Politicians say the craziest things. Some of our nation’s leaders want to “solve” our nation’s wild horse management issue by using radical, long-abandoned ideas, such as killing thousands of animals or shipping them to foreign slaughterhouses. The American public made it quite clear decades ago that it won’t stand for such treatment.
Still, these politicians distort the truth and spread misinformation in an attempt to move forward their dire plans. But their words betray fundamental misunderstandings about wild horses and true solutions for managing these animals in a safe, effective and humane way.
We can’t let bad things happen to our nation’s wild horses. We must stand up and counter harmful misinformation with the facts. So let’s contrast these outrageous myths with the truth.
Managing wild horses with birth control vaccines won’t work, says Utah Rep. Chris Stewart. He says “it simply isn’t practical” because “the logistics of trying to identify studs and to manage them and actually do what’s necessary for them and the need for repeated inoculations, it just simply hasn’t worked.”
For starters, Rep. Stewart is confused in his biology. Fertility control vaccine for wild horses is used in mares (females), not studs (males). And it does work.
The National Park Service has used the PZP vaccine for nearly 30 years to safely and effectively manage the wild horse herd on the Assateague National Seashore. PZP programs also have helped reduce and even curtail roundups in wild management across the West, such as in the Pryor Mountains on the Montana/Wyoming border, in McCullough Peaks in Wyoming and in the Spring Creek Basin and Little Book Cliffs areas of Colorado. Many of these successful projects are the result of public/private partnerships between management agencies and volunteers, which helps keep costs down.
In fact, the American Wild Horse Campaign is working with the Nevada Department of Agriculture to implement the largest humane management program for wild horses in the world. The cornerstone of the program is the darting of mares with PZP to humanely reduce and appropriately control population over time.
Volunteer darters and more humane ways to gather horses for vaccination, such as bait trapping, makes it possible to identify and vaccinate mares on the range without resorting to inhumane and costly helicopter roundups and removals.
Contrasting the wild horses in his state with those on the barrier islands of North Carolina (which are successfully managed with PZP), Nevada Rep. Mark Amodei states: “it’s much easier to manage them on an island than it is in my state, which has the highest population on 56 million acres of public and private land, too.”
Rep. Amodei should get the facts before lecturing about wild horse management. Horses don’t inhabit 56 million acres of public land in Nevada. The true amount of acreage is 15.6 million in Nevada. In fact, wild horses are found on only 27 million acres of public land nationally.
Additionally, AWHC’s project on Nevada’s Virginia Range proves Amodei’s statement wrong. Our experience shows it’s possible to implement birth control on a large wild horse population in a large habitat area utilizing volunteer darters. In our third year, our volunteer team of five darters so far have vaccinated more mares with birth control this year than the entire Bureau of Land Management, with its $80 million-a-year budget, did last year.
Fertility control doesn’t work.
It doesn’t work if you don’t use it. The truth is, the federal government has barely given PZP a chance.
The BLM spends less than 1 percent of its annual budget on fertility control and its 2018 budget proposes to spend even less. The agency continues to spend millions on roundups and removals, which science shows only stimulates the horses remaining on the range to breed more.
In areas where PZP is used as recommended, it’s effective in managing wild horses safely and economically. In fact, recent scientific studies demonstrate that two shots of PZP, spread out over three years can prevent pregnancy in mares for four or five years.
But don’t believe us. The nation’s premier scientific body – the National Academy of Sciences – said the same thing back in 2013. In its extensive study, “Using Science to Improve the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program: A Way Forward,” the academy urges BLM to use fertility control as a more effective way to manage herds on federal land.
Wild horses are starving on the range because there are too many of them.
This is a myth perpetrated by a photograph of one horse. If many horses are starving, where are all the other photos?
If fact, current photographs from across the West document healthy thriving horses, including in the area of Nevada where BLM intends to remove an astounding 7,000 horses, based on claims that they are starving.
Additionally, the BLM evaluates the health of wild horses during roundups and removals by giving each animal a “body score.” These BLM evaluations do not indicate widespread ill health among horses.
Wild horses and burros are simply not starving on the range, and that’s why every major horse welfare and animal protection organization has rejected the BLM’s lethal plan for our wild herds.
Huge numbers of wild horses are overwhelming our public lands.
This may be the biggest myth of all. And it’s easy to dispel with numbers. The truth is, wild horses are present on only 17 percent of BLM rangelands. How can they be overrunning the range when they aren’t even present on more than 80 percent of the land BLM manages?
Additionally, the BLM allocates less than one quarter of forage on rangelands to wild horses. More than 75 percent of forage is allocated to privately owned livestock. The truths is, wild horses are vastly outnumbered on federal land by cattle.
Furthermore, the “Appropriate Management Level” (AML) system that the BLM uses to allocate land to wild horses has no foundation in science. These numbers are arbitrary and designed to serve private land use interests rather than the public, which wants to see wild horse herds preserved.
The National Academy of Sciences in its 2013 study said it “could not identify a science-based rationale” for the AML system. It added that the AML system “is not transparent to stakeholders, supported by scientific information, or amendable to adaptation with new information and environmental social change.”
In fact, if the BLM has its way, it will drive wild horse and burro numbers back to fewer than existed in 1971 when Congress protected these iconic animals because they were “fast disappearing.” That’s not “appropriate;” that’s extinction.
The public will support the killing, euthanizing and/or slaughtering of wild horses.
Politicians love polls, so why aren’t they paying attention to these?
· A national poll conducted this year shows 80 percent of the American public strongly opposes horse slaughter.
These findings remain consistent with polls done years ago. Public pressure to preserve wild horses was so strong in 1971 that the U.S. Congress voted unanimously that year to approve the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act. Americans’ love of wild horses hasn’t diminished in the slightest since that day.
Decision-makers who fail to prevent wild horses from being killed and slaughtered will be held accountable by the majority of voters who rightfully cherish these iconic animals.
No better option than killing wild horses exists.
Killing horses or shipping them to slaughter still requires horses to be managed via roundups and removals, which cost millions and only promote more prolific breeding. It also puts the government in the horse slaughter business, which is opposed by 80 percent of the American public.
Investment in humane, effective fertility control is a better, more publicly palatable approach. PZP is safe and reversible. It doesn’t pass to other animals or into the environment. New research shows that a two-dart regimen prevents pregnancy in mares for four to five years. Examples such as the Virginia Range project demonstrate the value of this approach. Five volunteers darted more mares on that range than BLM vaccinated nationwide last year.
An economic study published in Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine said BLM could save $8 million over 12 years by using PZP in one herd management area alone. There are nearly 200 herd management areas in the United States. Spread across them, increased use of PZP could save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. And, unlike roundups and removals, using the vaccine would actually help bring horse populations under control.
Other helpful approaches include:
· Applying real science to the AML system to determine how many horses, and other animals, can fairly and safely inhabit the range.
· Compensating ranchers for reduced use or non-use of public grazing allotments in herd management areas. This if far less expensive than continuing to round up, remove and stockpile wild horses.
· Reducing the number of wild horses in off-range holding by transferring them to zeroed-out herd areas or other public lands where they can survive on their own. These horses are gelded and can’t reproduce, so their numbers will naturally decrease over time.
Decision-makers must learn the facts before dropping protections and allowing thousands of American wild horses to die. Please share this information with your leaders and friends and keep standing up for the truth!