Newspaper column: Groups try to thwart wild horse experiment

It worked during the Obama administration, but will it work with the Trump administration?

A gaggle of self-styled wild horse advocate groups have filed lawsuits in Washington, D.C., and Portland, Ore., demanding that the Bureau of Land Management abandon plans to spay 100 wild mares in an experiment to help determine a better mechanism for curtailing the ongoing overpopulation on the range. The groups claim the surgical sterilization is dangerous, barbaric and inhumane.

In 2016, a similar project was abandoned by the BLM when some of the same groups filed lawsuits. At that time the BLM intended to partner with Oregon State University, but the university backed out in the face of protests. This time the BLM planned to link up with Colorado State University, but that school has already backed out.

In mid-September the BLM announced plans to use helicopters to round up 650 excess wild horses this month from the Warm Springs Herd Management Area near Hines, Ore., and to initiate research on the effects of spaying mares and returning them to the range. The area has a horse population of about 800 but can support less than 200 animals.

Horses removed from the range are to be sent to Oregon’s Wild Horse Corral Facility in Hines. Some will be put up for adoption and others selected for participation in the spay and behavior research.

The BLM press release announcing the plans stated, “The public is welcome to view the Warm Springs HMA gather and spay procedures.”

But one of the grounds cited in the lawsuits — filed by Front Range Equine Rescue, the American Wild Horse Campaign, the Cloud Foundation, the Animal Welfare Institute and others — is that the project violates the First Amendment, because outside groups are not adequately allowed to observe and record the surgery.

“To date, the BLM has refused to allow a meaningful opportunity for media or the public to observe and record these procedures,” said Nick Lawton, a lawyer for one of the groups. “The BLM’s refusal to allow meaningful access to observe and record these experiments thwarts the important newsgathering objectives that Plaintiffs aim to achieve by observing and documenting the BLM’s treatment of wild horses, and thus violates Plaintiffs’ rights under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”

The groups also claim the spaying method — called ovariectomy via colpotomy, in which a veterinarian reaches into a mares’ abdomen through an incision and severs and extracts the ovaries — is “unscientific, inhumane and dangerous, and will result in pain, suffering and potentially life-threatening complications for wild mares.” They claim this violates the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

The BLM spends $50 million a year, or 60 percent of its annual budget for handling wild horses and burros, warehousing 46,000 of them in corrals and private pastures, while there are 83,000 wild horses and burros on a range that can adequately sustain no more than 27,000.

In a report to Congress earlier this year the BLM explained the problem and offered different options: “Wild horses and burros have no natural predators and herds can double in size every 4 years. As herd sizes increase, the forage and water resources from the land become depleted, resulting in starvation, dehydration, and death. In their search for food and water, the animals often move onto private land or along highways resulting in safety issues and habitat destruction for horses and humans alike. Public-land ranchers have cut back on grazing to accommodate increasing numbers of wild horses and burros.”

The report noted that overpopulation of these non-native animals is degrading the ecosystem and crowding out native greater sage grouse, pronghorn, deer, elk and bighorn sheep.

According to a CNN account, two of the groups involved — Front Range Equine Rescue and the American Wild Horse Campaign — have called for using an injectable birth control vaccine called Porcine Zona Pellucida (PZP) instead of surgery.

But surgery renders the mare sterile for the rest of its life, which can be as much as 25 years, while PZP must be administered every one to two years and requires more frequent captures of the horses, which can lead to injuries. The BLM is already experimenting with PZP.

The animal advocate groups are really making huge assumptions about what is best for the animals. Until the experiment is performed it is impossible to say what is best for the horses. Let’s hope the BLM doesn’t back down again in the face of litigation.

Thomas Mitchell is a longtime Nevada newspaper columnist. You may email him at He also blogs at

CNN pix

24 comments on “Newspaper column: Groups try to thwart wild horse experiment

  1. Steve says:

    These f’rs would rather the horses be emaciated than ensure a healthy herd. Same idiocy as Cali’s tree-hugger contingent. Crap forest management resulted in their worst fire season ever while none of the other western states burned anywhere near like extent Cali.


  2. Steve says:

    Damm, that should read …… “anywhere near the extent Cali did.”

