By Pat Raia, The Horse
September 13, 2016
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has abandoned a plan to surgically sterilize wild mares, according to some wild horse advocates. Meanwhile, a National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board resolution could put animals already in holding facilities in danger, some advocates say.
The Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971 protects wild horses and places them under BLM jurisdiction. The agency estimates that 67,000 wild horses currently reside on public lands in 10 Western states. Another 45,000 animals reside in short- and long-term holding corrals, agency statistics say.
In June, the BLM announced that, in cooperation with Oregon State University, it would “develop and evaluate safe and humane methods to spay” wild horse mares as a way to manage herd growth. The proposed surgeries would be performed on 100 mares residing in corrals in Hines, Oregon.
In response 35 wild horse advocacy groups went on record to oppose the research project on grounds that the surgeries would be performed in a nonsterile environment and could result in potentially fatal complications, including hemorrhage, infection, and colic.
On July 26, the Front Range Equine Rescue, a horse rescue and wild horse advocacy group based in Ocala, Florida, filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia challenging the BLM's decision to “perform dangerous and untested surgical sterilization on captive wild horses—many of them pregnant mares.”
“This radical departure from the boundaries of science and humane treatment is unauthorized, uncalled for, and illegal,” the complaint said.
The complaint also alleged that surgical sterilization is costly in comparison with other population control alternatives, such as treatment with the fertility control vaccine porcine zona pellucida, and represents a breach of the BLM's federal mandate to protect wild horse herds.
Subsequently, on Sept. 9, wild horse advocate organizations the Colorado Springs, Colorado-based Cloud Foundation and the America Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, based in Hillsborough, North Carolina, said the BLM informed them that it would not move forward with the surgical sterilization plan.
Nick Lawton, the advocates' attorney, opined that the BLM's withdrawal of its invasive sterilization experiments reveals, more than anything else, that the agency knows the public will not accept these inhumane sterilization practices. “The litigation and advocacy efforts that led up to the lawsuits clearly demonstrate that surgically sterilizing wild horses is not socially acceptable and we are glad the BLM acknowledged this and withdrew the entire Decision Record authorizing the experiments.”
Tom Gorey, BLM spokesman, said complications from litigation drove the agency's decision “not to move ahead at this time with the proposed research efforts at the Hines corrals,” but that the BLM would continue searching for new population control tools.
“We remain committed to finding new tools that will help us ensure that we have healthy horses on healthy rangelands,” Gorey said.
Meanwhile, in a written statement, Ginger Kathrens, Cloud Foundation executive director and one of nine BLM National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board members, said she was the sole dissenting vote when the board passed a resolution concerning the “euthanasia” of wild horses currently residing in long- and short-term holding facilities.
No one from the BLM was available for comment on that issue.