The Bureau of Land Management is moving fast with devastating fall roundups. Just recently, they finished a roundup in the Challis Herd Management Area (HMA) located in central Idaho. The herd size consisted of only 429 horses.
The roundup of 295 wild horses occurred during November 5-11. Next, the BLM is expected to complete a census flight to determine how many wild horses will be returned to the 169,000-acre area. As of now, two horses died as a result of this forcible removal.
The BLM also announced their intention to move forward with a plan to cut the size of the wild horse and burro population in the Twin Peaks HMA located in northeast California by 80% over the next 10 years.
The vast majority of wild horses removed from taxpayer-funded public lands will never be returned to the wild. Many will be confined to living in the BLM’s holding facilities for life. Even more troubling the horses face being killed or sold for slaughter if Congress refuses to provide funding for their long-term care.
Roundups will greatly increase if the Senate approves a $5 billion plan, pushed by the livestock industry and BLM’s Acting Director, to reduce wild horse populations in the West dangerously close to extinction levels.
The BLM has released a management plan for the wild horses and burros of California’s Twin Peaks Herd Management Area (HMA) which includes future helicopter roundups and fertility control over the next ten years.
The Sierra Sun Times reported that the BLM’s plan “calls for several approaches, including using helicopter drive trapping, bait-and-water trapping, and fertility control to reduce the herd … over ten years.”
While the use of safe, proven and humane fertility control keeps more horses living free, a majority of wild horse advocates do not support the drastic reduction of herd sizes for wild horses and burros in this HMA (or others).
Close to 90% of the current wild burro population is slated for removal over ten years, leaving only 72 burros on the range which completely destroys the genetic health of this herd.
The plan’s goal for the Twin Peaks wild horses aims to gut the herd by 80% and release castrated stallions (geldings) onto the range. Not only does this negatively impact the herd’s genetic viability and survival, but the wild horses’ natural behaviors will be destroyed. There is a chance legal action currently in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals might delay/stop the proposed permanent sterilization of the stallions.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recently announced their decision to round up and permanently remove ALL wild horses from Nevada’s Caliente Herd Area (HA) complex.
Continuing to use horses as scapegoats for land issues, the BLM did not bother to consider any reduction to domestic livestock in the same area. The intention to destroy this group of mustangs is shameful but not a surprise since the BLM’s Acting Director repeatedly sides with private livestock owners over the legal rights of America’s wild horses.
This decision is not about a single roundup. It is intended to eradicate mustangs in eight of the nine Herd Management Areas (HMAs) in the Caliente Complex.
There are numerous reasons this is absolutely wrong, including the fact that more than 500% of BLM land is authorized for livestock than for wild horses and burros in the West. Many private livestock owners benefit from as much as half a billion dollars annually via taxpayer subsidies. Claims of wild horse “overpopulation” by the BLM and others are lies, further evidenced by the factual reality that wild horses are not found on 88% of BLM lands.
Stand strong on behalf of wild horses and burros by contacting your elected officials to ensure their protections on taxpayer-funded public lands remain. Reach Senators through www.senate.gov and House Representatives via www.house.gov.
Just after the July 4 (Independence Day) holiday, helicopters took to the skies to stampede terrified wild horse herds across public lands in the brutal summer heat. Foals were cruelly separated from their mothers, many dropping to the ground from sheer exhaustion. The overcrowded capture pens teamed with masses of wild horses, trapped with no means to return to freedom.
Results from Nevada’s Triple B wild horse roundup which ended last week showed 802 wild horses captured with fourteen horses dead.
Behind unnecessary annual roundups lurks greed and cruelty where private ranchers and profit-driven corporate special interests dictate what happens to America’s wild horses left on taxpayer-funded public lands.
The BLM’s 10-year plan for the Triple B and Antelope complexes includes the removal of thousands of wild horses from their lawful home on our public lands with castration of 50% of the stallions still in the wild, thereby destroying their natural behaviors. In other words, a 10-year plan of mass destruction.
Until roundups end, these wild horses and thousands more across the West await an uncertain and inhumane future.
Contact your elected officials to protest unnecessary roundups and dangerous surgical procedures causing permanent sterilization. Locate your two Senators at www.senate.gov; your House Rep at www.house.gov.
