Amendment would set 'starting point' to sterilize wild horses

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Kellie Lunney, E&E News

Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) plans to introduce an amendment to spending legislation dealing with the Interior Department's wild horse struggles. Bureau of Land Management

The thorny issue of how best to manage the roughly 82,000 wild horses and burros roaming federal land will once again rear its head during today's Appropriations Committee markup of the fiscal 2019 Interior spending bill.

Utah Republican Rep. Chris Stewart plans to introduce an amendment during the Interior-Environment bill's markup allowing the Interior Department to look into permanently sterilizing the animals, whose population has exploded across 27 million acres of federal herd management areas.

The current fiscal 2019 Interior-Environment spending bill includes a rider allowing for the "humane transfer" of excess wild horses and would grant the Interior secretary authority to work with nonprofit groups for the "long-term care of wild free roaming horses and burros."

That language is in keeping with previous years' spending bills, prohibiting BLM from using federal money to sell or destroy the animals.

Stewart said his amendment would allow "a kind of starting point to do permanent sterilization." He added: "We know PZP just doesn't work," referring to porcine zona pellucida, a birth control method that renders mares infertile for roughly a year.

The measure is different from the amendment the Utah Republican successfully inserted into the House version of the fiscal 2018 Interior-Environment spending bill, which generated controversy and ultimately was left out of the Senate's version.

That provision would have lifted restrictions on the Bureau of Land Management to sell or, in specific circumstances, euthanize excess animals. It also would have prohibited horses that were killed from being used for human consumption.

"I think we've kind of refocused on something [sterilization] that hopefully the Senate will help us with," Stewart told E&E News recently. "If you won't let us manage the herds, let us control the growth of them, and that's what we are hoping to do."

Stewart also said he is hopeful the amendment will garner bipartisan support.

Suzanne Roy, executive director of the American Wild Horse Campaign, said Stewart recognized that he wouldn't get "his lethal management plan" through Congress and instead turned to proposing sterilization for the animals.

"Any push to sterilize America's wild free-roaming horses is inhumane, barbaric and unscientific," said Roy, adding that it was also "counter to the principles of humane wild horse management endorsed by more than 100 horse welfare and horse advocacy organizations."

Roy also said BLM "continues to fail to utilize PZP birth control to humanely manage wild horses in the wild."

BLM has struggled to manage the growing herds — which can cause damage to vegetation, soil and other resources — in a way that satisfies everyone.

The agency this spring released a 45-page report outlining four options for managing wild horses and burros, including one that calls for Congress to eliminate language in spending bills forbidding it from euthanizing the animals (E&E News PMApril 26).

Other alternatives discussed included fertility control and sterilization, though BLM did not advocate for any specific options.

In May, BLM unveiled Online Corral, a website aimed at increasing the adoption of wild horses and burros from federal rangelands (E&E News PM, May 18).

Originally posted by E&E News