BLM seeks comments on plan to cut Jackson Mountains (Nev.) herd by 800+ horses

/ In The News, News, Roundups

Wild horses photographed on the Jackson Mountains Herd Management Area in July 2012. BLM photo.

The Bureau of Land Management is seeking public comment on a Preliminary Environmental Assessment that would see the agency remove 801-888 wild horses from the Jackson Mountains Herd Management Area in Nevada.

The 283,775-acre Herd Management Area, located about 60 miles northwest of Winnemucca, Nev., is home to an estimated 1,018 wild horses, including foals, as of July 1. The agency-set “Appropriate Management Level” for the Jackson Mountains HMA is 130-217 horses.

In its planning documents, BLM’s stated goal is to reduce the population to the low AML number of 130. Its reasons include: “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.

BLM’s plans are to begin with a helicopter roundup and 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.

BLM’s preferred alternative is: “Gather and Remove Excess wild horses to low AML, implement population growth suppression utilizing vaccines in horses, intra-uterine devices (IUDs) in mares, manage a non-reproducing portion of minimally-invasive 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.”

To read the Preliminary Environmental Assessment, click here.

Comments must be postmarked by Sept. 26. To submit a public comment, email BLM_NV_WDO_WHB@blm.gov with “Jackson Mountains Wild Horse Gather PEA” in the subject line or mail your comment to the Black Rock Field Office, Attn: Garrett Swisher, 5100 East Winnemucca Blvd., Winnemucca, Nevada 89445.

Notes to consider for your letter:

  • Return to Freedom strongly supports the use of safe, proven and humane fertility control to slow (not stop) reproduction. Of the available vaccines, RTF prefers the use of PZP, which has a long history or research and use and because the public tends to support its use because of the long-term data behind it.
  • BLM’s preferred alternative includes a highly specialized “minimally invasive” procedure known as “endoscopic oviduct,” known colloquially as “super-gluing the oviduct,” as well as “endoscopic laser ablation of the oviduct papilla,” which would seal the oviduct opening using a laser. RTF opposes those methods due to a lack of research and because they lack the efficacy of safe, proven and humane fertility control vaccines.
  • BLM’s preferred alternative also includes sex-ratio skewing so that males make up a greater percentage of the herd. 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).
  • BLM’s preferred alternative also includes the use of intrauterine devices. RTF opposes the use of IUDs based on past studies. RTF is not opposed to future developments and understands that IUDs being studied now by BLM and several universities are a newer technology made of a soft, anchor-shaped silicone and that they may indeed be safer. RTF remains opposed to their use for managing populations until they are shown to be safe, humane and effective.
  • BLM’s appendix also 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.
  • BLM’s second option includes gelding males that would make up no more than ¼ of the herd. RTF does not advise gelding as a population management tool since there are effective and well-studied, safe and humane and reversible population growth suppression alternatives and there are not sufficient studies to understand the behavioral effects of gelding some proportion of a population. Modeling for population effects of a certain percentage of male horses in a population being geldings is a guess, at best.
  • BLM states that if its population target, or “Appropriate Management Level,” is reached, it will begin implementing fertility control. RTF believes that fertility control should be implemented immediately, even if AML is not reached. If fertility control is scaled up at every opportunity, that begins to slow the population growth rate of the herd.
  • BLM plans to use helicopters for its initial roundup, then bait-and-trap roundups to maintain/reduce numbers over 10 years. RTF urges a slower approach of scaling up fertility control as lesser removals are accomplished methodically with bait-and water-trapping techniques.

The BLM is not considering 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 3,400 wild horses have been removed from the Jackson Mountains HMA, according to BLM.

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