At the end of June, the U.S. House of Representatives approved language for the FY2020 Interior, Environment and Related Agencies appropriations budget bill regarding wild horse and burro management.
The House decision appropriates $6 million to implement a plan to remove large numbers of wild horses over several years. This plan has been promoted by special interest lobbying groups and been met with opposition by many wild horse advocates.
Pressure is expected to be put on the U.S. Senate to maintain wild horse protections in their version of the budget bill regarding wild horses and to not allow the proposed plan to move ahead.
Due to the imminent threat of slaughter for wild horses rounded up last year from the Modoc National Forest in California, the House did include appropriations language to stop the U.S. Forest Service from selling wild horses and burros for slaughter. There is also existing law which disallows the BLM from selling wild horses and burros for slaughter.
Chairman of the House Natural Resources, Raul Grijalva, and Nevada Congresswoman Dina Titus championed the important provision to stop the Forest Service from selling wild horses for slaughter.
It is believed that the Senate will take up its version of FY2020 spending legislation late summer or early fall. Constituents are urged to contact their U.S. representatives to ensure America’s wild horses and burros receive full protection under the 1971 law.
You can locate and contact your elected officials thru www.house.gov and www.senate.gov to let them know that humane on-the-range management options should be a priority along with safe, proven population control methods such as PZP. They should not vote for plans which promote dangerous, permanent sterilization procedures.
On May 13, the BLM announced that it intends to move ahead with cruel and unnecessary sterilization experiments on captive wild mares in Oregon. In both 2016 and 2018, the BLM tried this but after multiple lawsuits, federal injunctions and overwhelming public opposition surfaced, they backed down. This is the third time that the agency is trying to implement a controversial and dangerous surgical procedure that is being heavily promoted by a livestock industry lobbying group financed by Lucas Oil.
The BLM plans to carry out an experimental surgery called “ovariectomy via colpotomy,” in which a veterinarian cuts into a mare’s vaginal wall, places a hand and arm through the vagina in the abdominal cavity, manually (and blindly) locates the ovaries and then severs and removes them with a rod-like chain tool called an ecraseur.
Barbaric sterilization surgeries on America’s wild horses ignores both science and public opinion. The BLM is acting irresponsibly and wasting taxpayer dollars trying to pursue objectionable experiments while scientifically recommended and cost-effective PZP vaccines are easily available for humane on-the-range population management.
Other issues with the surgery include procedures done in a non-sterile environment, infection, hemorrhaging, and colic, any of which could lead to suffering horrific pain and potential death. Many of the wild mares slated for surgeries in 2016 and 2018 were pregnant with a high risk of aborting their foals.
According to the BLM’s environmental assessment, the procedure will be done on 100 mares rounded up last October and currently held in the BLM’s wild horse corrals in Hines, Oregon. Of those mares, only 28-34 would return to the range as part of the experiment, and only for the proposed three-year study duration. The others would be put up for adoption after the surgery, planned for August.
To review the plan in order to make comments, click here. Use the map to locate Burns District, Oregon to read about this project.
Comments are due by May 27. Email them to [email protected] to the attention of Spay Project Lead, Burns District BLM.
Our May 9th hearing in federal court took a positive turn in our ongoing fight to stop horses from the Devil’s Garden wild horse herd in California’s Modoc National Forest from being shipped to slaughter, and to stop the U.S. Forest Service from taking the unprecedented step of selling captured wild horses without limitations.
A federal judge ordered the two litigating groups of advocates to try reaching a settlement with the Forest Service over their plan to sell without limitations wild horses captured in a roundup last fall from the Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Territory.
In the interim, a stipulated prohibition remains in place which prevents the Forest Service from selling the remaining wild horses without restrictions.
U.S. District Judge James Donato ordered the parties to report back to him in 30 days after what he called a “breakthrough moment” during the hearing after the Forest Service’s attorney (R. Turner) said more than once that “the Forest Service will never intentionally sell its horses for slaughter for human consumption.”
Bruce Wagman, attorney for Front Range Equine Rescue et. al., stated that, “The Forest Service’s agreement at the hearing that it will not sell wild horses to slaughter validates both the legal claims we are making and the public’s rejection of any suggestion that wild horses will be sold without limitations. If the Forest Service is good to its word, we will have prevailed in this litigation. If it is not, we will keep up the fight.”
