This summer, the House Appropriations Committee voted for the first time to authorize killing healthy wild horses and burros. It did so with the full support of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, whose department bears the responsibility for managing wild horses on public lands.
We are appalled.
On one level, the vote to allow wild-horse killing is easy to understand. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) scheme for managing protected wild horses and burros has never worked well, and has collapsed completely in the last 15 years.
Rounding up wild horses with helicopters and removing most of them for adoption is a strategy whose success depends on the whims of the horse adoption market, and works against wild horse reproductive biology. Adoptions have not kept up with removals, and removals have not kept up with natural growth of wild horse populations on the range.
Today, 46,000 formerly free-roaming wild horses are warehoused in holding facilities, costing taxpayers $60 million a year and counting. At the same time, according to the BLM, the number of horses and burros on the range has more than doubled since 2005-2008.
Something must be done to break out of this costly cycle of futility. Hence, the committee vote. Still, on another level, the committee’s action is bafflingly disingenuous and shortsighted. As a former congressman and governor from the West and a scientist and advocate who share more than a quarter century of engagement with the wild horse issue, we do not believe there is any chance that the public will allow killing of healthy wild horses on this scale. Historically, public outrage has routinely blocked far lesser abuses.
But if other issues conspire to divert public attention from horse-killing, the 20 percent annual growth rate shown by wild horse populations on public lands would refill BLM’s holding facilities to current levels in a mere three years. The killing strategy is no more sustainable than the roundup and adopt strategy.
The wild horse challenge cannot be solved unless wild horse reproduction is managed on the range. Less than a mile from where the House Appropriations Committee debated killing wild horses, experts from all over the world participated in the eighth International Conference in Wildlife Fertility Control. There, researchers from Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, The Humane Society of the United States and the University of Toledo presented data from field trials showing that two doses of a contraceptive vaccine (known as PZP) delivered several years apart can block wild horse pregnancies for five years or longer. The vaccine costs a few hundred dollars for the first dose, but only $25 for the second.
Another research group from Colorado State University, the National Park Service and USDA’s National Wildlife Research Center showed remarkably similar data from wild horse field trials with a different contraceptive vaccine (known as GonaCon). These vaccines, and the data describing their safety and effectiveness, are both well known to the BLM, which has been funding such research for decades. Side effects are minimal, mostly consisting of short-term reactions at the injection site experienced by some horses.
Researchers can still improve these vaccines, and are eager to do that. But it is the job of the BLM to inject these vaccines into enough horses to slow down population growth. Working with the BLM at Cedar Mountains Herd Management Area in Utah, the Tufts/HSUS/Toledo research team showed that it can be done. Enough mares were treated with PZP at a 2012 BLM gather to reduce annual population growth to about 8.5 percent over the two years following — a third of the normal growth rate at that site.
Cedar Mountains is a tough place to work, covering 280 rugged square miles, nearly 60 percent of which is wilderness off-limits to vehicles. If BLM can do it there, they can do it nearly everywhere.
To reduce the number of gathers and the flow of animals into holding, improve the health of the range long-term and find its way out of its perpetual wild horse crisis, the BLM must develop and put into practice locally tailored long-term plans to manage wild horses and burros with fertility control.
Instead of funding horse killing, Congress should insist that management by fertility control gets done, and provide the BLM with the cash to do it.
Bill Richardson has served as a U.S. congressman (1982-1996), U. S. ambassador to the United Nations (1997-1998), secretary of Energy (1998-2000) and governor of New Mexico (2003-2011). With actor and conservationist Robert Redford, he started the Foundation to Preserve New Mexico Wildlife to protect wild horses and provide alternatives to horse slaughter.
Allen Rutberg is director of the Center for Animals and Public Policy at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University and a long-time wild horse contraception researcher.
Source: The Hill
Bill Richardson, former New Mexico governor, U.S. Energy Secretary and Ambassador to the United Nations, has been chosen as the 2013 Humane Horseman of the Year by The Humane Society of the United States. The HSUS recognized Richardson for his leadership in working to block horse slaughter from resuming on U.S. soil and his efforts to protect New Mexico’s wild mustang and burro population. Each year, The HSUS offers the award to an individual who demonstrates an outstanding commitment to protect America’s equines
Richardson said: “I am truly honored to be recognized by our country’s leading animal advocacy organization and by those who are on the front lines of animal protection every day. My foundation and I are committed to continuing the fight to not only stop horse slaughterhouses from reopening, but to ban horse slaughter outright in the U.S, as well as finding humane solutions to manage our nation’s wild and unwanted horse population.”
Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS, said: “Governor Richardson makes an impact when he gets involved in negotiations or public policy issues, and horses are lucky he’s used his influence to protect them from people who want to kill healthy animals for profit. Since signing a bill to outlaw cockfighting in his home state, he’s amassed a remarkable record on animal welfare issues, and in 2013 he helped prevent the re-establishing of horse slaughter plants in the United States. He understands that this industry is an inhumane, predatory one, and its work is at odds with the values of the American public.”
Along with actor and director Robert Redford, Richardson formed the Foundation to Protect New Mexico Wildlife, which made its first action to join the federal lawsuit filed by HSUS, Front Range Equine Rescue, Horses For Life Foundation and others, to block the opening of domestic horse slaughter plants. Additionally, Richardson successfully encouraged Navajo Nation president Ben Shelly to abandon his pro-slaughter stance and see the value in managing horse populations with long-term humane solutions.
Richardson’s foundation also focuses on the preservation and protection of New Mexico’s wild mustang and burro population while collaborating with other organizations to raise public awareness of the plight of horses. Richardson has also been active on other animal welfare issues, signing legislation as governor to make New Mexico the 49th state to outlaw cockfighting and advocating that the National Institutes of Health end invasive experiments on chimps and commit to sending them to sanctuaries.
According to the Chinese zodiac, 2014 is the Year of the Horse, a hopeful sign for equines in New Mexico, says Debbie Coburn. She and her husband, Terry Coburn, have run Four Corners Equine Rescue for the last 10 years at their ranch home just outside Aztec. It's a nonprofit organization dedicated to saving and rehabilitating abandoned, abused and neglected horses. The organization also takes in and care for wild and feral horses. The couple currently have 62 horses at their sprawling facility in Flora Vista, south of the Old Aztec Highway.
Last year, the Coburns took in 30 horses -- "17 as wild as March hares," Debbie Coburn said. "It was like the year of the wild horse, we had so many come in or picked up," she said.
She said wild and feral horses can take twice as long as domesticated horses to be handleable and ready for adoption, doubling the expense and effort each of those horses require. Worse, according to Debbie Coburn, is that those horses face higher slaughter rates when they wind up at sale barns or at public auctions.
"What they call loose horses at a sale barn, public auction -- the chances of anyone taking them home is like .000000001 percent," she said. "No, they end up slaughtered. They sell them to kill buyers. The public auction is whoever bids the most."
The greatest obstacle, as Debbie Coburn sees it, is the reality that many horses are sent to slaughter each year, often out of convenience, indifference or cultural views that see the horses as possessions. With added political pressure and greater awareness, she is hopeful that change is afoot.
"The more Americans -- members of the public -- become aware of what's happening (with slaughter practices), the more the resistance to horse slaughter grows, and I think we're closer now than we ever have been to changing the culture of horse ownership," Debbie Coburn said. "I feel like we're making positive change. It's changed."
She points to a new law she championed to include a donation box on state personal tax forms to allow taxpayers to check off a donation to the horse shelter rescue fund. The state's Livestock Board would oversee the distribution of money to help horse shelters like the Coburns'. Debbie Coburn testified in support of the law at last year's legislative session in Santa Fe.
"It was organized chaos, so busy, so many committees I visited," she said. "That was my debut as a citizen lobbyist. But the governor (Susana Martinez) signed the bill. Things like this represent positive, incremental steps in the right direction."
The Foundation to Protect New Mexico Wildlife, an organization launched by former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and activist actor Robert Redford, has jumped in to fight horse slaughter. Debbie Coburn said her organization received a $1,500 donation from the foundation in November.
Another sign of change is in an upcoming meeting Debbie Coburn has secured with Ray Baca, executive director of the New Mexico Livestock Board. Highest on her list of outcomes from the meeting is a greater understanding between the board and state rescues. The goal, she said, would be that board officials call rescues before allowing the horses to be taken to a sale barn and sold at public auction.
"We're supposed to meet with Baca to start forging a new relationship," she said. "We've been trying for a while. The first time I approached him, he said, 'No.' The fact that the (six) rescues (in the state) have bonded together, he's been more inclined to listen. It's the old guard, but the hope for change is there. Bit by bit."
Baca's board is still stinging after an investigative article in the Albuquerque Journal discovered that Baca signed a purchase order to place four abused horses with Southwest Livestock Auction, a feedlot in Los Lunas, in September. The feedlot's owner, Dennis Chavez, pleaded guilty in November to animal cruelty after four severely emaciated and dying horses were documented on his property. As part of a settlement agreement in the case, Debbie Coburn and two other state rescues received $5,000 last month.
"These rescues have saved a lot of horses," said Gary Mora, an area supervisor with the state's Livestock Board. "We have delivered horses (to Four Corners Equine Rescue). (Coburn) has picked up horses. She will attempt to help, but that is not always possible."
Mora, who has been with the board for 17 years, believes the board is doing all it can to place horses, despite a small budget, limited staff and no place of its own to hold horses indefinitely.
"We are faced with a problem with unwanted, abandoned horses. The economy didn't help," Mora said. "We can't just give these horses away. We have to follow the estray process, because they're not the property of the state. We hold onto them for as long as possible, and, most of the time, we're successful to adopt them out to private individuals or to rescues, but down the road we're going to run out of options. We don't have a facility to hold horses. After that, according to statute, we're required to sell them at public auction."
All of New Mexico's horse rescue groups, including Four Corners Equine Rescue, have banded together to form the New Mexico Equine Rescue Alliance, whose mission is to take all horses from the state's Livestock Board.
"This needs to stop," Debbie Coburn said. "We're willing to help. I'm not trying to pull their (agencies like the Livestock Board) wisdom teeth without sedation. We're trying to get along and make this a safer process for the horses. That's the point, but I am encouraged."
Source: The Daily Times by James Fenton