GRAND JUNCTION — The Bureau of Land Management has no new wild-horse roundups planned for the remainder of this year and, in that lull, will be researching a new population-control measure — the promising but controversial spaying of mares in the field.
The BLM is laying out steps to study what are called ovariectomies. Initially, the agency is seeking input from veterinarians about the best way to conduct field spayings. If those veterinarians give the idea a green light, the BLM would try out the procedure in holding facilities, followed by research in the field, before implementing any widespread program.
“We will be proceeding on this soon. It’s a very high priority for us,” said Dean
Bolstad, the BLM’s wild horse and burro senior adviser.
The BLM has had to take a new look at population-control measures because contraceptive drugs haven’t worked well to reduce herd sizes. Birth-control drugs are effective for less than two years and necessitate expensive repeat gathers of the animals. BLM wild-horse managers hope for approval of a more long-acting drug, but that is not expected anytime soon.
The agency is looking at new measures such as spaying because there is a lack of space for more horses in holding facilities, which are already home to more than 37,000 wild horses and burros. Last year, the BLM spent $43 million to maintain those animals in captivity. Adoptions of wild horses have dropped from 7,600 in 2001 to about 2,500 last year.
The ovariectomy became a seriously considered option after the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board recommended — in an eight-page “Population Growth Suppression Alternative” paper last fall — that it be studied.
The advisory board laid out reasons why removing the ovaries of some mares could be an important part of controlling the population of wild horses in herd-management areas and how it could be done in a more humane way than the roundups the BLM has long relied on to thin herds.
The board recommended using water and food as bait to corral horses long enough to treat them.
“Anytime you can get the BLM to consider something new, that’s good,” said Tim Harvey, the wild-horse advocate on the national advisory board.
Harvey pointed out that ovariectomies are already a government-approved measure and have been used safely on race horses.
“Personally, I do think it can be safe in the field,” said advisory board chairman Dr. Boyd Spratling, who is a veterinarian from Nevada…(CONTINUED)
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