Plan for Wild Horses and Burros Launched by Large Animal Welfare Groups with Cattle Association Causes Controversy Among Wild Horse and Burro Advocates.
On April 22, a new plan for the management of wild horses and burros was announced by the following organizations:
The ASPCA stated:
“Experts from all corners have put aside their differences to unite under one effective, humane, and proactive plan to protect wild horses and burros and ensure their survival in the American West.” You can read their post here.
The HSUS also issued a statement that:
“The ASPCA®(The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®), Return to Freedom Wild Horse Conservation, the Humane Society of the United States, and the Humane Society Legislative Fund, in concert with rangeland management stakeholders, today announced their support for a proposal on the care of wild horses and burros on U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) public rangelands. The proposal offers a humane, non-lethal path forward to sustainably manage wild horses and burros in the American West.” Click here for their statement.
Return to Freedom announced that:
“This is a proposal – a first step – intended to confront the inevitable: Bureau of Land Management roundups will continue for the foreseeable future, under the law and with the support of Congress. Unwilling to let this costly stalemate continue, members from both sides of the aisle have asked RTF and others for solutions to the increasing on- and off-range population of wild horses. Maintaining the status quo will likely result in the mass killing or slaughter of wild horses.” Read more of their statement here.
However, other wild horse and burro advocacy groups expressed strong concerns and oppositionto this plan citing some pros and cons in their statements, a few of which are listed below:
From American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC):
“As the nation’s largest wild horse preservation organization, we unequivocally oppose a plan by the cattlemen’s industry and two large humane organizations for the mass roundup and removal of America’s iconic wild horses and burros from our Western public lands. This plan is an irresponsible sell out of America’s wild horses and the 80 percent of Americans who want them protected in the wild.” Read more here.
From Wild Horse Freedom Federation (WHFF):
“Read it and weep, unproven fertility control, increased “gathers”, etc.. Circumventing ALL other Wild Horse & Burro advocacy groups these masters of donations have decided to team up with the welfare ranchers and BLM to wipe out the last of the wild ones on their rightful land. These groups are driven by money and donations, EXCLUSIVELY, and have no regard for the future of our wild herds. They have shown their true colors and it is sickening. The propaganda is posted, below!” Read the blog post here.
From Animal Wellness Action (a group lobbying on behalf of animals):
We recognize that there must be active management to address the social concerns of ranchers and other users of our public lands. Fertility control achieves the key objectives of major players with a stake in the future of wild horses and burros; it reduces reproduction and stabilizes growth and it achieves active management through humane means.
With all of that as a sad historical backdrop for this government’s ham-handed approach to handling wild horses and burros, there now comes an unnerving, naïve, and a historical proposal from two large national animal protection organizations that have made an alliance on this matter with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA). Their joint proposal advocates for mass removals of tens of thousands of America’s wild mustangs and burros from federal lands on the open range, while conducting aggressive contraception for the horses and burros who would remain on our federal lands.” Read more of their position here.
The Bureau of Land Management recently reversed its 2018 wild horse and burro sales policy change which allowed a single buyer to purchase up to 24 captured wild horses (or burros) per day — no questions asked and no waiting period. That policy had left the door wide open for kill buyers and their associates to buy up horses en masse for slaughter.
The new reversal of that policy means that BLM field offices will immediately revert to the policy set in 2014 which limits buyers to purchasing no more than four wild horses or burros every six months, unless they receive special permission.
The 2005 Burns amendment had given the BLM authority to sell captured horses over the age of 10 (and those offered for adoption 3 times but never placed) which was a serious blow to efforts to protect America’s wild horse and burros. When the sales policy changed in 2018, the BLM gave a green light for federally protected animals to be sent in large numbers for slaughter in plants across our borders.
It is hoped that ongoing advocacy efforts and the number of humane alternatives the BLM could choose to manage wild horses and burros will eventually lead to ending the sale program altogether.
Protecting American Horses From Slaughter and Consumption
On January 30th, U.S. House Representatives Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Vern Buchanan (R-FL) reintroduced the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act to end the slaughter of American horses for human consumption. The legislation would prohibit the sale and transport of equines for slaughter which would prevent horse slaughter plants from operating in the U.S. and also ending the export of U.S. horses across our borders to Mexico and Canada for this purpose.
Over 100,000 innocent horses are exported for slaughter each year with intense suffering occurring even before they reach the kill box. Kill buyers cram horses into semi trucks usually obtaining them from low-end auctions or owners looking to re-home or sell their horse for free or cheaply. Very often they (or their workers) pretend to be a safe home or even a rescue.
The horses who are not immediately shipped to slaughter often spend time at “kill lots” where they are in filthy conditions with many becoming dangerously ill from contagious diseases. Those in transport often go for over 24 hours without food, water, or rest. Depending upon point of origin, they can be transporting within the U.S. long before reaching the border into Canada or Mexico.
At the slaughter plant, the horror intensifies as the exhausted, sick, injured and terrified horses endure multiple blows to the head in attempts to render them unconscious via the captive bolt method. Gunshot methods for killing regularly involve numerous shots as the panicked horse moves frantically around in the kill box.
Years worth of public polls show a strong percentage (at least 80%) of Americans wanting to ban horse slaughter.
“Horses have a special place in our nation’s history, and these majestic creatures were not raised as food for humans,” U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky said. “The SAFE Act would prohibit any horse slaughter plant from opening; and also end the sale or transport of horses and horse parts in the U.S. and abroad for the purpose of human consumption. I am proud to reintroduce this bill and work with Congressman Buchanan to put an end to this practice.”
“The slaughter of horses for human consumption is a barbaric practice that has no place in America,” U.S. Representative Vern Buchanan said. “I will continue to lead the effort with Congresswoman Schakowsky to ban domestic horse slaughter and end the export of horses abroad for slaughter.”
Horses are not raised as a food animal in the U.S., and they receive a number of medications and other drugs during their lives that make them unfit for human consumption. Front Range Equine Rescue’s legal actions at the state and federal level during 2012-2013 were based upon these facts.
The SAFE Act would prevent millions of taxpayer dollars from being wasted to allow plants to operate in the U.S. where numerous violations were documented when these facilities were open in the past. Regulations and methods for killing at a U.S. plant would not have any significant difference. Horses cannot be slaughtered humanely. Opening U.S. plants does not stop horses from crossing the border as kill buyers have contracts with various slaughter operators. Just like in the past, they would work to fill quotas for each facility whether it’s in the U.S. or in Mexico and Canada.
A similar bill in the Senate is expected to be introduced.
Updates on U.S. Forest Service’s Plans for Wild Horses
The latest update to our lawsuit filed over the Forest Service’s plans to sell Devil’s Garden wild horses without limitations (which would result in wild horses going to slaughter) is that the Forest Service has now announced that it will not begin those sales until at least February 18.
As of December 10th, 190 wild horses (ages 10 and older) captured during the month-long helicopter roundup remain in danger of being sold for slaughter. Our Federal district court case filed to stop the sale of the older horses is ongoing with an expedited briefing schedule.
In total, 932 wild horses were removed from the Modoc National Forest during the roundup. About 260 of them (ages 10 and up) have been put up for adoption or sale with a restriction against slaughter at the Forest Service’s Double Devil Corrals located at Modoc National Forest near Alturas, CA. Currently, about 70 of the horses have found homes.
The remaining captured horses (ages 9 and under as well as mares with foals) were moved to the BLM’s Litchfield corrals located near Susanville, CA. Weather conditions have slowed efforts to prepare these horses to be available for adoption. The adoptions are likely to begin sometime this month, at the earliest, according to information from the BLM.
The horses at the highest risk of going to slaughter are those to be offered for sale “without limitations” at a price of $1 each. It is hoped that lawsuits filed in Federal court will stop this from occurring as it violates state and federal laws. There are other humane alternatives the Forest Service can consider.
Updates On U.S. Forest Service’s Plan for California’s Wild Horses
The Forest Service’s roundup of the Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Territory has ended with the permanent removal of over 900 horses from their federally-designated habitat on our public lands in California’s Modoc National Forest. We’ve learned that at least 13 horses have died, including a foal. Three mares aborted foals likely due to the trauma of the roundup.
The Forest Service reported euthanizing 7 horses who showed symptoms of pigeon fever, a contagious but usually non-fatal bacterial infection. In spite of the outbreak, the Forest Service held an adoption/sales event this past weekend knowing that pigeon fever is communicable to other livestock.
At this time, the Forest Service intends to sell older horses by the truckload for $1 a piece without limitation on slaughter beginning January 15 or after.
California’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra has spoken out about this clear breach of state law noting that it is a felony punishable by up to 3 years in prison. However, the Forest Service is exploiting a legal loophole that puts hundreds of horses in grave danger.
Our lawsuit to stop the “sale without limitation” of the remaining horses is on an expedited briefing schedule with filings due at Thanksgiving and on Christmas Eve day. It is our goal to ensure none of the horses end up in the slaughter pipeline.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has recently submitted a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary and Chief of the U.S. Forest Service urging them to reverse their decision to sell California wild horses without restriction. The U.S. Forest initially rounded up 1,000 protected wild horses in October from the Devil’s Garden Plateau Wild Horse Territory to reduce the horse populations within the Modoc National Forest. The Forest service will prioritize the adoption of wild horses by members of the public until January 10th, 2019.
After January 10th, 2019, any horses that remain from the October roundup will be for sale without restriction. This Forest Service policy change not only risks violating state law but also contradicting federal law in the Department of the Interior. Attorney General Becerra explains, “To slaughter for commercial consumption mustangs that have roamed California for over a century is not only atrocious, but unlawful. These majestic animals captivate the imagination and symbolize the rugged independence of the American West. We urge the federal government to treat the Modoc National Forest and its wildlife with the respect that it is due by protecting these beautiful wild horses from the commercial slaughterhouse.”
Advocates Continue Working to Protect Wild Horses in Devil’s Garden
Front Range Equine Rescue has partnered with other advocates to protect captured wild horses from the Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Territory (Modoc National Forest, CA) from being sold by the truckload for $1 each by the U.S. Forest Service.
The lawsuit states, in part, that the U.S. Forest Service has “abruptly and inexplicably reversed the long-standing policy of two different federal agencies concerning the disposal of wild horses removed from federal public lands, all but guaranteeing that federally protected wild horses will now be slaughtered for human consumption in violation of the California Penal Code and multiple federal laws, as well as the expressed will of Congress and the American people.”
Furthermore, “…after a short period when the wild horses could be adopted, the Forest Service has announced that any older horses or horses not successfully adopted will be offered for sale “without limitation.” Sales of wild horses to commercial slaughter are anticipated to begin as early as January 2019.”
The lawsuit charges violations of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 (Wild Horse Act) and the National Forest Management Act.
Plaintiffs in the case are Front Range Equine Rescue, The Humane Society of the United States, Marin Humane, Humane Society of the Sierra Foothills, Return to Freedom, humane law enforcement officers Cindy Machado and Rosemary Frieborn.
Advocacy organizations are working hard to find safe, qualified adoptive homes for horses up for adoption as well as humane options for those facing the danger of sale to slaughter. The Forest Service needs to cooperate and do the right thing for the 1,000 horses it removed by adhering to laws protecting wild horses.
Front Range Equine Rescue (FRER) and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) have put the U.S. Forest Service on notice regarding the sale without limitation of horses rounded up from California’s Modoc National Forest.
FRER and HSUS sent a strongly worded letter to the Forest Service (under the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture) which reads in part that they:
…are writing to put you on notice with respect to violations of federal and state law in connection with the Forest Service’s plan to sell wild horses “without limitation” after it captures them from the Devil’s Garden Plateau Wild Horse Territory, found in the Modoc National Forest in northeastern California. It is commonly understood, and can certainly be proven, that the sale of wild horses without limitation (especially at the announced $1/per horse price) will result in their sale to purchasers who will ship them to Canada or Mexico, where they will be slaughtered for human consumption.
The Forest Service’s plans to sell wild horses without limitation are in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. § 4321 et seq. (NEPA), the Council for Environmental Quality (CEQ) regulations, 40 C.F.R. parts 1500-1508, the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. § 551, et seq. (APA), California Penal Code section 598c, the spirit of the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 (“Wild Horse Act”), 16 U.S.C. § 1331 et seq., Congressional sentiment, and the desire of the majority of the American people. We hope that after review of this letter, the Forest Service will withdraw its decision to sell any wild horses “without limitation” in connection with this gather. If the Forest Service is not willing to change its decision, we will consider all other legal remedies available to our clients and their supporters, to stop the Forest Service’s actions.
FRER and HSUS have given the Forest Service until October 23 to provide a response.
Continued Advocacy Efforts Are Reaching the Public Eye
Since Front Range Equine Rescue filed a federal lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), their continued advocacy efforts have not gone unnoticed. “This Horse Rescue Group Is Fighting Back Against the BLM’s Cruel Wild Horse Sterilization Experiment” by Estelle Rayburn writes on the recent events and proposed plans of the BLM. While the public has voiced outrage in regard to BLM’s plans to surgically sterilize the wild mares in Oregon, the BLM expects to move forward with their plans.
However, despite the continued pursuit of the surgery, horse defenders such as Front Range Equine Rescue have continued to advocate for the wild mares, filing a lawsuit against the BLM, ” contending that the harm and suffering the animals involved in the cruel experiment would surely endure would be in violation of federal law.” Continuing to pursue these surgeries in a non-sterile environment is dangerous and “violates the BLM’s congressional mandate to care for wild horses at a minimal feasible level.”
Lawsuits Against the BLM Have Caught CNN’s Attention
“Nonprofits sue to stop ‘inhumane’ government project to sterilize 100 wild horses” by Ellie Kaufman features Front Range Equine Rescue as one of the nonprofits leading the lawsuit against the Interior Department Bureau of Land Management. Front Range Equine Rescue has filed a federal lawsuit in Washington D.C., while other nonprofits,such as the American Wild Horse Campaign and the Cloud Foundation have filed a lawsuit in Oregon.
The filed lawsuits are against the proposed surgery called ovariectomy via colpotomy, that the BLM plans to use on 100 horses from the Warm Springs Herd Management Area. The risk y surgery requires a veterinarian to make an incision and to use their hands to feel for the ovaries before using a tool to extract them. Both Front Range Equine Rescue and the American Wild Horse Campaign are advocating for safer ways to manage the population, including the birth control vaccine for horses called Porcine Zona Pellucida (PZP). Despite the previous failed attempts to use this surgery on wild mares, the BLM plans to begin rounding up horses for this surgery in October.
Nonprofit Horse Rescue Group Challenges Inhumane Experimental Surgery
WASHINGTON, DC, September 25, 2018 – Front Range Equine Rescue (FRER), a national nonprofit working to end the abuse and neglect of horses through rescue, advocacy, and education, has filed suit against the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management to stop the BLM’s experimental and invasive sterilization of wild mares. The lawsuit was filed yesterday in federal court in Washington D.C.
FRER’s suit contends the BLM’s intention to conduct surgical “experimentation” on wild mares in the Warm Springs Herd Management Area in Eastern Oregon, and then return them to the range without proper oversight, causes harm and suffering in violation of federal law. FRER’s lawsuit also says the plan represents a conflict of interest and is not in the best interests of wild horses, but rather in the BLM’s own best interest by reducing their management load without considering their mandate to properly manage the horses.
The sterilizations on wild mares proposed by the BLM was originally to be carried out in collaboration with Colorado State University, which has now withdrawn its involvement. Despite this vote of nonsupport, BLM has stated its intention to move forward, with unidentified veterinarians, to perform a dangerous procedure. BLM will be removing hundreds of horses from the Warm Springs Herd Management Area and identifying selected mares for their experiment. Veterinarians will then slice open the mare’s vagina while she is sedated, but awake and standing, and pulling her ovaries out — a risky and controversial surgical procedure even for tame mares under the best of conditions, let alone captive wild horses in a holding facility. Some of the mares will be in various stages of pregnancy. After a short recovery period, some of the sterilized mares will be returned to the range for monitoring.
“Performing unproven surgeries in a non-sterile environment violates the BLM’s congressional mandate to care for wild horses at a minimal feasible level, especially when responsible alternatives like the PZP contraceptive vaccine already exist to maintain population levels and ensure herd viability,” said Hilary Wood, President of FRER.
Earlier this year, FRER filed formal comments opposing the “research” that will be done on these conscious, wild mares. These comments – and comments submitted by more than 20,000 members of the public – were disregarded, prompting FRER to file its suit.
“These sterilization procedures are overly invasive, and they are unlikely to have applicability for mares on public lands,” said Laureen Bartfield, DVM, who volunteers with the BLM for the administration of noninvasive birth control.
“The unvisualized removal of the ovaries, while documented in the literature, is disfavored by reputable veterinarians. The BLM’s plan is not just clinically ill-advised, it constitutes animal cruelty on a large scale.”
The plans for eventual widespread sterilization of horses on the range will also run up an estimated cost to the taxpayers in the millions.
BLM’s Plans to Conduct Experimental Sterilization Surgeries on Wild Horses Have Been Disrupted
Late last week Colorado State University (CSU) issued a statement withdrawing from partnering with the BLM to conduct unnecessary and dangerous sterilization research on 100 wild mares in Oregon. Part of their announcement reads:
After careful consideration of multiple factors during the 30-day public comment period for the Warm Springs, Oregon, mare spay project, Colorado State University is withdrawing our partnership on the surgical spaying of mares. The project is led by the Bureau of Land Management and USGS. The decision to withdraw was made with the support of our involved researchers.
Front Range Equine Rescue had submitted comments to the BLM in opposition to the proposed plan. Dozens of other organizations and thousands of equine advocates did the same.
As of this writing, it is unclear whether the BLM will cancel their plans or seek a new partner elsewhere.
Following is some of FRER’s media coverage raising awareness of this issue prior to CSU backing out.
Nonprofit Plans Lawsuit to Stop Inhumane, Unsafe Surgery for “Research”
Front Range Equine Rescue, a national nonprofit working to end the abuse and neglect of horses through rescue, advocacy, and education, announced today it has filed comments to stop the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management from performing dangerous experimental sterilizations on wild horses.
The BLM plans to award a research grant to Colorado State University in Fort Collins to perform experimental sterilization surgeries on pregnant and non-pregnant mares. After capturing the approximately 800 horses living in the Warm Springs herd in southeastern Oregon, 100 mares would be selected for sterilization. After a short post-operative observation period, some mares would be returned to the herd.
FRER has filed formal comments objecting to ovariectomy via colpotomy* – a potentially life-threatening surgery with a high risk of complications including prolonged bleeding, hemorrhaging, infections and sepsis, tissue myopathy, neuropathy, and pain, in addition to premature birth and abortion in pregnant mares. FRER maintains that the harm and suffering caused by these medically irresponsible surgeries violate federal law.
If FRER’s comments are disregarded, the organization plans to file suit against the BLM in federal court.
“Reputable equine veterinarians with wild horse experience object to this cruel and dangerous procedure, performed unvisualized while mares are fully conscious, because of the many serious risks during surgery or after due to complications,” said Hilary Wood, President of FRER. “There are added dangers if sterilized mares have complications after they are back in the wild. We urge the BLM to use the many available humane alternatives instead of this radical method of population control.”
The BLM has proposed permanently sterilizing wild horses several times, most recently in 2016, when it dropped its plans following a lawsuit filed by FRER and comments from more than 20,000 members of the public. In 2011, a federal court halted plans to castrate wild horses on the grounds it would be “extreme and irreversible.” In 2012, the BLM was again forced to defend similar plans in federal court, and abandoned its efforts to castrate some of Nevada’s wild horses.
* Ovariectomy via colpotomy is described by the BLM as “making an incision, approximately 1-3 centimeters long, in the anterior-dorsallateral vagina…The incision would be enlarged with blunt dissection to perforate the peritoneum and allow the surgeon’s hand to enter the abdomen.” The surgeon inserts a snare-like tool, and attempts to remove the ovaries without visualization aids, such as laparoscopy, to avoid damaging other organs or blood vessels. The procedure would be done under local anesthesia, so the mare remains awake and standing. This method of permanent sterilization, already problematic on domesticated horses in sanitary conditions such as an appropriately equipped veterinary hospital, would be performed in the field at BLM’s wild horse warehousing facilities.