58 members of Congress tell BLM: Drop sterilization plan

/ In The News, News
Photo taken at RTF’s San Luis Obispo, Calif., satellite sanctuary by Ondrea Hidley.

Fifty-eight members of Congress have signed a letter to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt urging the Bureau of Land Management to drop a plan to surgically sterilize wild mares captured during an upcoming roundup.

“Wild horses are protected under the landmark Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act and the BLM must take seriously its charge to protect these icons from ‘harassment or death,’ write co-authors Rep. Dina Titus, D-NV., and Sen. Cory Booker, D-NJ. ” That the agency would attempt to expend taxpayer dollars to push through highly controversial and unsafe surgeries that could result in injuries and infections to, or even the death of, horses under its authority may ultimately contravene its mandate under the law. 

“We urge the BLM to drop this controversial plan and instead actively pursue humane and scientifically supported immunocontraceptive vaccines, which enjoy broad support and pose significantly less risk of harm to the welfare of federally protected wild horses.”

The BLM plans to use a dangerous, costly and unnecessary surgical technique,  ovariectomy via colpotomy, in which the ovaries of more than 15 mares will have their ovaries crushed and removed with a looped-chain instrument. The co-authors note that this would be the fifth time that BLM has attempted to ovariectomize mares despite “significant and opposition and concerns from federal lawmakers, the American public, veterinarians, and the National Academy of Sciences.”

“In general, ovariectomies via colpotomy are infrequently performed on horses as the risks can be serious – e.g., evisceration, hemorrhaging, infection, and even death,” the lawmakers write. “Other forms of ovariectomy have been employed on domestic horses and may be safer under certain controlled conditions, but performing these often complicated and invasive procedures on ungentled, wild horses poses significant welfare risk. From a broader perspective, the BLM’s insistence on ovariectomizing wild horses seems futile at best given that such surgeries cannot practicably or safely be widely implemented on the range in what would likely be non-sterile conditions.”

They note that this would be the fifth time that BLM has attempted to ovariectomize mares despite “significant and opposition and concerns from federal lawmakers, the American public, veterinarians, and the National Academy of Sciences.”

Oregon State University and Colorado State University withdrew their support from prior BLM efforts, and, in 2018, a federal court enjoined the BLM from proceeding with its plan to ovariectomize mares, citing concerns about the lack of independent observation and the lack of inquiry into whether the sterilization procedure was “socially acceptable,” a factor the agency previously identified as integral to its efforts.

In a 2013 report, the National Academy of Sciences noted, “the possibility that ovariectomy may be followed by prolonged bleeding or Peritoneal infection makes it inadvisable for field application.” In 2019, 27 veterinarians signed a letter advising against the procedure.

In addition, members of both the House and Senate have expressed their concerns before and urged BLM to pursue fertility control, instead.

“Similarly, the Fiscal Year 2020 Senate Interior Appropriations report delineated that ‘any population growth suppression strategies’ employed by the BLM ‘must be proven, safe, and humane’ (S. Rept. 116-123). Ovariectomizing wild mares would almost certainly fail to meet that bar,” the lawmakers write, referencing Congress’ $21 million in a non-lethal, multi-pronged alternated supported by Return to Freedom and other stakeholders.

This year, as part of the Fiscal Year 2021 funding process, the House overwhelmingly passed an amendment to the appropriations package directing the BLM to spend a significant portion of its funding on the safe and proven Porcine Zona Pellucida (PZP) vaccine, an amendment that RTF also supported.

Read the full letter from members of Congress.

Read more about where RTF’s stands on fertility control vs. surgical sterilization and why

TAKE ACTION: Tell Congress to oppose sterilization surgeries that are dangerous, costly, unproven and unnecessary. 

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