Front Range Equine Rescue Challenges BLM’s Sterilization Experiments

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.