By Carol Walker as published on Wild Hoofbeats
“…the intention is nakedly obvious – ultimately the complete sterilization of this herd.”
The Bureau of Land Management has released an Environmental Assessment for the North Lander Complex in Wyoming. The Complex includes Conant Creek, Dishpan Butte, Muskrat Basin and Rock Creek. The Complex is 375,292 acres and the Appropriate Management Level for the entire complex is 320 – 536 wild horses. The Bureau of Land Management’s most recent flyover count of the area says there are 1664 wild horses total in all four HMAs. They are projecting that there will be 1997 wild horses in 2022.
You can read the Environmental Assessment here: https://eplanning.blm.gov/eplanning-ui/project/2014081/510
When I received notice, I assumed that this EA would be like most others recommending a helicopter roundup and removal of the horses down to the low AML which is 320. What I did not expect and what shocked me to my toes was the brutality of the Proposed Action Alternative:
•Geld/vasectomize a high percentage (up to 95% or more) of captured stallions returning to the
• Use flexible Intrauterine Devices (IUDs) for wild horses on open (not pregnant) mares returning
to the range.
• Use GonaCon-Equine vaccine on all mares returning to the range including mares receiving an
• Implement a 60:40 male:female sex ratio.
This is also a 10 year plan. No Environmental Assessment should be a 10 year plan – when there is action that the BLM proposes to take on our wild horses there should be a new Environmental Assessment that deals with the current conditions of the horses and the Herd Management Area. This should only be for the “first gather.”
And then there is this ridiculous statement: “
“It is not the intention of this action to eliminate reproduction
within the complex; only to reduce it so that it is in balance with mortality.”
No, the intention is nakedly obvious – ultimately the complete sterilization of this herd.
Gelding or vasectomizing 95% of the stallions is not reversible. It is permanent sterilization. Gelding especially completely changes the behavior of the stallion, who may keep his behaviors for a period of time as he loses testosterone, but ultimately it will completely change the structure and society of family bands that wild horses live in. There has been no research done or cited that shows that this does not negatively affect wild horses, and to just decide to do it in the interests of population control is very extreme. Clay Stott the Wild Horse and Burro Expert who wrote this EA has been heard to say that wild horses do not have families. This complete lack of understanding of wild horse behavior has led to this insane plan being proposed.
In the EA they say that during the first gather they will capture 80-90% of the horses, around 1900-2000 (But there were only 1664 in the count in November 2020?) They will return around 300 horses of each gender.
All the mares that are returned will receive two shots of GonaCon and be kept for 60 days at a holding facility before being released. GonaCon is not the birth control drug of choice – that is PZP. GonaCon is in the very beginning stages of study of its use in wild horses, and there are many questions about its possible cause of abortion of foals in the first trimester, disrupting behavior because the mares do not cycle, and possible lack of reversibility. It could render the mares permanently sterile. And if this is not enough they want to put IUDs in some of the mares as well. IUDs have only been studied on domestic mares, and have now been placed in one herd in Utah and this year, in four herds in Wyoming. IUDs should never be used on wild mares. They say they are “Temporary birth control” because the just “fall out” after 2 years. Really? And who will be there to help these mares in remote locations who are in distress, develop infections, have complications?
Then, the EA continues talking about the second gather, two years or so later where they plan to also skew the sex ratio. So there will be mostly geldings left in this herd. All the mares will be given GonaCon and some IUDs. If the BLM were actually using science to inform their decisions, there is no possible way that they would throw multiple methods of sterilization at one herd, and then just for the heck of it, skew the sex ratio. Wild horses naturally exist in herds that have in 50% mares 50% stallions. Not 60% geldings, 40% mares treated with GonaCon and IUDs.
The justification for keeping these herds at the absurdly low numbers of Dishpan Butte and Rock Creek at 50 horses, 60 in Conant Creek and 160 in Muskrat Basin is that the horses move between the HMAs and intermingle. But there are fences throughout and a portion of Dishpan Butte is separated from all the other HMAs by highway 135. These horses do not intermingle. Dr. Gus Cothren, the leading wild horse geneticist says that herds need at least 150 breeding age adults to maintain genetic diversity, and health of the herd. BLM’s solution? Move some fillies from one HMA in the Complex to another. Or if that doesn’t do it, how about bring in horses from another HMA altogether? How about not. How about not destroying the genetic viability of these herds in the first place?
Perhaps the real reason behind throwing almost all possible methods of sterilization (except spaying) at these herds is that they are the least well known herds in Wyoming. Their location is remote, with the Riverton being the closest town. If they destroy the herd behavior of the horses, there won’t be thousands of people who are following these horses complaining. As the geldings die and the mares fail to reproduce, this herd will age and die out.
The wild horses in the North Lander Complex are among the wildest of the wild. They survive and thrive in a harsh environment. It is no acceptable to destroy their wild behaviors and destroy their families and their herds. If this goes forward in the second year of the 5 year plan by the BLM to roundup and remove as many wild horses as possible, it could serve as a template for destroying other herds and the ultimate extinction of our wild horses.
Comments are due no later than February 18 at 4pm MT. You can go to the EA here to comment: https://eplanning.blm.gov/eplanning-ui/project/2014081/510
On the left side you will see a green Participate Now, click on that and you will see another green participate now on the right side of your screen, click on that. If you cannot comment this way, you can also send your comments by mail here: Wild Horse Specialist, BLM Lander Field Office, 1335 Main Street, Lander, WY 82520. For more information, contact BLM Wild Horse and Burro Specialist Clay Stott at (307) 332-8400.
Here are my suggestions for comments:
Select the No Action – No Gather, Removal or Population Control Alternative. This EA needs to be thrown into the trash and a new one published.
- If birth control is necessary to control the numbers of wild horses in this herd, use safe, researched and reversible birth control PZP on the mares.
- Do not remove wild horses below High AML.
- Do not do anything to the stallions.
- Do not place horses from other Herd Management Areas into the North Lander Complex.
- Do not skew the sex ratio of the herd.
- Even though in the EA it continually repeats that this is not something to be considered in this document but is only done though Land Use planning, since Land Use Plans are only revised every 20-30 years this is not a viable solution. You need to consider this in the EA: Raise the AMLs for each HMA in the Complex to at least 150 horses.
- The other issue that needs to be addressed is overgrazing of livestock and the need to remove livestock grazing from the Complex where wild horses should be principally considered and managed and treated. Yes this should be in the Land Use plan – but again that is not going to happen – 20-30 years between revisions does not allow anything to be implemented in a timely manner. Address this here in the EA where it is germane.
Please use your own words. Thank you for caring about our wild horses.