Take action: Oppose BLM’s plan to slash Sand Wash Basin (Colo.) herd

/ In The News, News
A family band of wild horses on the Sand Wash Basin Herd Management Area. Photo by Meg Frederick.

The Bureau of Land Management is seeking public comment on a plan to reduce wild horse numbers in and around the Sand Wash Basin Herd Management Area in northwestern Colorado. Comments are due by May 16.

The agency seeks to reduce the number of horses to a BLM-set Appropriate Management Level of 163-362 on the 156,502-acre Herd Management Area, or as low as one horse for every 960 acres.

In March 2019, the wild horse population was 621, according to BLM. In April 2021, that figure stood at 828 horses, according to the agency’s estimate.

BLM is considering capturing and removing wild horses until reaching the low end of AML. 

Under its preferred option, the agency would administer fertility control vaccine treatments, using PZP, PZP-22 orGonacon. Return to Freedom supports the use of the fertility control vaccines PZP and PZP-22 to slow reproduction and reduce roundups. 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.

Also under its preferred option, BLM would also skew the sex ratio of wild horses released back onto the range, with 60 percent males to 40 percent female. 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).

In planning documents, the BLM cited drought affecting the range and water, wild horse health andsage-grouse habitat, as well as public safety concerns along State Highway 318 as reasons for reducing the wild horse population.

The HMA is overlapped by four livestock allotments, all used seasonally to graze sheep. The BLM has allocated 19,758 Animal Unit Months to grazing (one AUM equals forage for one cow-calf pair, one horse orfive sheep) or the equivalent of 8,232 sheep annually.

Take action

To make a public comment, click here, then click the green “Participate Now” button, then fill in your comment and information.

Suggested comments:

–The Bureau of Land Management should not be prioritizing gathers in Herd Management Areas where wild horses are easily tractable or, like Sand Wash Basin, where there is an existing fertility control darting program in place. HMAs on which horses are accessible and used to people lend themselves to more successful fertility control programs on the range.

–Resources should be placed into fertility control over roundups by making fertility control programs stronger and more consistent, with more darting – and less capture-and-removal.

— I support the use of the fertility control vaccines PZP and PZP-22 to slow reproduction and reduce roundups. Because GonaCon affects the hormone system,  it may cause other behavioral changes that would alter herd dynamics. More studies are needed to ensure that GonaCon meets the parameters of ethical and thoughtful wildlife fertility control.

— I oppose 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 upon varied 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.

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