Recommendation to kill horses came after advocates blocked multiple fertility control proposals
Part II of a two-part series. See also: Is BLM advisory board threat to kill 45,000 mustangs a wild bet?
The BLM National Wild Horse & Burro Advisory Board frustratedly recommended that the 45,000 horses in holding facilities be killed only hours after the BLM announced that it had abandoned a plan to surgically sterilize more than 200 wild mares at the agency’s Wild Horse Corral Facility in Hines, Oregon.
Bureau of Land Management spokesperson Tom Gorey told MSN Los Angeles bureau reporter Alex Dobuzinskis on September 14, 2016 that the BLM will “continue its current policy of caring for unadopted or unsold wild horses and burros” and will “not sell or send any animals to slaughter,” at least for the time being.
Response to litigation
Meanwhile, “The agency said the decision was made in response to litigation from groups that assert the procedures to be researched were unnecessary and barbaric,” reported Steven Dubois of Associated Press. “The Cloud Foundation and American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign filed a lawsuit last month seeking the presence of outside observers. Two other groups, Front Range Equine Rescue and Friends of Animals, sued to stop the research.”
Said the BLM media statement, “This decision, though not made lightly, is in response to litigation that could have put the wild horses, BLM staff and our research partners at risk by requiring unnecessary persons or equipment be placed within the small confines of the space where the procedures would take place.”
Summarized Dubois, “The BLM wanted to study three methods to determine whether they are safe, effective options for controlling the wild horse population. Of the three methods, the advocates were most concerned about a procedure that involves removing ovaries from sedated, pregnant mares in various gestational stages. The veterinarian reaches into the mare’s abdomen through the vagina to sever and remove the ovaries.”
Objected Jennifer Best, assistant director of the Friends of Animals’ wildlife law program, “The Bureau of Land Management is obligated to protect wild horses under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 and has absolutely no authority whatsoever to experiment on wild horses with new and risky surgeries.”
Earlier, Friends of Animals and Protect Mustangs filed litigation, and threatened to file more, to stop a trial of a horse contraceptive called ZonaStat-H in the Pine Nuts Mountains of Nevada.
The first 22 mares were treated in November 2010.
Encouraged by the results, the BLM initiated the Fish Springs Wild Horses PZP Pilot Project in December 2014, working in partnership with American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, representing a coalition of more than 60 wild horse advocacy organizations, and Pine Nut Wild Horse Advocates, of Gardnerville, Nevada.
ZonaStat-H is a contraceptive vaccine based on porcine zona pellucida, extracted from the ovaries of slaughtered pigs. Called PZP for short, ZonaStat-H has been used with wild horses under National Park Service jurisdiction at Assateague Island, Maryland since 1994.
FoA threatened to sue
But the use of ZonaStat-H by the BLM was stopped on May 3, 2016 Sonner explained, “after Friends of Animals threatened to sue, based on claims the drug PZP harms horses,” and violated a judge’s order against a gather of the wild horses who would have been involved.
Assessed Willis Lamm of KBR Rescue, a retired firefighter who has closely followed wild horse issues in California and Nevada for decades, “The intent behind the BLM National Wild Horse & Burro Advisory Board vote [on September 9, 2016] was to send a strong message to Washington, D.C., so that this might happen. BLM division chief Dean Bolstad had been alluding to killing the captive wild horses earlier in the meeting.
“Signs were clear”
“While we in no way condone the euthanasia of thousands of formerly protected BLM horses,” Lamm told ANIMALS 24-7, “we predicted this proposal would surface more than a year ago when a vocal minority in the wild horse camp aggressively attacked BLM’s efforts to keep herd populations in balance with declining resources.
“The signs were clear that Congress was growing tired of supporting increasing populations of horses rounded up and held in long term holding. If the influx of horses was not somehow stemmed,” Lamm said, “it was very likely that Congress would stop spending tax dollars on long term holding and push for other solutions allowed by law.
Western ranges not infinite
“Herd population control measures, such as the application of the temporary birth control drug PZP, were attacked by a couple of groups that weren’t even based out here in the west,” Lamm continued. “As a result, programs that advocate volunteers had negotiated to provide fertility control in exchange for reduced horse removals were scrapped.
“However, western ranges do not have infinite resources,” Lamm acknowledged, “and the BLM is mandated by law to manage horse herds as necessary in order to maintain a thriving ecological balance.
Can’t migrate to other public lands
“Furthermore, wild free-roaming horses are by law limited to designated lands that they are allowed to inhabit,” specifically land under BLM control. “Therefore they can’t simply migrate to other more robust lands,” such as property of the National Park Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Reclamation, and the U.S. military, “without specific approval by Congress. So when populations exceed available resources, horses get removed.
“There is certainly room to argue,” Lamm allowed, “that a portion of range degradation is attributable to the seasonal presence of domestic livestock. However this euthanasia issue is likely to turn solely on the ability of BLM to stem the growth of herds of horses, a species that evolved in this environment and successfully populates the Western landscape.
“Wake-up call for advocates”
“Hopefully,” Lamm finished, “this euthanasia proposal is little more than a wake-up call for those advocates who are more invested in drama than in maintaining sustainable ranges. However, the wholesale eradication of horses in longterm holding is a realistic possibility if the stakeholders don’t come to some sensible agreement as to how to keep horse populations in balance with ecological needs, as well as maintain compatibility with the other multiple uses of public lands that are prescribed by law.”
But the advocates Lamm mentioned remained intransigent.
“Excess of cattle & sheep”
“There is not an excess of wild horses on public lands; there is an excess of cattle and sheep being allowed to graze on public lands,” charged Friends of Animals president Priscilla Feral, disregarding that the cattle and sheep population on BLM land has gradually been reduced by more than half from the peak reached in 1954.
“The BLM advisory board is a corrupt group of ranchers and they voted to kill all horses in long-time holding, but do not mistake that sentiment as action,” said the FoA Facebook page. “Friends of Animals legal team is on it and we’d challenge any such nefarious proposal if it was seriously advanced. The BLM partners are attempting to distract wild horse advocates from our victory in Oregon.”
HSUS favors fertility control
Said Humane Society of the U.S. senior vice president of programs and innovations Holly Hazard, “The decision of the BLM advisory board to recommend the destruction of the 45,000 wild horses currently in holding facilities is a complete abdication of responsibility for their care. The agency would not be in this situation but for their longterm mismanagement. By focusing massive efforts on removing horses and burros from the range, without treating those horses remaining on the range with any form of fertility control to limit population growth, holding facilities throughout the United States have become overburdened. HSUS has long recommended the humane and sustainable option of implementing fertility control programs throughout the West.”
Which is exactly what the BLM was trying to do in the programs stopped by Friends of Animals.
Advisory board members
The BLM National Wild Horse & Burro Advisory Board members who recommended killing the 45,000 horses in holding facilities included Robert E. Cope, DVM, of Salmon, Idaho; Ben Masters, a film maker, of Bozeman, Montana; Sue M. McDonnell, Ph.D., of West Chester, Pennsylvania, co-editor of The Domestic Horse: The Evolution, Development and Management of its Behaviour; Jennifer Sall, of Lander, Wyoming; June Sewing, of Cedar City, Utah, executive director and secretary for the National Mustang Association; Julie Weikel, DVM, of Princeton, Oregon; and Fred T. Woehl, Jr., of Harrison, Arkansas.
All have extensive equine experience.
The lone dissenting vote came from Ginger Kathrens, founder of the Cloud Foundation, of Colorado Springs, Colorado.