing fencing and posts gate reinstallation. The hay barn and maintenance yard have undergone significant clean-ups, with the collected scrap metal removed and recycled. Mustard overgrowth removal is ongoing. Not glamorous, but a necessary part of ranch life. And another long-awaited upgrade— a nice new surface was laid next to our outdoor kitchen area for the enjoyment and safety of volunteers and event guests.
In our mission to always improve ranch practices, Founder Neda DeMayo continued to consult with Rodger Savory, both at our Lompoc headquarters and our San Luis Obispo satellite, to design a regenerative holistic grazing approach for healthier and more sustainable land. Healthy land equals healthy herds and wildlife! Neda and our Equine Manager, Sarah Romberger, and Ranch Manager Jason Buckingham also met with a Professor of Ecology and Rangeland management at Cal Poly university, along with three summer volunteer students. Cal Poly students will help monitor the herds and the progress of the grazing program.
In May, we celebrated Spirit's Birthday on our traditional Opening Day.
DreamWorks Animation selected RTF’s sanctuary as Spirit’s home following his time as the animators’ model for the Oscar-nominated “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron.” That movie spawned a popular Emmy Award-winning spinoff series for younger children, “Spirit: Riding Free” on Netflix, and the 2021 movie “Spirit: Untamed.”
62 friends of RTF attended, including 50 adults and 12 children. As usual, a good time was had by all, including birthday boy, Spirit.
The Opening Day event featured a Native American blessing of the horses and land, staff-led walking tours with time for herd observation, eclectic food, and wine from Beckmen Vineyards in Los Olivos and Lompoc’s Flying Goat Cellars— including “Celebrate Freedom”, a pinot noir label created to help benefit the Sanctuary! Visitors at Saturday’s event also posed with big smiles for personal photos with Spirit.
Progress has been made in Return to Freedom’s effort to end horse slaughter.
The Save America’s Forgotten Equines (SAFE) Act recently took a step forward in the House of Representatives. H.R. 3355 would permanently ban horse slaughter in the United States as well as the sale and export of American horses for slaughter.
The House Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce held an informational hearing on the bill on May 26. On June 23, the subcommittee advanced the bill on a voice vote with no opposition heard after positive comments from representatives on both sides of the aisle.
RTF is now pushing for a full Energy and Commerce Committee vote on the SAFE Act as soon as possible.
In a separate but related effort, the House Agriculture Committee passed a Fiscal Year 2023 Ag. appropriations bill that includes an effort to make horse slaughter defund language permanent. The bill now moves to the House floor.
Each year since 2006, RTF has lobbied successfully for the inclusion of language barring the U.S. Department of Agriculture from using tax dollars to hire horsemeat inspectors. The year-to-year ban has kept horse slaughter plants closed in the United States since 2007.
This year, working with RTF, Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) submitted evergreen language that would keep the defund language in place every year.
The Ag. funding bill is likely to pass the House without the horse slaughter defund being a point of contention, so our focus on this effort turns to urging Senators to accept the evergreen defund language.
To be clear: The defund language effectively bars horse slaughter in the United States but it does not address the export of American horses for slaughter. That’s why we’re also working so hard on the SAFE Act, which would ban both.
As of this writing, the House and Senate Interior appropriations language affecting the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Wild Horse and Burro Program has not been released. RTF continues to push for the funding and implementation of proven, safe and humane fertility control that can end roundups.
RTF is grateful to its advocacy team, including its Washington, D.C., lobbyist, Chris Heyde, for their effort to move legislation that benefits wild horses and domestic horses alike. We’re also grateful to the thousands of RTF supporters who’ve sent letters or called Congress on these and other issues.
For ways that you can take action for wild horses and burros, see 8 Ways to Help America’s Horses at https://returntofreedom.org/take-action/
RTF has, at every turn, resisted and called attention to the BLM’s plan to zero-out three wild horse Herd Management Areas in southwest Wyoming and slash the herd population on a fourth. The plan, which would effectively remove about 2 million acres, is set to be finalized in early July. Dating back to last year, RTF has been preparing for possible litigation, published an op-ed in Wyoming’s largest newspaper, sent out press releases and generated thousands of letters of opposition to the plan.
The BLM has already set the stage for the changes. Starting last October, the agency spent more than $1.1 million to capture and remove 3,502 wild horses from their southwest Wyoming home ranges during a three-month-long helicopter roundup in which 37 horses died.
The BLM says that it is amending a Resource Management Plan to comply with a 2013 consent decree that the agency entered into with the Rock Springs Grazing Association. The ranching group sued for the removal of all of the wild horses from the 2-million-acre Checkerboard region, an unfenced area of alternating, one-mile-square blocks of public and private land set up in the 1860s as part of negotiations with the Union Pacific railroad. BLM’s lone reason for its planned changes, which we believe would violate the law, is that creating a barrier between public and private lands is difficult.
We wish that all our supporters here could join us at RTF Headquarters in Lompoc, CA, or at our satellite in San Luis Obispo to visit the horses and burros we all love and respect. Until you can, we hope that these updates help, and that you will visit our website to see more detail on our operations and mission.
To the Wild Ones, and Those who stand with them...
All of Us at Return to Freedom
Dear Friend of RTF,
There's nothing cuter than a baby horse—
As we've explained previously, RTF has been a pioneer in the use of non-hormonal, reversible birth control as a humane alternative to endless family-shattering traumatic roundups on our public lands. Maintaining natural family bands and behaviors is a priority for us.
Although this mode of population control is very effective, some mares do not respond and some births occur. This is a welcome "failure", as the loss of elderly horses, while sad, creates a void joyfully filled by the occasional new foal.
Fig was born Jan. 27 at our Lompoc, Calif., headquarters sanctuary. He is the first foal for his mother, Rosebud, who did very well during the birth despite Fig’s large size. She’s quickly proved to be a good mom and is very protective.
Rosebud, a beautiful strawberry bay roan, and Fig’s father, Jack, also a roan, are members of our Brislawn herd, a group of Spanish mustangs who arrived at our sanctuary in December 2018.
With the addition of a staff vet, Dr. Nicole Eller, Equine Staff and the horses have a consistent presence to oversee the health of the horses and herds. Thanks to a grant from Nature’s Defense Foundation, we were able to purchase portable ultrasound equipment and an autoclave to sterilize veterinary equipment. Dr Eller was also able to secure vaccine donations for a number of the horses! Having regular dentistry has helped many of the senior horses this winter.
Also, eight rescued colts have been gelded and are ready for training and adoption! Dr. Eller has also been able to review adoption and equine safety protocol, get genetic testing done on our Spanish Brislawn and Choctaw herd and get the Brislawn horses registered with the Horses of America registry. Dr. Eller updated our adoption page and we have found a wonderful home for a young mare and foal and two other Spanish mustangs, with interest in a few others as well. Thomas Smittle has gentled a number of horses to prepare them for adoption. He is currently working with five 5- year-old recently-gelded Gila horses and 2 recently-gelded Spanish Brislawn colts.
There is so much that happens at the sanctuary each and every day, but this is a glimpse into some of what has been happening!
With RTF Ranch Manager Jason back onsite, a number of ranch projects have been in the works since we last wrote. From ongoing fence repair, completing the re-fencing of the perimeter of the oak forest, to reseeding 40 acres of flat pasture for grazing, clearing out the equipment and supply area and maintaining equipment, Jason keeps ranch staff organized to complete daily ranch operations and projects.
Previously, a number of Choctaws were brought to RTF’s Jalama headquarters, due to a fire evacuation at Sindisa Sanctuary in Northern California. Jason transported them back recently after fire season, and into a newly cleared area up at Sindisa.
We received a very large donation of cedar fencing from Home Depot, some of which will go up at our San Luis Obispo satellite location. RTF is grateful for these in-kind donations of needed materials.
As well as caring every day for nearly 500 wild horses and burros, RTF is a strong voice on the national stage working to protect whe Wild Ones still roaming freely on the range, to protect those rounded up and vulnerable to a failed adoption program, and to stop the brutal transport and slaughter of America's horses.
In early January, the Bureau of Land Management announced that it would remove “at least” a record 19,000 wild horses and burros from the range during Fiscal Year 2022, which began in October, while treating just 2,300 wild horses and burros with what it described only as “various forms of fertility control.”
This comes on the heels of BLM removing 13,666 wild horses and burros from their home ranges while treating with fertility control just 1,160 in Fiscal Year 2021. The agency estimated there were about 86,000 horses on BLM-managed public lands in March 2021.
RTF believes these removals are excessive and irresponsible -- not least because BLM is not equipped or prepared to care for another 19,000 captive wild horses and burros. The agency’s short-term holding corrals are already overcrowded. As of December, 59,007 wild horses and burros were in off-range holding, including 20,097 in overcrowded off-range corrals, 37,760 on pastureland and 1,150 on public pastures.
BLM is following an aggressive removal plan put forward to Congress in 2020, a plan focused on reaching an arbitrarily low “Appropriate Management Level” of fewer than 27,000 wild horses and burros across 10 states before implementing fertility in a real way.
RTF holds that the immediate use of safe, proven and humane fertility control to phase out future removals is long overdue. We continue to lobby Congress to hold BLM’s feet to the fire on its implementation. Otherwise, the agency will continue throwing good money after bad, removing wild horses and burros from their home ranges while failing to address reproduction.
