Bureau of Land Management to drop plans to sterilize Oregon wild horses

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Everton Bailey, Jr., The Oregonian

November 7, 2018

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management intends to cancel plans to spay wild horses in an effort to address overpopulation on Oregon public lands, court records show.

The development comes after U.S. District Court Judge Michael W. Mosman on Friday issued a preliminary injunction that blocked a BLM experiment to sterilize mares from the Warm Springs Management Area until a final ruling is made in a lawsuit filed by animal rights groups. The experiments were scheduled to start Monday at a horse corral facility in Hines, about two miles southwest of Burns.

In court documents filed Wednesday, attorneys representing the BLM say the agency plans to not move forward with its spay study but would retain the ability to return horses to the Warm Springs Herd Management Area and remove "excess" horses from the range.

The federal lawsuit was filed in September by the Animal Welfare Institute, American Wild Horse Campaign and other animal rights advocates claiming the BLM was violating environmental laws and the First Amendment. The lawsuit said the procedure being considered was inhumane and claimed the BLM wouldn't allow the experimental surgeries and horses' recovery to be observed and recorded by independent veterinarians and small video cameras installed in the surgical space.

Mosman said Friday that the groups' claims that the federal government should allow someone to monitor the surgeries are likely valid.

According to court documents, the BLM said their spay study was to evaluate the safety and feasibility of removing ovaries on wild mares. The agency was planning to perform ovariectomy via colpotomy procedures on some of the horses, which involved a veterinarian reaching into the horse's abdomen via an incision in the vagina to sever and remove the ovaries. 

The experiment would've focused on 200 horses, with half receiving the procedure and the other half acting as a control, court documents said. Horses would've later been fitted with GPS collars or radio tags to be tracked after the procedures.

The BLM said it's tried other methods in the past to reduce wild horse populations on public lands such as removing horses and giving them temporary fertility control vaccines, but none has been effective long-term strategies.

The Warm Springs Management Area, which consists of more than 470,000 acres of BLM-managed land in Harney County, has around 852 wild horses, according to the BLM. The agency estimated the appropriate management level for horses in the area should be 96 to 178.

The extra oversight proposed in the lawsuit could put BLM staff and the horses at risk by adding more people to small spaces at the corral facility, the BLM argued.

The BLM proposed ovary removal in 2016, was also sued then in opposition and later dropped those plans as well.

Originally posted by The Oregonian