Leon Pielstick, DVM, performing a colpotomy
Since the public wants to comment on the BLM’s plans for continued brutal sterilization experiments on wild mares at the upcoming National Wild Horse & Burro Advisory Board meeting, I’m re-posting an article from 2013 with 24 pages of FOIA documents under it. Page #22 is an email from Leon Pielstick, and has information on the year, the number of wild mares that received the experiments, the complications and the number of deaths. A few of the FOIA records below indicate:
2007 – was the Pilot study, 33 mares were spayed. 2 died (6% mortality)
Sept. 2009 – 41 mares were spayed, complication rate 2.7%,. Pielstick claimed there were no deaths, but the mares were only observed in corrals for 24-48 hours before being released back into the wild. (this skewed the data and left no reliable information regarding post surgical complications and deaths). In July 2010 (11 months later) the BLM incidentally spotted about half of the spayed wild mares during a pronghorn survey). But what happened to the other half?
Jan. 2010 – 8 mares were spayed by Leon Pielstick at the Wild Horse Sanctuary in Shingletown, CA
This only includes information on a few experiments. There have been many more experiments on our wild horses and burros.
BLM and Fish & Wildlife Service Experimenting on wild horses
By Debbie Coffey Copyright 2013 All Rights Reserved.
This article includes documented information obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the BLM, on the field spaying of mares, vasectomies and chemical vasectomies, so that the public can learn more about the experimentation on feral (and wild) horses.
The “Sheldon horses and burros” are on the Sheldon-Hart Mountain National Wildlife Refuge Complex, and are designated as “feral.” Feral horses are not protected by the Wild Free-Roaming Horses & Burros Act of 1971. (Wild horses are barely protected by this act, either.)
The BLM is partnering with Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), another Department of the Interior agency, and field spaying and vasectomies will likely be discussed at the upcoming BLM National Wild Horse & Burro Advisory Board meeting Sept. 9-11 in Arlington, Virginia.
What you’ll see in the documents at the bottom of this article seem to indicate that there has been experimentation without properly planned protocols (which should’ve included having medication at the site in case of an adverse reaction to any drugs) and with haphazard (if any at all) monitoring after the procedures. It seems as if the BLM is fishing for “inferences” to push these FWS experiments as a “tool in their toolbox” for population control of wild horses.
BLM should be doing ON THE RANGE MANAGEMENT OF VIABLE HERDS. Most herds are NOT viable. Stay on this point: Should BLM even be doing population control/fertility control on NON-VIABLE HERDS?
It is important to note that the Fish & Wildlife Service has been field spaying PREGNANT mares, in different trimesters of pregnancy. Mares that are NOT pregnant are called “open.” In a 6/15/2009 e-mail that Brian Day (FWS) sent to Paul Steblein, Rob Bundy and Gail Collins of the FWS, he said if he “remembered correctly,” during the 1st trimester (less than 112 days), the “disturbance generally causes the re-absorbtion of the fetus.” During the 2nd trimester (112-224 days) the spaying may “cause abortion.” And in the 3rd trimester (225-335 days) the fetus/foal “likely completes term.”
However, was this information based on feral and wild mares or only domestic mares? Was this information based only on Peilstick’s studies? What studies were done on foal survival if the mares weren’t being monitored after the procedure (to know how many foals were born or died in the wild?) Seeing a few foals alive from an aerial survey and assuming all of the foals survived is not a scientific approach.
I’ve posted the links to 24 FOIA documents at the bottom of this article. Here are a few highlights and comments:
1) In a 7/28/2008 e-mail from Paul Steblein, who was then the Project Leader of the Sheldon-Hart Mountain National Wildlife Refuge Complex, to Leon Pielstick (the veterinarian noted in Part 1), Gail Collins (FWS, who has also been attending the BLM’s Modoc/Washoe Experimental Stewardship Program meetings in northern CA), Brian Day (FWS) and Rob Bundy (FWS) stating that ovariectomies would cost $200 (with 4 hours next to this cost).
However, in Part 1 of this series, the presentation by Leon Pielstick claimed that colpotomies took less than 5 minutes of surgery time, and “about 15 minutes for restraint, sedation, prep AND procedure.” It also seems to only take about 5 minutes to apply a freezemark. So how does 20 minutes add up to 4 hours?
This e-mail also notes that the mares and studs would be turned out immediately after procedure, because there would be “less chance of antagonistic interactions.” (You might wonder if the mares might also have been turned out to avoid/skew negative data about the procedure.)
2) In a 7/16/2008 e-mail from Paul Steblein to the same FWS employees above, Steblein noted that in a contraception study (most likely the one done in 2007) there were 2 fatalities from the ovariectomy procedure out of 35 mares. (However, it seems Steiblein’s information was incorrect, because in Leon Pielstick’s 2010 Proposal for Collaborative Research Effort/Grant application, Pielstick stated that he spayed 33 mares with 2 fatalities in 2007.)
Steiblein noted that Pielstick thinks he can reduce mortality by abandoning the procedure if he “encounters uncertainties” for example, if he can’t be sure the organ he is feeling is an ovary or just stool in the colon.
Stublein noted that there is “greater emotional risk of public with sterilizing mares versus studs.” (What is “emotional risk,” anyhow? Taxpayers getting fed up with money being wasted on Dr. Mengele type experiments?)