In addition to engaging lawmakers and congressional and White House staff, RTF continues to meet with top agency officials and with other rangeland stakeholders in an effort to build support for immediate of fertility control. If mares are not treated with fertility control to slow reproduction on the range and released, these roundups will be followed by the increases to the herd populations, and then, as usual, BLM returning to remove and place more wild horses in off-range holding.
RTF remains active on a number of related issues, including calling for an outside investigation of BLM’s $1,000-per-horse Adoption Incentive Program. Under pressure from RTF and others, the BLM has made some changes intended to better protect wild horses and burros from ending up in bad homes or being sold into the foreign slaughter pipeline. More needs to be done, however – including replacing cash incentives with vouchers for veterinary care and training.
RTF also remains a leader in the fight to end horse slaughter. As of this writing, the SAFE Act to ban horse slaughter and the export of horses for slaughter has amassed 211 bipartisan cosponsors in the House -- just seven shy of a majority -- but has not yet been voted out of committee. Last year, 23,431 American horses were shipped to slaughter in Mexico and Canada.
RTF supporters have sent thousands of letters to Congress on topics ranging from fertility control implementation to calling for improved humane handling standards and greater transparency regarding the handling of wild horses and burros. To join them in taking action, see “8 ways to help America’s horses” on our homepage, http://returntofreedom.org.
None of the work you have read here or over the years, whether on the ranch or in the halls of government, would have been possible without you and our other our loyal supporters. When you support RTF, you are really supporting the wild horses and burros we all love and respect, and we are so grateful.
For the Wild Ones, and those who stand by them,
All of Us at RTF
Time seems to pass so quickly. In the several months since we last wrote to you, we have dealt with a number of events over and above the daily routine of hard work and care for our resident horses and burros.
To our great concern, our rambunctious little Eros fractured his leg somehow, a potentially life-ending event for a horse. However, we don’t give up on our precious residents easily, and because of his youth we decided to do everything possible to save him. Eros was at the clinic for almost a month recovering from surgery, transitioning from a cast to heavy bandage to a regular wrap, at which point he came home to RTF for further recovery. He and his mom, Reina, hung out in the barn while he healed and took his supplements for bone growth, and he recently got a follow-up x-ray that showed he is healing well! We are now allowing him outside in a larger area for increasing amounts of time, and have recently put Kimmimila with her young filly Solstice with Eros and Reina in a larger space outside, so the young foals can have some much-needed play time. This was an expensive journey, but your support helped to save this precious little horse, and we are so thankful.
RTF has many moving parts—all the Spanish Mustangs we previously rescued are now registered with the Horse of the Americas, Inc., and the young Spanish Mustangs and Gilas are getting ready for adoption.
Something big is brewing—we are continuing the process of reuniting family/social bands that were separated during the Red Desert round-up in Wyoming last year. They will join several others who have been in transit, as well as three youngsters, Rosie, Isabelle, and Romeo, who have been with us at Lompoc since March. We’ll tell—and show you—more about this next time, when the reunion is complete. Keeping herds and families together, and reuniting families and family members shattered by heartless roundups has been a theme here at RTF since our founding. This is a big one, and the amazing and impossible story of how it happened is what you’ll hear next time.
Although RTF uses a non-hormonal and reversible birth control agent to keep our population stable, there is an occasional mare who is a non-responder to the program. These are happy “accidents”—however, no one could be sorry to see Choctaw mare Mariah’s new colt "Chahta Tushka appear! He is super curious and already attached to his older brother Talako, who is very sweet and patient with him. The Choctaw ponies are a threatened strain of horses who arrived to America in the 1500’s and carried the infirm on the tragic Trail of Tears.
We also transported Hart Mountain herd-member Maverick from our San Luis Obispo satellite to Lompoc headquarters for more hands-on care. He is 25 years old and is no longer able to keep on enough weight traversing the SLO hills, so he came to Lompoc to have his teeth done and be put on a special diet. He has rejoined members of his herd who have returned previously for special care (“the retirees”). He immediately reunited with Serena, a 28-year-old Hart Mountain mare, who he has known since they were free on the range.
We are also all very happy that our Ranch Manager, Jason, has returned to his post at RTF headquarters in Lompoc, CA, after his long deploymenton a project up north caring for members of the Gila Herd during their stay there.
Since his much-welcomed return, he has been catching up with the maintenance, repair and acquisition of ranch equipment. As a result, we now have a new-to-us used feed truck, have new tires on two ranch pickups and our side-by-side utility vehicle and Kubota tractor, and got our ailing water truck back to health. Jason also continues to address fencing needs and preparation for winter rains!
