Warm Springs update: 664 equines captured, 27 dead as sterilization study nears

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Equines captured during the ongoing roundup at the Warm Springs Herd Management Area. BLM photo.

Through Sunday, the Bureau of Land Management captured 664 wild horses, 23 burros and two mules and 27 animals have died during the ongoing helicopter roundup preceding a planned sterilization study of about 100 wild mares.

BLM set out to remove about 652 wild horses from the 475,460-acre Warm Springs Herd Management Area, located about 25 miles west of Burns, Ore., because the agency says it cannot support the estimated population of more than 800 wild horses. “Water availability is currently inadequate to support part of the herd and BLM has been hauling water to sustain approximately 236 animals until they are able to be gathered,” the agency said in a press release.

Three wild horses, including two foals, have died of injuries suffered during the roundup:

  • A 3-year-old black mare suffered a broken neck after running into a panel while captured wild horses were being sorted;
  • A 2-month-old pinto filly died of a head injury after being captured;
  • A 3-month-old pinto filly died of capture myopathy:  muscle damage resulting from extreme exertion, struggle or stress.

Another 24 have been put down for what BLM says were pre-exisiting injuries — including nine on Oct. 5 alone for what the agency says were “angular limb deformities.”

“Because these angular limb deformities appear to have a genetic component and because the severity of these deformities were causing severe lameness, these animals were not suited to return to the range or placement in off-range holding or adoption. These conditions were indicated by club feet, severely overgrown hoof walls, collapsed heals, limb deformity, arthritic joints, toes pointed out at the fetlock, and lameness,” BLM wrote in its gather report.

In conjunction with the roundup, BLM plans to sterilize about 100 wild mares, including pregnant mares. The procedure to be performed on the mares, known as ovariectomy via colpotomy, by a private veterinarian is seldom used even in sterile environments with domestic horses. It involves removing the ovaries by crushing and pulling them out with a looped-chain medical instrument called an ecraseur.

From BLM’s planning documents:

“Approximately 28-34 mares would receive ovariectomy treatment and, after recovery (approximately 7 days), would be returned to the HMA for the behavioral and spatial ecology portion of the study. In addition to the mares that would return to the HMA, approximately 70 more mares would receive ovariectomy treatment in order to improve the quantification of the complication rate of the surgical procedure. The mares in the second group of spayed animals would be observed and evaluated for 7 days for any complications from the treatment, but would not be returned to the HMA. They would receive veterinary care if needed. These additional marks would remain at the Oregon Wild Horse Corral Facility and enter the adoption program.

“Mares receiving treatment would be adult females, 3 years of age and older. Taking into account both the mares that would be returned to the range and those that would not, in total approximately 100 mares could receive ovariectomy treatment. Those would include mares 3 years of age and older, and spread evenly across three gestational stages: open (not pregnant), <120 days, and 120-250 days. The BLM would aim to evenly distribute these three gestational stages as long as they are available in the animals gathered at the time of surgery. This design would allow adequate quantification of the complication rate of the surgical procedure as it relates to the gestational stages treated. The overall sample size of about 100 is needed to provide adequate statistical power to estimate the complication rate with reliable accuracy and precision. The sample size would allow for the ability to obtain accurate estimates of the complication rate typical for the procedure in each of three gestational stages without being unduly influenced by one or two unusual outcomes. It would also allow for the ability to obtain precise estimates of overall mortality rate (or morbidity rate).”

This dangerous, costly and unproven 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.

The BLM-set “Appropriate Management Level” for Warm Springs is 96-178 wild horses, or as low as one wild horse for every 4,953 acres.

By comparison, BLM allocates 19,392 Animal Unit Months for privately owned livestock that graze on the herd management area. One AUM is a month’s forage for one horse, one cow / calf pair or five sheep. Actual use varied from 55-73% from 2008-2017, according to BLM planning documents.

Wild horses captured during the roundup will be transported to BLM’s Wild Horse Corral Facility in Hines, Ore., where they will be subjected to the spay study or to be offered for adoption.

Those passed over three times for adoption or that are ages 10-over face an increased risk of going to slaughter because BLM has altered its sale policy to allow one buyer to purchase up to 24 wild horses per day with no waiting period, no oversight and no questions asked.

To read BLM’s planning documents, click here.

Viewing the roundup / surgeries

BLM has not released full details, yet, but some have been posted here.

To read more about why RTF strongly opposes spay surgeries, click here.

To read RTF’s op-ed about the Oregon roundup and spay study, click here.

Take Action

Call your members of Congress at (202) 225-3121 (to find direct numbers, go to https://www.callmycongress.com).

Urge your senators to:

* Stand strong in Conference committee on the Senate’s language protecting wild horses and burros and on defunding horse slaughter, if the senator sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee (click for a list of members: https://www.appropriations.senate.gov/about/members).

For senators *not* on the Senate Appropriations Committee: Ask them to tell members of the Conference committee that constituents do not want them to waiver either on protecting wild horses or defunding horse slaughter.

* Oppose a new, quietly implemented BLM policy increasing the number of wild horses that can be sold to individuals and the frequency of those sales. This move will only lead to the slaughter of wild horses, something Congress has strongly rejected;

* Support the SAFE Act (S. 1706) to ban slaughter and the transportation of horses for slaughter.

Urge your congressional representative to:

* Oppose a new, quietly implemented BLM increasing the number of wild horses that can be sold to individuals and the frequency of those sales. This move will only lead to the slaughter of wild horses, something Congress has strongly rejected;

* Oppose the House version of the FY19 Interior Appropriations bill because it contains an amendment allowing for the mass sterilization of wild horses and burros; instead, ask your representative to support Senate language on wild horses being considered by the House and Senate Conference committee, instead;

* Oppose the FY19 Agriculture Appropriations bill because it does not include the horse slaughter inspection defund language; instead, ask your representative to support the Senate language being considered by the House and Senate Conference committee, instead;

* Support the SAFE Act (H.R. 113) to ban slaughter and the transportation of horses for slaughter;

* Support the Horse Transportation Safety Act (H.R. 4040) to ban hauling horses on double-deck trailers under all circumstances.

Sign RTF’s Wild on the Range Campaign petition in support of humane management of wild horses and burros.

Donate to the Wild Horse Defense Fund