BLM announces plan for Calico Complex (Nev.) including wild horse, burro removals, ‘minimally invasive’ sterilizations

/ In The News, News, Roundups
Mares from RTF’s Calico herd. RTF rescued 20 stallions and 74 mares after a roundup on the Calico Complex in 2010.

The Bureau of Land Management on Wednesday announced a 10-year plan for the Calico Complex in Nevada that would see 1,120 wild horses and 34 burros removed from their home ranges and a quarter of the remaining mares managed as non-reproductive through “minimally invasive sterilization.”

The plan defines “minimally invasive” as not involving an incision. Mentioned specifically in planning documents is a highly specialized procedure known as “endoscopic oviduct ablation,” known colloquially as “super-gluing the oviduct,” a method which RTF opposes due to a lack of research on horses and because the procedure lacks the efficacy of safe, proven and humane fertility control vaccines. RTF strongly supports the use of fertility control to reduce population growth in order to eliminate calls for roundups.

No date has been set for the roundup or roundups, which would take place over a 10-year timeframe.

BLM says the removals are necessary because: the population exceeds its population target for the Herd Management Areas, horses have wandered onto private property to graze, traffic safety concerns near Highways 34 and 477, and what BLM says are the observed low to moderate body condition scores of the horses. 

Made up of the Black Rock Range, Calico Mountains, Granite Range, McGee Mountain and Warm Springs Canyon Herd Management Areas, the 584,101-acre Calico Complex was home to a BLM-estimated 1,692 wild horses and 73 burros in March 2021. 

The agency-set “Appropriate Management Level” is 572-952 wild horses and 39-65 burros, or as low as one horse for every 1,021 acres and one burro for every 14,977 acres. The BLM plans to remove horses and burros down to the “low AML” numbers.

By comparison, privately owned livestock that graze on the complex were allocated 22,642 Animal Unit Months or as many as 1,887 cow-calf pairs annually. Actual use from 2016-2020 varied between 4,297-6,195 AUM. One AUM equals the amount of forage for one cow-calf pair, one horse or five sheep for one month.

The BLM plans to capture about 90 percent of the wild horse and burro population, removing 1,692 wild horses and 73 burros. In addition to the sterilizations, the agency would treat and release some percentage of the population with fertility control “and/or” intrauterine devices. RTF opposes any untested combination methods. 

RTF also opposes the use of IUDs based on past studies. IUDs used more recently by BLM are a newer technology made of a soft, anchor-shaped silicone but RTF remains opposed to their use until they are shown to be safe, humane and effective.

BLM also plans to release wild horses with a 60 percent to 40 percent sex-ratio adjustment. RTF does not advise sex-ratio skewing for wild horses for these reasons: (1) management of populations via sex skewing is temporary (populations return to their normal ratios), and (2) healthy populations rely on whatever the norms are in terms of that population’s demographics – adjusting a population of wild horses to skew for more or less of anything does not attain a natural state for that population, with behavior ramifications that are not yet understood (potential heightened aggression in stallions, for example).

The plan would also allow for the use of GPS collars / GPS tail tags to monitor wild horse movements. BLM says it would also test hair follicle samples from “at least 25” horses per HMA to monitor genetic diversity. If low levels of diversity are observed, more horses could be introduced from outside of the complex, according to planning documents.

Read BLM’s planning documents here.

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