Our Sanctuary Director and founder recruited a small crew to work with RTF alumni Merced Tagle to repair 2500’ of perimeter fencing in our Oak Forest (where the RTF burros like to hang out), and had sand hauled into both of our barns for the comfort and safety of horses and people.
If you’ve ever cared for one horse, you can imagine the challenge of giving a high standard of care to 500. We are aware—every day— that we can’t do it alone, and your support is such an important part of us having done this large and life-preserving job successfully for the past 24 years.
This summer we hosted many people happy to get back out after long limited activity. A lot of these private tours were for kids who were primarily excited to meet Spirit. Many of them wore their favorite Spirit t-shirts to meet the movie star. Public tours were also busy with the generally relaxed restrictions. To accommodate this demand, we have doubled our number of sanctuary tours for the 2022 Program Season.
Safaris and Photo Clinics this summer were also a hit with a lot of returning photographers. The RTF horses living at our San Luis Obispo satellite location recognized a lot of the photographers, which was very enlightening to see.
Our volunteers have been such a big help on Saturdays, and some have even made it a point to get out to the ranch and help on weekdays. Our volunteers are invaluable and we cannot thank them enough!
If you’ve been following RTF, you know that as well as providing sanctuary for approximately 500 displaced wild horses and burros, we work on the national stage to protect and preserve the wild equines still running free on our public lands. This is a long-standing battle, as these lands are used by multiple stakeholders, and most see the horses as an obstacle to their interests.
The Bureau of Land Management continues to pursue an aggressive roundup schedule, warehousing wild horses and burros by the thousands in already overcrowded holding facilities despite lawmakers appropriating millions of dollars for safe, proven and humane fertility control. Wholesale change cannot happen overnight -- but there’s little sign it’s happening at all.
In June, BLM’s roundup calendar called for only 2,405 mares to be treated with fertility control this year, out of the agency-estimated 86,000 wild horses and burros on the range. By Aug. 30, the number of mares that the agency planned to treat had been cut to just 1,172.
At the same time, BLM plans to capture almost 17,000 wild horses and burros this year. That includes an additional 6,000 that in August the agency announced it would remove from the range due to climate change-driven drought across the West.
Neither climate change nor drought are new to the West’s fragile rangelands, yet BLM has failed to be proactive by treating mares with fertility control in order to slow herd growth or even by putting into place contingency plans for emergency conditions.
In almost all instances, BLM has removed the additional wild horses from their home ranges without treating mares with fertility control then releasing them – all but guaranteeing that helicopters will soon return to the same places to remove more wild horses at taxpayer expense, and put more captured horses at risk of falling into the foreign slaughter pipeline through failed adoptions and sales. Congress must hold BLM’s feet to the fire on its implementation now. Otherwise, the agency will continue throwing good money after bad, removing wild horses and burros from their home ranges while failing to address reproduction.
On the horse slaughter issue: the Senate version of the Save America's Forgotten Equines (SAFE) Act (S. 2732), which would ban horse slaughter and the export of American horses for slaughter, was reintroduced on Sept. 14. The Senate version has three cosponsors, while the House version (H.R. 3355) has amassed 119.
The tens of thousands of horses shipped abroad for slaughter each year include an unknown number of wild horses.
Under a 2004 sale authority law, commonly called the “Burns Amendment,” the BLM is directed to sell “without limitation” wild horses age 10 and older or younger horses who have not been adopted after three tries. BLM has sold more than 6,455 wild horses and burros since 2012. Once title is passed, wild horses lose their federal protections and are no longer tracked by BLM.
Congress has made clear that BLM and the U.S. Forest Service are not to sell wild horses to known kill buyers; however, even if the agency abides by the law, the threat of slaughter looms. Once title is passed to the wild horse’s new owner, it loses its protected status. Likewise, after an adopter receives title after one year, a wild horse or burro can be sold and end up auctioned off to a kill buyer.
Earlier this year, a New York Times report found that wild horses adopted through a BLM program were being shipped to slaughter after their adopters received a $1,000 incentive. BLM has since altered the program in ways that fall short of real change. RTF is among those that have called for the program to be suspended pending a thorough investigation of the program. Last year, BLM adopted out 4,741 wild horses and burros.
We hope that you enjoy these little periodic updates about the wild horses and burros who sadly lost their homes on the range, but found a safe and happy life here at RTF’s American Wild Horse Sanctuary. We wish that you all were here to meet the horses about which we write. If you can, you are most welcome to join in our scheduled programs, which will gradually resume a more normal routine. You can check them out at www.returntofreedom.org
Our deepest thanks for your part in making life so good for our residents. There is no RTF without people like you.
All of Us at Return to Freedom
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