DENVER, Colo. (May 8, 2022) — The Colorado General Assembly has passed unprecedented and groundbreaking legislation SB23-275, known as The Colorado Wild Horse Project. Colorado’s new law adds state protections for the rights of mustangs and burros to reside in their homes instead of being traumatically and expensively rounded up and kept in cramped pens that are exposed to the weather and foster deadly diseases. In April 2022, 145 horses died of a flu outbreak in a Cañon City holding facility which was later found to be in breach of 13 policies.
The bill’s primary sponsors were Senator Joann Ginal (D), Senator Perry Will (R), House Majority Leader Representative Monica Duran, and House Minority Leader Representative Mike Lynch (R). These sponsors secured bipartisan support in both chambers of the General Assembly and passed by an overwhelming majority, reflecting how important wild horses and public lands are to all Americans.
Nationally, the US Congress has struggled to pass laws favorable to America’s wild horses and burros for years. In a rare instance of legislative unity, the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act was passed unanimously by Congress to protect America’s wild equids. Since then, the protections that the law provided for wild horses and burros have been eroded. It was weakened considerably in 2004 when Senator Conrad Burns (R-MT) attached a rider to the Omnibus Appropriations bill in an underhanded manner. Legislators were unaware of this rider, known as the “Burns Amendment,” when it was inserted into the massive 3,000-page document. It repealed the protections in the act and allowed for the sale and slaughter of many captured wild equids.
“We are thrilled state legislators have honored Colorado citizens’ overwhelming support for wild horses. With the passage of The Colorado Wild Horse Project, we can lead the way for other states and national legislation to rebalance the rights of mustangs and burros to live on our public lands,” said Ginger Fedak, a Colorado resident and Wild Horse and Burro Senior Campaigner for In Defense of Animals. “Now Congress, media, and the public as a whole will finally see how humane wild horse stewardship without roundups can benefit everyone.”
Wild horse advocates have been campaigning to end the abuse of mustangs and burros on public lands for decades. Humane, practical, and affordable solutions to brutal wild horse roundups and warehousing were detailed in a solutions document signed by 112 organizations in 2018. Colorado will be the first state to put some of these into practice on a state level.
SB23-275 prioritizes retaining healthy wild horse herds in Colorado’s four Herd Management Areas (HMAs), thereby reducing costly and destructive removals. The legislation aims to improve significantly upon the national government’s failing and unsustainable system of roundups, where captured mustangs are retained in pathetically poor quality yet exorbitantly expensive holding facilities for the rest of their lives. Current fertility control measures in the state’s herds are completed by underresourced volunteers. The Colorado Wild Horse Project provides more staffing and resources.
The new law will also create a working group of various stakeholders experienced in wild horse issues to bolster and improve the dreadful and often deadly conditions for horses captured from their Colorado management areas. They will find new areas for captured mustangs to live in sanctuary-type settings or more reliable and suitable adoptive homes for those adaptable to domestic life.
Funding for this new program will get a start-up of state funding of $1.5 million, after which private funding and support will be utilized. In Defense of Animals and other major environmental and wild horse and burro advocacy organizations supported this bill with expert testimony to the state legislature. A few anti-fertility control individuals spoke out against it with flawed arguments. Ultimately, the state legislators, including those with ranching interests, trusted the science and constituent input and passed the bill. The final vote was taken in the Colorado House on Saturday after the third and final reading, passing by a margin of 58 to 7. Governor Polis has been a strong proponent of finding improved management over roundups and removals for our wild equids and is likely to sign the bill into law imminently as the state’s legislative session closes.
In Defense of Animals stands firmly with and for America’s wild horses and burros. The current system of brutal roundups and removals is inhumane and financially unsustainable.
“We hope Colorado can lead the way to a better, more humane approach to caring for these cherished wild horses,” continued Fedak. “We stand with our allies, ready to help Colorado’s innovative new plan work and show by example how we can save our wild herds of mustangs and burros.”
In Defense of Animals is an international animal protection organization with over 250,000 supporters and a 40-year history of fighting for animals, people, and the environment through education and campaigns, as well as hands-on rescue facilities in India, South Korea, California, and rural Mississippi. www.idausa.org/wildhorses