House vote threatens safety of wild mares, future of herds

Photo by Tony Stromberg

The House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday approved a spending bill amendment that would give wide leeway for the Interior secretary to order the use of dangerous sterilization surgeries on wild horses and burros.

“…The Secretary of the Interior may hereafter manage any group of wild horses or burros as a non-reproducing or single-sex herd, in whole or in part, including through sterilization,” reads the amendment to the Fiscal Year 2019 Interior appropriations by authored by Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, and approved by the committee on a voice vote.

“It’s extremely disappointing that the committee would support such an inhumane, short-sighted approach,” said Neda DeMayo, president of Return to Freedom Wild Horse Conservation. “Field surgeries on mares, in particular, are unproven, expensive, life-threatening and needless–especially given that safe, proven solutions, including fertility control vaccines, can be used to manage the wild horse and burro population. The amendment gives far too much latitude to order dangerous surgeries that would threaten both individual animals and the viability of entire herds.

“We urge the Senate to reject this approach and instead demand a humane, long-term plan. Members of Congress should listen to the American people, who overwhelming support the protection of wild horses and burros and who have invested so much in their conservation.” 

The amendment is all the more worrying because it dovetails with two other troubling moves: a push by the BLM to increase surgical sterilization and an effort by the Interior Department to streamline the planning process.

Field surgeries: unproven, dangerous

BLM recently included such surgeries as part of all four options for wild horse and burro management presented in a report to Congress. The agency has also released a scoping document for a roundup of wild horses in Oregon later this summer that would include spay surgeries on wild mares.

The agency plans to use a rare procedure, ovariectomy via colpotomy, removes the ovaries by crushing and pulling them out with a looped-chain medical instrument.

This procedure opens the mares up to: serious risk from infection; evisceration (should intestines come through the incision); and hemorrhaging. There is a high frequency of post-operative complications affiliated with the surgery, some of which can be life-threatening. Most domestic horses upon which this surgery is performed are hospitalized for 3 to 7 days and carefully monitored post-operatively for signs of hemorrhage.

In 2013, the BLM funded a $1 million scientific report from the National Academy of Sciences National Resource Council (NRC), “Using Science to Improve the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program: A Way Forward.” In the report, the National Research Council concluded: “The possibility that ovariectomy may be followed by prolonged bleeding or peritoneal infection makes it inadvisable for field application.”

Removing NEPA protections

The push for sterilization coincides with an effort by the Interior Department to streamline the National Environmental Policy Act in ways that could undermine government transparency and public involvement in wild horse and burro management. In a BLM response to a review of NEPA (BLM Report in Response to Secretarial Memorandum on Improving Planning and NEPA Processes and Secretarial Order 3355), the agency listed under wishes for future categorical exclusions wild horse and burro gathers and removals or fertility control programs.

This would mean that any attempt to reduce wild horse and burro numbers not necessitate an Environmental Assessment. Further, the report suggests removing public comment consideration for sale limitation and euthanasia, as well as limiting any public commenting process from 30 to 15 days. BLM’s response also suggested limiting Freedom of Information Act requests.

The push for sterilization surgeries will likely further delay to move toward humane, sustainable management of wild horses and burros on their rightful ranges. In 2016, a public backlash and legal threats from advocacy organizations caused BLM dropped its last attempt to study the use of such surgeries on mares.

Meanwhile, BLM continues an inhumane and fiscally unsustainable cycle of rounding up wild horses and burros, often using helicopters, while all but ignoring the availability of proven fertility control vaccines.

Proven, humane solutions exist

In 2007, BLM stood within 1,071 animals of its own population goal, yet since then the agency has failed to invest more than 3.94% of its annual wild horse program budget allocation on fertility control or other humane, on-range management tools and practices, even as the cost of roundups and holding facilities to taxpayers – and to the animals themselves – keeps climbing.

BLM’s failure to implement PZP adequately has resulted in 46,431 wild horses and burros warehoused in government holding facilities, costing taxpayers about $47.5 million annually to house, feed and care for them in 2017.

About four of every 10 wild horses and burros under BLM management now lives in a corral or on a leased pasture.

Return to Freedom’s American Wild Horse Sanctuary was among the first of many projects, on and off the range, to use fertility control on wild horses with great success. It has used the vaccine PZP for 20 years with an efficacy rate of 91-98%.A non-hormonal vaccine, it has minimal effects on behavior.

This marks the second straight year that the House Appropriations Committee has approved spending bill language threatening the lives of healthy wild horses and burros. Last year, the committee approved an amendment, also authored by Stewart, which would have removed language prohibiting the Bureau of Land Management from euthanizing – shooting – healthy unadopted wild horses and burros.

Fortunately, Senate leaders were able to preserve protective language barring the BLM from killing healthy animals from the final Fiscal Year 2018 spending package.

TAKE ACTION

Please call (202) 225-3121 today. Tell your senators that you:

  • Oppose any amendment to the FY19 Interior Appropriations bill allowing BLM to kill wild horses and burros;
  • Oppose any amendment allowing for the sterilization of wild horses and burros because it is dangerous, unproven, costly and could be devastating to the future of these federally protected animals;
  • Support the use of safe, proven fertility control vaccines for wild horses and burros;
  • Support the anti-horse slaughter language in the FY19 Agriculture Appropriations bill;
  • Support the SAFE Act (S. 1706) to ban slaughter and the transportation of horses for slaughter

Tell your representative that you:

  • Oppose any amendment to the FY19 Interior Appropriations bill allowing BLM to kill wild horses and burros;
  • Oppose any amendment allowing for the sterilization of wild horses and burros because it is dangerous, unproven, costly and could be devastating to the future of these federally protected animals;
  • Support the use of safe, proven fertility control vaccines for wild horses and burros;
  • Support the SAFE Act (H.R. 113) to ban slaughter and the transportation of horses for slaughter;
  • Support the Horse Transportation Safety Act (H.R. 4040) to ban hauling horses on double-deck trailers under all circumstances.

Sign RTF’s Wild on the Range petition, calling for humane management solutions.

 

Donate to RTF’s Wild Horse Defense Fund, which fuels our advocacy, lobbying and selective litigation efforts.

%d bloggers like this: