BLM Records Reveal Suspect Use of Euthansia During NV Roundup

January 10, 2019... Last October, AWHC sent a FOIA request to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Nevada Field Office to request all documents related to horses both euthanized and who died during the 2018 Owyhee Complex Roundup.

As a reminder, the Owyhee roundup was conducted on emergency roundup status in response to fires in the area in July. According to BLM’s own policies, an emergency may be declared when unexpected events threaten the health and welfare of wild horses, such as a fire. However, in 2018 the BLM conducted emergency roundups for reasons that were simply are not emergencies by this definition. This year, the BLM has used the designation “emergency” to avoid required analysis, disclosure, and public comment in the roundup of thousands of horses.

The Owyhee Roundup was unnecessarily labeled as an emergency. The horses in the Owyhee Complex Roundup were documented each day with an average Henneke Body Condition Score of between 4-5. A 5 is the average horse body score and is considered to be where a horse is most healthy. This clearly shows that these horses were doing fine on the range, despite the fire, and that this roundup was not necessary.

Mid-December, we finally received a response to our FOIA request. Among the limited documents we received, there was clear evidence that horses were being needlessly euthanized by the agency during this roundup.

For example, on November 22, one “aged bay stallion arrived at the trap with a left front hoof deformity.” The BLM noted that this individual had “severe pigeon toe-in with wearing of outside of hoof.” The agency decided that because of this “deformity” the horse needed to be euthanized. Yet somehow, this “aged” stallion had managed to live to his older years just fine on the range.

Two foals were also euthanized this same day. One with an umbilical hernia and one only because it had a “severe front bilateral angular limb deformity” which here the BLM noted was being “bow-legged.” In total, the agency euthanized four horses because of a supposed “umbilical hernia,” a condition that is often accompanied by other obvious conditions should the hernia be negatively affecting the individual. For AWHC, it was more concerning to see that the agency is continuing to use the excuse of “angular limb deformities” to euthanize horses who could go on to live normal, fulfilling lives. The BLM states that this condition is “… indicated by club feet, severely overgrown hoof walls, collapsed heels, limb deformity, arthritic joints, toes pointed out at the fetlock, and lameness.” But these conditions are common and typically result in only insignificant impacts on horses. Indeed, many domestic horses survive and even thrive with these conditions. Therefore, these conditions do not justify the killing of these wild horses.

The BLM even euthanized horses that were sale eligible, by their own policies, and could have been saved. For example, on September 23rd, the BLM euthanized two horses, one stallion who was roughly 10 years old and one mare who was about 8 years old, because they “were found to have only one good eye due to previous injury.” However, horses that have one good eye can be sale-eligible under the BLM’s own policies. A sale eligible horse, among other things, is one that is over the age of 11, or has been offered for adoption unsuccessfully three times, has a Body Condition Score of three or more, and “vision in at least one eye.” The worst part about the agency’s decision to euthanize horses for vision impairments in Owyhee is that these two horses were not the only horses who lost their lives for this reason. In total, the BLM claimed that 9 horses needed to be euthanized because they had some form of vision impairment. While one horse was described as completely blind, others that were euthanized were simply described as having “varying vision deficits.” A non-painful blind eye should not be a reason that the BLM can use to euthanize an otherwise healthy wild horse, especially if it is unilateral. Any trained, veterinary observer should be able to gauge pain in an eye by amount of tearing, ability to open the eye, shrinkage of the globe (often nonpainful at that point) and other signs around and within the eye. The BLM should be required to document all of these conditions in their reports before a determination is made to euthanize.

Even more concerning were the instances where the agency noted horses did not, or did not appear to, have any injuries before they entered the traps. After human intervention, some horses ended up sustaining major injuries that then led to euthanasia. For example, on September 24th, one stallion was euthanized after he fought to stay off the trailer. He sustained “self-inflicted multiple head lacerations and ultimately fractured his left tibia due to excessive kicking.” On September 26th, a mare arrived at holding “5/5 lame and had difficulty standing.” However, the BLM noted that according to the helicopter pilot, and the BLM Contracting Officer’s Representative at the trap, she “was not noticeably lame coming into the trap or during loading.” The BLM claimed that her condition was evidence that she was not “traveling well enough on the range to maintain condition and a previous traumatic injury of several days was responsible.” But if the mare was not lame when she was initially rounded-up, then how could this be true?

Wild horses can usually live long and fulfilling lives with the deformities such as those that BLM stated as a reason why it must kill many of our federally-protected wild horses. AWHC is especially concerned by the leeway that the BLM is provided in determining the severity of these conditions, and subsequently which horses are actually in need of euthanasia to end true suffering. Therefore, we are continuing to ask for Congressional oversight of the wild horse and burro program. AWHC will also continue to update you, our supporters and wild horse advocates, as we get responses to our other FOIA requests on this euthanasia issue from roundups across the range. We will not stop working to keep future horses from enduring the same fate.

If you want to do something, you can call your Congressional representatives and ask them to provide oversight on the wild horse and burro program. Politely tell them that horses are needlessly dying at the hands of a careless agency. Remind them that there are more humane options that could be, and should be, implemented in place of roundups, such as PZP, to help keep our wild horses wild. Call (202) 224-3121 to be directed your representatives. 

Brieanah Schwartz, Government Relations and Policy Counsel