Three appointed to National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board

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Wild horses at RTF’s San Luis Obispo, Calif., satellite sanctuary.

The secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture on Friday named two new members and re-appointed a third to the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board.

The nine-member, all-volunteer board provides advice and recommendations to the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service regarding wild horses and burros. It does not control agency policy. Each board member serves a three-year term representing an area of specific public interest or expertise. 

About the appointees: 

–Ursula Bechert, director of graduate programs at the University of Pennsylvania College of Arts and Sciences, will hold the board’s research seat. Bechert earned her doctor of veterinary medicine degree from Washington State University in 1991 and a doctorate in animal sciences (reproductive endocrinology) from Oregon State University in 1998. She is the author of more than 30 peer-reviewed papers and books. 

–Pearson, a public lands rancher and Beaver County, Utah, commissioner, will hold the public interest (with special knowledge of equine behavior) seat. She is a founding member of the Free-Roaming Equids and Ecosystem Sustainability network and Wild Horse and Burro Summit stakeholder groups. She worked with a diverse group of stakeholders, including Return to Freedom and other animal welfare organizations, cattlemen’s groups, and state and local government representatives on a non-lethal wild horse management alternative presented to Congress in 2019.

In 2017, Beaver County filed a complaint in federal court, demanding that wild horse populations in the county be immediately reduced to their BLM-designated “Appropriate Management Levels.” RTF and other advocates intervened on the side of government, arguing that BLM should be able to use fertility control, not just roundups, to reduce numbers gradually over 5-10 years. In a settlement approved in 2020, the BLM agreed to draft a new gather plan in 2021 and provide updates on the use of the fertility control vaccine Gonacon previously applied to members of the herd. Pearson studied agricultural science at Utah State University and has nearly 40 years of experience as public lands rancher.

–French, a Humboldt County, Nevada, commissioner, has 30 years of experience as a wildlife biologist with the Nevada Division of Wildlife. This is his second consecutive term on the board. 

Among the board’s other members is Celeste Carlisle, biologist for RTF. She represents wild horse and burro advocacy. Her term expires in September.

The advisory board’s next meeting will be held in the spring. No dates or agenda have been set.

In September 2020, the board voted to call for immediate use of fertility control to slow herd growth, comprehensive planning approaches for Herd Management Areas, and an outside audit of the Bureau of Land Management’s wild horse program’s organizational and decision-making structure.

Among the other recommendations passed was one that called on the agency to expand fertility control implementation, develop measurable objectives for its use, and put into place multi-year plans to reduce population growth rates at the Herd Management Area level. 

While the advisory board called for more research on longer-lasting fertility control, it also recommended using the fertility control that is available right now – a significant step forward.

The board also called for fertility control use on HMAs upon which the agency has not yet reached its AML, or population target. That’s something BLM has been reluctant to do, even refused to do, preferring instead to capture and remove horses down to an AML level that may have been set using decades-old science.

That kind of language marked a significant difference from meetings in 2016-18, when the advisory board overall was dismissive of fertility control and voted to recommend killing tens of thousands of wild horses in government holding facilities, selling them without restriction (to slaughter) and even allowing overseas sales and adoptions.