The Trump administration plans to test a single-dose birth-control vaccine that could help control growing wild horse and burro herds. At issue is a research project that would be conducted by the Bureau of Land Management and the Agriculture Department to test the one-dose oocyte growth factor vaccine on about 16 mares that have already been removed from overcrowded federal rangelands.
BLM says the vaccine holds the promise of rendering mares infertile for three years or longer. Currently, the most common birth-control vaccine for wild horse populations is porcine zona pellucida, or PZP, which lasts for only about a year and requires multiple doses.
BLM late Friday issued a final environmental assessment and decision record signed by BLM Nevada Director Jon Raby advancing the plan. The decision is open for administrative protests for 30 days.
BLM estimates there are more than 88,000 wild horses and burros trampling federal herd management areas — more than three times the number of animals the rangelands can sustain without damaging vegetation, soils and other resources.
The final EA and decision record follow President Trump's fiscal 2021 budget request last month that referred to wild horses and burros as an "existential threat" to the health of federal rangelands. It asks Congress for an additional $15 million to take steps to increase roundups and fund research for more effective methods of sterilization and birth-control techniques
If successful, the one-dose vaccine by itself would not be enough to reduce herds to appropriate management levels. But it would help to control populations once they have reached sustainable levels.
The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's National Wildlife Research Center, which will partner with BLM on the one-dose study, has tested a different version of the proposed vaccine. It required multiple doses but lasted two years.
If the latest one-dose vaccine proves effective, BLM will still need to go through a "separate decision-making process" and site-specific analysis before using it on wild horses on the range, the final EA says.
The plan to test 16 mares — currently being held at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City, Nev., as part of an inmate program to train the wild horses for adoption — includes a provision to study the behavior of the treated mares for three years against a "control" group of 16 untreated mares.
Meanwhile, there is no shortage of calls for action. One of the latest comes from Utah Sen. Mike Lee (R), who is proposing that Congress allow the Interior Department to take dramatic steps to reduce wild horse and burro herds on federal rangelands.
Lee wants to allow the Interior secretary to exempt the use of helicopters and other motorized vehicles in animal roundups from National Environmental Policy Act requirements. He also wants to waive NEPA mandates regarding sterilization of the animals, as long as the procedure is performed by a "licensed professional."
Lee's proposal is included in an amendment to a broader energy package led by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and the committee's ranking Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. The full Senate is expected to vote on the package this week.
Lee's amendment, which is not expected to be approved, would allow the NEPA waiver after the secretary determines "that an overpopulation of wild free-roaming horses or burros exists on a given area of public land, and that action is necessary to remove excess horses or burros."
Source; E&E News
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