Sterilization project blocked; BLM must relocate Ore. herd

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Scott Streater, E&E News

February 20, 2019

The Bureau of Land Management wants to adopt or sell hundreds of wild horses it rounded up in Oregon last fall as part of a sterilization research project the bureau abandoned after animal rights groups challenged it in federal court.

BLM is proposing to return about 66 of the 845 wild horses gathered in October back to the Warm Springs Herd Management Area in central Oregon. The bureau plans to adopt, sell or transfer to other agencies the hundreds of "excess" horses that it says number far too many for the rangeland to sustain.

BLM proposes to use a temporary fertility vaccine on roughly 33 mares before returning them, along with 33 stallions, back to the herd management area. The vaccine, porcine zona pellucida, or PZP, renders mares infertile for about a year.

Returning only 66 of the rounded-up wild horses will keep herd sizes under the Warm Springs HMA's appropriate management level (AML) — the maximum number of animals BLM says the range can handle without causing damage to vegetation, soils and other resources. The bureau has set the AML for the 475,000-acre Warm Springs HMA at no more than 178 horses and 24 burros.

There are about 30 wild horses and 30 burros that were not rounded up last fall and are currently on the range, BLM says.

BLM's proposal is open for public comment through March 17.

The plan to return some of the wild horses back to the range pleased animal welfare and wild horse advocacy groups.

"The BLM made the right decision to abandon these barbaric experiments and to return wild horses to the Warm Springs HMA, where they have a right to live in their natural habitat, protected under federal law," said Brieanah Schwartz, government relations and policy counsel for the American Wild Horse Campaign, in a statement.

The American Wild Horse Campaign was part of the coalition that included the Cloud Foundation and the Animal Welfare Institute that sued BLM and then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to stop the research.

"It's time for the BLM to focus on humane, publicly supported and scientifically recommended population management methods, such as the proven PZP fertility control to keep wild horses wild and free on our public lands," Schwartz said.

BLM representatives did not respond to a request to comment on this story.

The new proposal comes nearly four months after BLM announced it would not pursue research on a procedure — called ovariectomy via colpotomy — that involved removing the ovaries from about 100 mares gathered from the Warm Springs HMA (Greenwire, Nov. 8, 2018).

BLM abandoned the research after U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman in Oregon issued a preliminary injunction halting the sterilization research and an accompanying behavioral analysis of the spayed mares that was to be led by the U.S. Geological Survey (Greenwire, Nov. 5, 2018).

The injunction order was sparked by a federal lawsuit filed by a coalition of wild horse and animal rights groups (Greenwire, Sept. 24, 2018).

The Department of Justice last November submitted a formal motion to the court stating BLM was canceling the research but would retain "the portion of the Decision Record" allowing it to "permanently remove excess horses from the range." That meant, in essence, that only a portion of the rounded-up animals would be returned to the range.

With only some of the rounded-up animals set to return to the range, BLM must adopt, sell or transfer as work animals more than 650 horses to other agencies. If not, it be forced to keep them in long-term holding pens and corrals, where the bureau has estimated that it can cost up to $48,000 to care for each animal over their lifetimes.

BLM's decision record says that "limited water availability" in the HMA, as well as "deteriorating conditions of the natural surface roads being used for hauling water" to the animals during dry summer months, underscore why most of the excess wild horses and burros cannot go back to the range.

Email: sstreater@eenews.net

Originally posted by E&E News