The Bureau of Land Management has finalized a plan to capture and remove wild horses from the Jackson Mountains Herd Management Area in Nevada and to possibly use the surgical sterilization of mares to hold down the population there.
The 283,775-acre Herd Management Area, located about 60 miles northwest of Winnemucca, Nev., is home to an estimated 491 wild horses as of March. The agency-set “Appropriate Management Level” for the Jackson Mountains HMA is 130-217 horses.
The BLM’s stated goal is to reduce the population to the low AML number of 130. Its reasons include to “prevent undue or unnecessary degradation of the public lands associated with excess wild horses,” the reduced body condition scores of some horses, horses straying outside the Herd Management Area in search of food and water, and safety concerns on nearby roadways.
The BLM’s newly announced long-term plans are to begin with a helicopter roundup to reduce the population to low AML, then to remove an additional “excess” wild horses over the next 10 years using bait-and-trap: traps made of livestock panels stocked with food or water. No date has been set for a roundup.
The BLM’s plans are to reduce the population to low AML, implement fertility control and insert intra-uterine devices (IUDs) into mares, manage a non-reproducing portion of sterilized mares, which would be up to approximately ¼ of the overall number of mares, and make sex-ratio adjustments for horses so that males make up approximately 60% of the herd.
The BLM lists as an option a spay procedure known as ovariectomy via colpotomy. RTF strongly opposes performing this dangerous, costly, painful and invasive sterilization procedure on wild mares and burro jennies — especially when proven, safe and humane fertility control is readily available. RTF sued the BLM in 2020 over a plan to sterilize mares. As a result, the agency dropped the plan in 2021.
RTF also opposes the use of IUDs based on past studies and will remain so until they are shown to be safe, humane and effective.
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 BLM conducted an “emergency” roundup on the Jackson Mountains HMA in fall 2021, capturing 527 wild horses, because on what the agency said were the deteriorating body condition of wild horses “due to extremely limited water sources” and “undue or unnecessary degradation of the public lands associated with excess wild horses.”
Thirty-one horses were killed during the roundup, all put down for what the agency classified as pre-existing conditions. Of those, 19 were put down for “starving / malnourished,” according to the gather report.
During the 2021 roundup, the BLM failed to treat and release additional mares with fertility control, which could have halted future roundups.
As part of its planning process, the BLM did not consider reducing private livestock numbers on the Herd Management Area. Nine operators graze livestock seasonally on six allotments that overlap the Herd Management Area by 1%-60%. BLM allows private livestock grazing up to a maximum of 32,744 Animal Unit Months, the equivalent of 2,729 cow-calf pairs annually (one AUM equals monthly forage for one cow-calf pair, one horse or five sheep). Actual use numbers have been lower in recent years because of drought. For example, 23,495 AUM were used for livestock in 2020, according to planning documents.
Since 1989, about 3,900 wild horses have been removed from the Jackson Mountains HMA.