Over the objections of animal welfare advocates, the Bureau of Land Management plans to initiate a controversial program of surgically sterilizing female wild horses, starting in Utah as soon as this month with the planned roundup of the Confusion herd in the West Desert.
The sterilization program drew a stiff rebuke from a bipartisan group of 58 federal lawmakers in a letter sent Thursday to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, demanding he avoid using a procedure that has not been proven safe — known as ovariectomy via colpotomy — on protected wild horses.
“This attempt to use taxpayer dollars to carry out cruel and inhumane procedures on wild horses must not move forward,” said Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., one of the letter’s signatories. “I will always fight to protect these majestic animals that have become symbols of the American West.”
Titus, who represents Las Vegas, is the lead signatory of the letter, which no member of Utah’s delegation joined.
Utah Rep. Chris Stewart, whose district covers most of Utah’s wild horse country in the West Desert, has applauded the BLM’s horse-removal campaigns expanded under William Perry Pendley.
Pendley is a former Colorado property rights lawyer whose leadership of the BLM has never been confirmed by the Senate and has been ruled illegal by a federal judge. He contends horse “proliferation” is an “existential threat” to the West’s rangelands that must be addressed through aggressive action.
The sterilization plan was disclosed last month in an environmental assessment of the BLM’s 10-year plan for managing the Confusion herd, whose numbers are nearly five times what the agency deems is appropriate. While most of these horses will be sent to off-range corrals to live out their days in captivity, some of the mares will have their ovaries crushed and then be returned to the range.
“A veterinarian inserts what’s essentially a metal rod through the vaginal incision into the abdominal cavity,” said Joanna Grossman, who heads the Animal Welfare Institute’s equine program. “Once the veterinarian’s arm is in there with this metal rod that has a kind of a loop at the end, he or she tries to feel for the ovaries and then using this metal rod essentially crushes and severs them and then removes them.”
It is not a new procedure, but it is rarely used and should be avoided in “non-ideal” conditions, according to Grossman.
“In general, ovariectomies via colpotomy are infrequently performed on horses as the risks can be serious – e.g., evisceration, hemorrhaging, infection, and even death,” the Congressional letter stated. “Other forms of ovariectomy have been employed on domestic horses and may be safer under certain controlled conditions, but performing these often complicated and invasive procedures on ungentled, wild horses poses significant welfare risk. From a broader perspective, the BLM’s insistence on ovariectomizing wild horses seems futile at best given that such surgeries cannot practicably or safely be widely implemented on the range in what would likely be nonsterile conditions.”…(CONTINUED)