by John LaConte as published on the Vail Daily
“…holding facilities, like the roundups themselves, are often harmful to the health and well-being of these animals…”
A Nov. 25 letter from 22 members of Congress, including House Representative Joe Neguse, urges House leadership to consider a more “humane and sustainable” practice of fertility control for wild horses in Colorado and across the West.
Neguse, who represents Vail, EagleVail and parts of Avon in the U.S. House of Representatives, co-sponsored a bipartisan wild horse protection amendment in July which directs the federal Bureau of Land Management to use at least $11 million of its annual wild horse program budget on PZP fertility programs for wild horses, a fertility-control vaccine given to female horses on the range through an injection via remote darting.
But the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, on Nov. 10, instead added more funding to the Bureau of Land Management’s horse roundup program, which involves the controversial drive-trapping method of chasing wild horses into pens using helicopters. The horses are then separated from their herd-families and held in expensive holding facilities.
According to a Sept. 16 report from Bureau of Land Management , 71% of the more than $87 million that had been spent on the Wild Horse and Burro Program in 2020 was used to conduct roundups and place horses in holding facilities, and none of that budget was spent on PZP, Porcine Zona Pellucida.
“We appreciate the Appropriations Committee’s effort to support the BLM’s horse and burro program in FY20 by providing more than $21 million in additional funding over previously enacted levels,” Neguse and others wrote in the Nov. 25 letter. “We also appreciate the Committee’s efforts to promote agency accountability, requiring that the BLM submit a report to Congress detailing past expenditures and accounting for future program planning and needs. However, we remain concerned about the BLM’s management of equine populations. As a result of the BLM’s mass roundup strategy and removal mismanagement, there are nearly 50,000 animals in short- and long-term holding, and this number will only increase if the BLM continues to rely primarily on a failed system of mass removals. These holding facilities, like the roundups themselves, are often harmful to the health and well-being of these animals.”
Proposal for Colorado
In Colorado, the Bureau of Land Management estimates roughly 2,100 wild horses are roaming the public lands.
The bureau says a more appropriate level of horses, based on the available range land, would be closer to 800. Bureau of Land Management range land available to wild horses has shrunk from 723,095 acres in the early 1970s to 365,988 acres now.
Bureau of Land Management has proposed the use of helicopter, fixed wing aircraft and other motorized vehicles to track, inventory, gather and transport wild horse and burro herds throughout Colorado in 2021, but will first have a public hearing on the matter to receive comments from citizens.
An in-person public hearing was originally scheduled to take place at the Bureau of Land Management’s White River Field Office on Nov. 19 but has been postponed in order to reduce the risk of the spread of COVID-19.
“The hearing will be rescheduled and may be held virtually at a later date,” said Benjamin Gruber, acting deputy state director of resources.
Gruber says the use of motorized vehicles and aircraft helps the BLM to “efficiently monitor and manage wild horse populations.”
“The more efficiently we can do our job, the more effective we can be at protecting and preserving these iconic animals,” Gruber said.
But wild horse advocates like the Colorado-based Cloud Foundation say the Bureau of Land Management’s use of helicopters to gather and remove wild horses is cruel to the animals, which see high mortality rates during the operations.
“The BLM has woefully inhumane standards when using helicopters,” Deniz Bolbol, director of advocacy for the Cloud Foundation, told the Vail Daily.
“I have viewed horses when they take them off the range, in short-term holding, some of the babies had been running so long and hard, their hoofs had literally disintegrated,” Bolbol said.
Accepting comments until Dec. 23
In the Bureua of Land Management’s 190,000-acre Piceance-East Douglas Herd Management Area (and surrounding lands) in northwestern Colorado, the bureau estimates there are nearly 1,000 more wild horses than the agency has deemed appropriate for the area.
“We are currently supporting more than 1,200 wild horses in areas where the appropriate management level allows for up to 235,” White River Field Manager Kent Walter said in a news release issued Nov. 23. “The removal of excess wild horses over the next few years will reduce impacts to private property and promote healthy range lands.”
Bolbol told the Vail Daily the Bureau of Land Management’s idea of healthy range lands has been influenced by area ranchers, who don’t want profitable livestock like sheep and cattle to lose range land to wild horses.
“The whole area south and east of Rangely should all be robust wild horse country,” Bolbol said, but the West Douglas herd area has been ”zeroed out,“ or deemed ineligible for wild horse habitat, despite the fact that wild horses currently roam the area.
“We are committed to maintaining a healthy population of wild horses in the Piceance-East Douglas Herd Management Area as well as being a good neighbor to the communities we serve,” Walter said.
The Bureau of Land Management aims to confine wild horses to herd management areas on public lands, as opposed to the larger herd areas where horses have been identified.
The public can comment on the assessment until Dec. 23 by viewing it at https://go.usa.gov/x7fcQ or submitting written comments to the White River Field Office at 220 East Market St., Meeker, CO 81641.
Utah roundup underway
On Saturday, the BLM began a helicopter roundup operation to gather 500 horses from public lands in Utah. The effort is expected to run through Dec. 13 and is taking place on the Confusion Herd Management Area.
“The appropriate management level for this HMA is 70-115 animals and the current population is approximately 661 horses,” the Bureau of Land Management stated in a press release issued Nov. 23. “Horses removed from the range will be transported to the Axtell Off-Range Contract Wild Horse Facility in Axtell, Utah. The Bureau of Land Management anticipates administering population growth suppression in the spring or summer of 2021 on approximately 17 mares that will be returned to the range.”
The population growth suppression method the Bureau of Land Management intends to use, according to the American Wild Horse Campaign, is known as an ovariectomy procedure and involves “a veterinarian manually reaching into the mare’s abdominal cavity via the vaginal canal, blindly locating the ovaries then using a rod and chain device called an ecrasuer to sever and remove the ovaries.”
The American Wild Horse Campaign also added that in 2013, the National Academy of Sciences concluded: “The possibility that ovariectomy may be followed by prolonged bleeding or peritoneal infection makes it inadvisable for field application.”
“It is unconscionable for the BLM to pursue the ovariectomy procedure while the scientifically recommended and cost-effective fertility control vaccine, PZP, is readily available for humane management right now on the range,” said Brieanah Schwartz, policy counsel for the American Wild Horse Campaign.
In May, the American Wild Horse Campaign completed the first year of a PZP fertility control program in Nevada. Deemed “highly successful” by the campaign, an estimated 690 births were prevented at a cost of $182,000.
“In stark contrast, BLM would spend $690,000 to round up those same horses and an astronomical $34.5 million to maintain them in holding facilities for life, resulting in a net cost to taxpayers of $35 million in a single herd area,” the American Wild Horse Campaign reported.