November 8, 2018
HARNEY COUNTY — Days after a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction to temporarily halt a controversial spaying experiment on wild horse mares, the Bureau of Land Management has announced that it is halting the project, for which horses already were removed from the range.
The BLM announced its decision Wednesday, according to a news release from the American Welfare Institute.
Several appeals had been filed on the project regarding the nature of the surgery in which the horses ovaries are removed, and a project that two separate times has seen universities withdraw. Veterinarians called the spay procedure unscientific, inhumane and dangerous, noting that it would result in pain, suffering and potentially life-threatening complications for wild mares.
In order to conduct the spay and behavior research study, the BLM-Burns District spent Oct. 2-23 attempting to round up all of the horses on the Warm Springs Herd Management Area, south of Hines, according to Tara Thissell, spokeswoman for the agency.
The 475,000-acre range had more than 800 horses before the roundup. Now only about 20 to 30 horses remain.
Eight-hundred and thirteen horses, 41 burros and two mules that survived the roundups were shipped to a facility in Hines, with a plan to return 200 part of the study to the range, and adopting out the remaining animals.
A request for comment from Thissell regarding when the BLM plans to return the horses to the range was not returned by press time.
The surgeries were slated to begin Nov. 5, however U.S. District Court Judge Michael W. Mosman ruled on Nov. 2 that members of the coalition and advocates and plaintiffs in the case were likely to prevail.
On Wednesday, the BLM notified attorneys for the coalition and the U.S. District Court of Oregon that the agency intends to halt the experiments.
According to documents filed with the court, the defendants — Ryan Zinke, Secretary of the United States Department of the Interior — “made a settlement offer” to plaintiffs — Ginger Kathrens, et al. — on Nov. 6. Because plaintiffs rejected the offer, the defendants “intend to rescind the portion” of the BLM’s record of decision relating to the spay feasibility and on-range behavioral outcomes study.”
Kathrens, executive director of The Cloud Foundation and member of the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Advisory, along with the Animal Welfare Institute, the American Wild Horse Campaign, The Cloud Foundation and photographer Carol Walker were plaintiffs in the case.
“We are gratified that the BLM has nixed these cruel experiments on federally protected horses, but it should not take two lawsuits over two years to convince a federal agency that America’s beloved wild horses deserve humane approaches to population management,” said Joanna Grossman, Ph.D., equine program manager for AWI, in a news release from the agency.
However, it’s not as simple as the BLM vacating the project. Due to the outcome of a 2005 appeal case, the BLM must file a motion to vacate and remand the Decision Record with the Interior Board of Land Appeals. Court documents state that the BLM must submit a status report to the Court on Nov. 21 to provide an update on its progress toward rescinding the Decision Record.
“The BLM made the right decision to abandon these barbaric experiments and instead listen to the strong interest the public has in seeing our wild horses protected and treated humanely,” said Brieanah Schwartz, government relations and policy counsel for AWHC. “We now hope that the agency will reconsider all plans to conduct this inhumane research and focus instead on humane, scientifically recommended forms of population management, including PZP fertility control.”
The fertility control method referred is applied with dart guns from a long distance, and is said to reduce stress in the mares.
“The sterilization research was a path to destroying wild horses, by destroying the very essence of what makes them wild – their natural behaviors,” said Kathrens. “Now we must remain vigilant to ensure that the agency instead works with advocates to develop humane management options.”