Return to Freedom Wild Horse Conservation on Wednesday criticized a plan by the Bureau of Land Management to remove “at least” a record 19,000 wild horses and burros from their home ranges during Fiscal Year 2022. The BLM also said in a press release it would treat 2,300 wild horses and burros with what it described only as “various forms of fertility control.”
This comes on the heels of BLM removing 13,666 wild horses and burros from their home ranges while treating with fertility control just 1,160 in Fiscal Year 2021. The agency estimated there were about 86,000 horses on BLM-managed public lands in March 2021.
“These removals are excessive and irresponsible — not least because BLM is not equipped or prepared to care for another 19,000 captive wild horses and burros,” said Neda DeMayo, president of Return to Freedom (RTF), a national nonprofit wild horse advocacy organization. “The agency’s short-term holding corrals are already overcrowded. Relocating captured wild horses to more natural and cost-effective pastureland is the very least that BLM could do for wild horses and burros that were promised protection under the law.”
Of the more than 58,000 captive wild horses and burros in off-range government facilities, nearly 19,000 are languishing in overcrowded corrals instead on more natural public or leased private pastureland that costs taxpayers about half as much per horse.
BLM is following an aggressive removal plan put forward to Congress in 2020, a plan focused on reaching an arbitrarily low “Appropriate Management Level” of fewer than 27,000 wild horses and burros across 10 states before implementing fertility in a real way.
“The use of safe, proven and humane fertility control to phase out future removals is long overdue,” DeMayo said. “Congress must continue to hold BLM’s feet to the fire on its implementation. Otherwise, the agency will continue throwing good money after bad, removing wild horses and burros from their home ranges while failing to address reproduction.
“If mares are not treated with fertility control to slow reproduction on the range and released, even in emergency situations, these roundups will be followed by the increases to the herd populations, and then, as usual, BLM returning to remove and place more wild horses alongside more than 58,000 already in off-range holding.”
RTF supports the use of PZP, a non-hormonal form of fertility control it has used at its American Wild Horse Sanctuary with 91-98% efficacy, allowing mares and stallions to live together in natural family bands with responsibility managing the sanctuary’s numbers.
BLM is increasingly using a fertility control vaccine known as GonaCon-Equine. Because GonaCon interrupts the hormone cascade, it may cause other behavioral changes that would affect herd dynamics. As such, RTF would like to see more studies to ensure that GonaCon meets the parameters of ethical and thoughtful wildlife fertility control.
RTF also opposes BLM’s increased use of IUDs in mares and has strongly opposed BLM’s past attempts to use dangerous, painful and costly surgical sterilization of mares, successfully suing the agency in 2021 over its planned use of such surgeries.
While BLM works to stabilize herd numbers through the use of fertility control, RTF contends that the agency must also begin viewing Herd Management Areas in a more holistic way. The agency should take into consideration the full impact of the multiple uses required by law and allocate an equitable share of resources to the wild horses and burros. As it stands, privately owned livestock vastly outnumber wild horses and burros even on the Herd Management Areas set aside for them.