Senators to BLM: Drop plan to sterilize wild mares

/ In The News, News

Photo of Gabriella taken at RTF’s San Luis Obispo satellite sanctuary by Deborah Kalas.

Return to Freedom is grateful to eight U.S. senators who today forcefully called for an end to the Bureau of Land Management’s wrongheaded plan to pursue sterilization surgeries on federally protected mares. The procedure that BLM intends to study is dangerous, unproven, expensive and needless, given the ready availability of safe, proven and effective fertility control vaccines. We’d also like to thank our colleagues for joining Return to Freedom in playing an active role in raising congressional awareness of this issue and the public opposition to surgical sterilization.

Eight members of the U.S. Senate today sent a letter to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt urging the Bureau of Land Management to drop its controversial plan to study the sterilization of wild mares.

“We urge the BLM to drop this controversial plan and instead actively pursue humane and scientifically supported fertility control projects, such as the Porcine Zone Pellucida vaccine, that enjoy broad support and pose significantly less risk of harm to the welfare of federally protected wild horses,” the senators write.

In their letter, the senators, led by Cory Booker, D-NJ, and Tom Udall, D-NM, note the risks involved with performing such a surgery in an unsterile environment on a conscious, unhandled mare that would receive minimal post-operative care. They also emphasize the strong public opposition to the procedure, “the scientific consensus that (fertility control) vaccines are safe, appropriate and practical” by comparison, and the possibility such surgeries may violate the 1971 Free-Roaming Wild Horses and Burros Act.

Read the full letter here.

The BLM plans to perform a study on mares captured during an October 2018 roundup at the Warm Springs Herd Management in Oregon, testing a dangerous, costly and unproven surgery known as “ovariectomy via colpotomy” on at least 100 mares. About 70 mares would be observed for a week, then put up for adoption or sale, with the balance returned to the range to “evaluate the impacts of spaying” on the mares and on herd behavior.

As recently as Tuesday, Steve Tryon, the BLM’s deputy assistant director of resources and planning, said in a Senate hearing that the agency is still planning to go forward with the study.

Ovariectomy via colpotomy is a rare procedure which removes the ovaries by crushing and pulling them out with a looped-chain medical instrument called an ecraseur. 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 ovariectomy via colpotomy, some of which can be life-threatening.

Write the senators in their letter:

“In the National Academy of Sciences’ ‘Using Science to Improve the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program’ – the comprehensive report on management strategies commissioned by the BLM – experts directly advised against employing the ‘ovariectomy via colpotomy’ method. As the NAS noted, ‘the possibility that ovariectomy may be followed by prolonged bleed or Peritoneal infection makes it inadvisable for field application.’ Indeed, numerous equine veterinarians have criticized the procedure given the risks of pain to the horses subjected to these ovariectomies, the need for length and careful post-operative monitoring, the possibility of severing other organs due to the blind nature of the insertion, and the subsequent risks of infection, trauma, or death.”

The senators note the “rather troubling” history of ovariectomy experiments. Both Oregon State University and Colorado State University have dropped out of past planned studies and, in 2018, a federal court ruled against the proposal in part because of the lack of meaningful independent observation.

“Once OSU and CSU dropped out, rather than seek another research institution with experts in equine behavior and veterinary care, the BLM unilaterally decided to proceed alone, essentially asking the public to take the agency’s word for it that it would provide an unbiased assessment of the outcome,” the senators write.

The senators also ask that BLM explain its decision to backtrack on a decision to implement a “far more widely supported and humane fertility control strategy” on the Warm Springs HMA.

Other that signed the letter were Sens. Kamala Harris, D-CA, Ed Markey, D-MA, Richard Blumenthal, D-CT, Bob Menendez, D-NJ, Chris Coons, D-DE, and Dianne Feinstein, D-CA.

Their letter follows a June letter from 30 bipartisan members of the House of Representatives calling for BLM to drop the sterilization study.

Return to Freedom strongly opposes the use of surgical sterilization on wild mares. Read more about why here.

The non-lethal wild horse management proposal to Congress that RTF supports includes the use of safe, proven and humane fertility control, which, by definition, does not include such sterilization surgeries on mares. The purpose of the proposal for Fiscal Year 2020 is to shift the BLM away from roundups and toward humane, on-range management, provide protections for captured wild horses and burros, and place the agency management on a humane and sustainable path.