He also noted “there are always biases in data.” (We can see that.)
3) In a 10/21/09 e-mail Ms. Gail Collins (FWS) sent to Dean Bolstad, then Deputy Division Chief of the Wild Horse & Burro Program, answering some questions he had asked about their horse sterilization program. The answer to #2 states they (FWS) “don’t track bands as they come into the trap, so we don’t have a definitive way of identifying the lead studs.” She then noted that in an aerial survey, that there were studs they were unable to identify from the air as sterilized studs. In answer #4 she noted the aerial surveys were to monitor wildlife, and they were limited by funding and personnel.
(A year later in an 8/17/2010 e-mail from Collins to Bolstad, she noted that “We have no data directly investigating the mortalities after the mares were released. In July 2010 we incidentally observed about half of the spayed mares during our annual pronghorn survey…However, it is important to note that horses were not the primary focus of that effort, and we were not specifically looking for the sterilized individuals.”)
Collins also noted mares were kept in corrals for 24-48 hours after they were spayed, and were then released. She stated “There has been no direct monitoring of the mares since their release.” She gave the details about the arrow brands used for monitoring the horses: the arrow points towards the tail of spayed mares, the arrow points up for vasectomized studs and the arrow points down for geldings.
There is also an e-mail from Stublein to Dean Bolstad, telling Bolstad he was pleased with “the emergence of an interagency partnership.” Stublein then seemed to stress “As I mentioned last week, this is a working experiment versus research project dues to lack of staff and funds.” (So, Dean Bolstad was aware the word “experiment” was used.)
4) In a 10/22/2009 e-mail from Dean Bolstad to Gail Collins, he states “I know this isn’t a research project” and asks if “maybe inferences can be made” about the data on spayed mares. Bolstad then noted “I’m not sure how you could measure this at this point in your work unless you were able to count surviving mares in the field. It would be pretty hard considering the difficulty of reading your arrows and the expanse of the country they live in.”
Gail Collins answered that “While it is not ideal” they made some inferences regarding the foaling data. Collins also noted that testing the safety of mares in the field would be tested in a proposal that was a controlled experiment. (Note the use of the word “experiment” again.)
5) In a 8/17/2010 e-mail from Pielstick to Dean Bolstad, Pielstick noted that horses were spayed at a private ranch called Wild Horse Sanctuary in Shingletown, CA. Pielstick also noted he received a letter of support from Dr. Eric Davis, an equine surgeon who “works for the HSUS.”
6) In a 4/7/2010 letter to Alan Shepherd (BLM) from Melinda McDonald, DVM, of U.C. Davis, who noted that wild mares being spayed were “fractious and did fight the restraint of being confined in a chute.” McDonald noted “There is no question that colpotomy is a surgery which carries substantial patient risks, as does any form of ovariectomy in horses. Here at UC Davis, we have observed a number of post-operative complications in mares following ovariectomy performed via laparotomy, laparocopy or colpotomy.”
She then praised Pielstick’s experience. (However, Pielstick is gaining his experience using wild and feral horses. These are trials. And other vets may not be as experienced.)
7) In a 4/27/2010 letter, Dianne Nelson, President of Wild Horse Sanctuary in Shingletown, CA states she supports spaying mares as part of BLM’s wild horse management.
8) In a 12/19/2011 e-mail from Gail Collins (FWS) to Alan Shepherd (BLM) copying John Kasbohm (FWS and current Project lead) and Damien Miller (FWS), Collins noted about spays that “Per veterinarian recommendation, the mares were held at the processing facility on average 8.1 days following the procedure before release back onto the refuge.”
And about vasectomies, “Per veterinarian recommendations, the studs were held at the processing facility on average 3.2 days following the procedure before release back onto the refuge.”
And about geldings “Per veterinary recommendations, the geldings were held at the processing facility on average 19.6 days following the procedure before shipping.”
But, there was no indication of monitoring them on the range afterwards.
9) In an August, 2011 Independent Assessment of a roundup at Sheldon by Julie M. Weikel, DVM, she stated that 71 studs were chemically vasectomized on August 24 and 25, 2011. She also noted one stud died of anaphylaxis from a tetanus toxoid injection.
Also, 32 mares were spayed on August 29th and released on August 30th. She stated “The spaying of mares was observed by professional management and veterinary personnel from the BLM Palomino facility.” (Could this have included BLM Palomino Valley manager John Neill and Richard Sanford, the vet for BLM’s Palomino Valley and Indian Lakes Road facilities?)
It seems that chemical vasectomies (also called Reversible Inhibition of Sperm Under Guidance – RISUG) for horses are also experimental. The USDA only lists research on chemical vasectomies for dogs and cats, but not for horses.
10) Included is an invoice from the Harney County Veterinary Clinic, owned by Leon Pielstick, so you can see where some of your tax dollars went.
Please show up at the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board meeting. The public comment time will be on Sept. 10th starting at 3 p.m. (and you have to “register” before 2 p.m. if you want to make a public comment). Make your voices heard. Stress ON THE RANGE MANAGEMENT OF VIABLE HERDS. Ask that this BLM Advisory Board, and the BLM, to give the public proof that all of the herds are VIABLE. There will be a live stream of the meeting for people to watch online (we’ll post a link to the live stream).
LINKS TO 24 FOIA DOCUMENTS: