Press release: RTF slams reckless BLM plan to surgically sterilize wild mares

/ In The News, News, Press Releases
Wild mares at RTF’s satellite sanctuary in Alturas, Calif

For immediate release

Return to Freedom Wild Horse Conservation today announced its strong opposition to a Bureau of Land Management plan to utilize a risky and unnecessary procedure in which the ovaries of federally protected wild mares would be removed by crushing and pulling them out with a looped-chain instrument. 

“This is a reckless move at taxpayer expensive by the very agency charged with protecting wild horses and burros,” said Neda DeMayo, founder and president of Return to Freedom, a national nonprofit advocacy organization. 

“These surgeries pose a needless risk to the lives of wild mares — needless because of the availability of fertility control vaccines, a tool that can be utilized by any trained technician and is backed by decades of research. We’ve used it successfully at our sanctuary for over 20 years, and it has also been shown to be effective, safe and humane in other projects both on and off the range.”

For almost 50 years, BLM has tried and failed to manage wild horse numbers through one approach: the capture of wild horses, often through controversial helicopter roundups, and warehousing of wild horses. The cost of off-range holding corrals and pastures continues to climb to levels members of Congress have deemed unsustainable. Meanwhile, BLM’s wild horse program has never even spent as much as 4% of its annual budget on fertility control. 

Surgical sterilization would be another wrong turn by the agency, DeMayo said: “The procedure BLM plans to perform opens mares up to serious risk from infection, and there are no substantive studies to evaluate long-term effects to the health of ovariectomized mares.” 

By contrast, the use of fertility control to slow wild horse and burro population growth now receives support from the public, Congress, the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board, and a diverse array of rangeland stakeholders, including livestock ranching organizations.  

“Fertility control is a key tool that can provide a future for America’s wild herds in which they are managed humanely on their home ranges,” DeMayo said. “BLM must immediately embrace fertility control in a real way or Congress should force the agency to do so.” 

BLM plans to perform a procedure known as ovariectomy via colpotomy on mares captured in November on the Confusion Herd Management Area in Utah. 

The procedure would expose the mares – stressed by being taken from their herds and confined for the first time – to serious risk from infection, evisceration (should intestines protrude through the incision), and hemorrhaging. The standard of care for  domestic horses on which this surgery is for them to be monitored closely in a hospital setting for three to seven days and receive pain management and a course of antibiotics.  

In 2013, a BLM-funded report on wild horse management by National Academy of Sciences concluded that “the possibility that ovariectomy may be followed by prolonged bleeding or peritoneal infection makes it inadvisable for field application.”  

The BLM’s plan will likely wind up in court, where the agency has lost on sterilization before. This costly litigation may drag on — and all of this failing to move the Wild Horse and Burro Program toward the humane, sustainable management of America’s wild herds. 

Members of Congress have on a bipartisan basis embraced a multi-pronged, science-based alternative put forward by RTF, the Humane Society of the United States and the ASPCA and other stakeholders that emphasizes a robust fertility control program that if implemented correctly can lead to the phasing out of roundups as BLM’s go-to management tool without resorting to killing captive, healthy horses or selling them to slaughter. 

For Fiscal Year 2020, congressional appropriators invested $21 million in this new management approach, stressing to BLM that it should pursue methods that were “safe, proven and humane.” 

Ovariectomy via colpotomy does not meet those standards; other forms of fertility control do. 

Fertility control is readily available and can be applied with relatively little training. In contrast, the BLM lacks the large number of willing, experienced veterinarians to scale up any sort of mass-sterilization program, which would be disastrous for the horses and expensive for taxpayers.

In September, the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board, which had previously voted to support the use of euthanasia and unrestricted sales (to slaughter), instead called on the agency to immediately expand fertility control implementation. 

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