Coalition of U.S. House members pen letter to DOI Secretary Bernhardt opposing sterilization of wild horses
A bipartisan group of House lawmakers is striking back at the Bureau of Land Management's latest attempt to test a permanent sterilization technique on wild horses.
The group of 30 congressional leaders, including four Republicans, sent a letter to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt late Friday urging him to "drop" BLM research into a controversial sterilization procedure — called ovariectomy via colpotomy — that involves removing the ovaries from mares. The latest proposal, which could begin as early as August, would involve about 100 mares already rounded up from a federal herd management area in central Oregon.
The lawmakers, led by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), also asked Bernhardt to "shed light" on why BLM is working "to push forward" with the proposed project after a federal judge last year issued an injunction halting the research. The bureau quickly abandoned the project and committed in February to adopt or sell most of the 845 wild horses it gathered up for the project.
But last month, BLM released a new environmental assessment (EA) analyzing the proposals to test the sterilization technique on mares at the Warm Springs Herd Management Area in Oregon. It marks at least the third time BLM has proposed such research, which has been challenged each time by litigation from advocacy groups.
"The BLM is charged with protecting wild horses under the landmark 1971 Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. From a welfare perspective, the 'spay' experiment raises serious concerns," the letter said. Among them are the "risks of infection, trauma, hemorrhage, evisceration, and even death," they wrote. BLM did not respond to a request for comment on this story before publication.
But according to the EA, the bureau wants to test the procedure "on at least 100 ungentled, wild horse mares" already rounded up last October as part of the previous attempt to research the sterilization technique. BLM would "contract with an experienced veterinary team" to conduct the "surgical procedure," it said.BLM would return about 28 to 34 of the sterilized mares to the range as part of the project. The U.S. Geological Survey would "evaluate the impacts of spaying" on these animals and on "herd behavior once returned to the range as compared with an untreated herd." Roughly 70 other mares would also be spayed and observed for seven days, then put up for adoption or sale and not returned to the range.
It's the latest effort by the bureau to find safe and effective ways to permanently sterilize mares as herd sizes grow rapidly across the West. But a federal judge blocked a similar proposal last year, and two years earlier BLM dropped a separate research proposal into several sterilization methods shortly after an advocacy group sued.
The congressional leaders led by Blumenauer wrote in the letter that they aren't convinced BLM will take proper precautions to care for the animals.
"It seems that the agency understands the risky nature of the procedure but is nevertheless aiming to quantify precisely how dangerous it is using federally-protected animals," they wrote. "This is especially disconcerting given the BLM's pronouncement that no post-operative antibiotics will be administered and that no veterinary interventions will be undertaken for any recovering horses returned to the range."
At the "absolute minimum," the letter said, if BLM conducts the tests it should include "veterinary and welfare oversight" similar to two previous proposals for sterilization research that included partnering with Oregon State University in 2016, and last year with Colorado State University.
Both universities dropped out before the research could begin, and the lawmakers noted with concern that such partnerships "are no longer a component of the project the BLM is attempting to yet again undertake."
Last week the Bureau of Land Management’s National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board recommended that the Bureau euthanize or sell “without limitation” excess “unadoptable” horses and burros in the BLM’s off-range corrals and pastures. To sell the animals “without limitation” essentially removes protocols aimed at ensuring they won’t be slaughtered.
The Bureau has not yet made a formal response to the board’s recommendation, although, in a statement, it said that it will continue to care and seek good homes for animals that have been removed from the range. “What this means is that we will continue with our current policy, which is not to sell or send wild horses or burros to slaughter,” it said.
TAKE ACTION: Please take a few minutes to contact Neil Kornze, the Director of BLM. Tell him you oppose the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board's recommendation to allow the agency to euthanize and/or sell wild horses and burros without limitation. Kornze's email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The ecosanctuary would be run by Dwayne and Denise Oldham, who own and lease portions of the Double D Ranch. It would be the second BLM-private ecosanctuary to be located in Wyoming; a 290-horse ranch is already operated by Richard and Jana Wilson on the 4,000-acre Deerwood Ranch near Centennial, Wyoming. A third ecosanctuary, known as the Mowdy Ranch, operated by Clay and Kit Mowdy, holds 153 horses on 1,280 acres and is located 12 miles northeast of Coalgate, Oklahoma, in the southeastern part of the state.
“This advances our efforts to improve the BLM’s management of and care for America’s wild horses and burros,” said BLM Director Neil Kornze. “Although the challenges facing our Wild Horse and Burro Program remain formidable, every step forward moves us closer to our goal of more effective and efficient stewardship of wild horses and burros, both on and off the range.”
“The Lander Field Office has worked closely with the Oldhams to ensure that proper care will be provided for the wild horses and to address the concerns of neighboring landowners,” said BLM Lander Field Manager Rick Vander Voet. “We look forward to a long, successful partnership with the Double D Ranch.”
The wild horse ecosanctuaries, which must be publicly accessible with a potential for ecotourism, help the BLM feed and care for excess wild horses that have been removed from overpopulated herds roaming Western public rangelands. The BLM enters in partnership agreements with the ecosanctuary operators, who are reimbursed at a funding level comparable to what the agency pays ranchers to care for wild horses on long-term pastures in the Midwest. The partnership agreement requires that any profits from tourism activities at the ecosanctuary must be used to defray operating costs, thus saving taxpayer dollars.
The third wild horse ecosanctuary in the United States for off-range care of excess wild horses and burros will be located seven miles north of Lander, the Bureau of Land Management announced today. The new ecosanctuary would be operated on the 900-acre Double D Ranch, located seven miles north of Lander and would initially hold up to 100 horses, with the first horses arriving as early as the spring of 2015. The ranch is within the Wind River Indian Reservation.The ranch is located to the east of U.S. Highway 287 and east and south the Blue Sky Highway (WYO 132) between Plunkett Road and the Ethete intersection.
The BLM’s Lander Field Office issued a Decision Record, resulting from an Environmental Assessment under the National Environmental Policy Act, that addresses comments from the public and adjacent landowners. The Environmental Assessment can be accessed at www.blm.gov/wy/st/en/info/NEPA/documents/lfo/ecosanctuary.html. The Decision Record, which finds no significant environmental impacts from the ecosanctuary, initiates a 30-day appeal period during which the public may express comments.
Long-term plans under the BLM-Double D partnership agreement include a learning/visitor information center, tours, gift shop, and campground. The Double D Ranch plans to invite the Eastern Shoshone Tribe and the Northern Arapahoe Tribe of the Wind River Reservation to partner in running the learning center, which will interpret Native American culture and the historic role of the horse. The Wind River Visitors Council, Lander Chamber of Commerce, and the City of Lander support the ecosanctuary and would help promote public visitation to it.
The BLM estimates that 49,209 wild horses and burros are roaming on BLM-managed rangelands in 10 Western states, based on the latest data available, compiled as of March 1, 2014. Wild horses and burros have virtually no natural predators and their herd sizes can double about every four years. As a result, the BLM, as part of its management of public rangeland resources, must remove thousands of animals from the range each year to control herd sizes.
The estimated current free-roaming population exceeds by more than 22,500 the number that the BLM has determined can exist in balance with other public rangeland resources and uses. The maximum appropriate management level (AML) is approximately 26,684.
Off the range, as of November 2014, there were 48,447 other wild horses and burros fed and cared for at short-term corrals and long-term pastures, which compares to the BLM’s total holding capacity of 50,153. All wild horses and burros in holding, like those roaming Western public rangelands, are protected under the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, as amended.
Source: County 10