  3. Rincon says:

    I certainly agree about the horses, but I believe California’s drought in 2018 has been much more severe than any other western state. With this major confounding factor, I don’t think there is any way to legitimately assign primary blame to the quality of management, even if evidence existed that management was inferior in some way.

  4. Steve says:

    Oh c’mon, that drought is over the whole western states, it didn’t magically stop at Cali’s borders.

    Their forest management is driven by tree huggers who insist all fires be put out instantly to save their million dollar cabins while also insisting absolutely zero logging be allowed, no clearing of underbrush and no controlled burns because they are “scary”.
    The result is an unlimited supply of fuel for making for their worst fires since their enlightened environmentalists took over and demanded all these wonderful things.


  5. Rincon says:

    Try looking at the map, Sherlock.

  6. Rincon says:

    BTW, the incidence of wildfires doesn’t stop at the border either. Again, check the map, although it applies to 1994-2013, not 2018. The distribution of large fires seems pretty well scattered among the dry areas of the west.

    It is likely that California gets more news coverage because more homes and other structures are destroyed, but other states appear to have just as much incidence of fires. Pictures of buildings being destroyed in Santa Rosa are much more interesting than a bunch of scrub land burning in Nevada.

    Any evidence that large numbers of tree huggers object to clearing of brush and controlled burns or are you just making assumptions?

  7. Steve says:

    The “map” was all over google this summer, Rincon. I have rural property in Utah, I watch it like a hawk every season. Cali was covered with wildfires this year, everywhere else, light to none.
    Prev years they were more spread out, and in the Dixie, ground brush is almost all gone.


  8. Steve says:

    Hell, even now! It’s all Cali, baby….er sherlock

  9. Steve says:

    Need to turn on inciweb (drop down, fill the check mark) to get the whole country. Google appears to be watching Cali close now.
    And the song remains the same, Cali is the wildfire king of the USA.

    sherlock…or is it watson now?

  10. Rincon says:

    According to your source, it seems that the fires that are still burning are in California or southern Oregon, but interestingly, I cannot find a label on your map giving a year or any other information for that matter. I did however, find a similar map labeled 2018, which shows widely scattered wildfires across the west.

    So I need to know what your map is a map of, since it is not labeled.

    We do know however, that the fires of 2017 were evenly scattered across the west (, and, as my previous map showed, the fires from 1994-2013 were also widely distributed (the map mysteriously disappeared from the Weather Channel site, but you can still find it by Googling “Where Large Wildfires Are Most Common in the U.S.” and then click on images), so if, by some stroke, your 2018 map is more correct than mine, the question would be, how can 2018 be so radically different from 1994-2013 and 2017? Two possible answers: 1) By your theory, California must have changed its fire suppression policies less than a year ago and the changes had a nearly instantaneous effect. Pretty doubtful or 2) Maybe your map is only of presently burning fires and other areas received their fall rains while much of California did not, but my favorite is 3) Your map isn’t more correct at all.

    It appears that who is Sherlock and who is Watson remains to be seen. It is good to have you rechecking my sources as I am yours. That’s how we make sure our beliefs are well supported.

  11. Steve says:


    That is the source…..Google.

    watson, sherlock was addicted to coke.

  12. Rincon says:

    I didn’t ask the source. That was the ONLY piece of information about the map that was on the page. What time period does it cover?

  13. Steve says:

    Latest info available. Freshest data possible. Newest of all the sources outside inciweb itself.

    Of course, you could have found that out if you, y’know, checked.

  14. Rincon says:

    I saw no way to “check”. Enlighten me. “Latest data available” also fails to state the time span of the data. If it only encompasses present fires, then it’s nearly meaningless to our conversation, since fire season ends around this time in most years. Rainfall puts out fires. Any area missed by rain will continue to have them. That would have nothing to do with management by man.

    You have also failed to enlighten me as to why my source is somehow inferior to yours. As a matter of fact, you have merely ignored its existence as you frequently do when your arguments fizzle.

  15. Steve says:

    Geez, need spoon feeding much?

    Click the fires, note the dates, follow the inciweb links.

    Every. Single. One. Is. Updated. Individually. With. The. Latest. Data.

  16. Steve says:


  17. Perline says:

    The people protecting the wild horse herds aren’t the cattle men that are losing the grazing feed, sure the horses are beautiful to look at when there out there on the range, but as I was reading I was thinking they don’t have any predators. where as the other natural wildlife are controlled by the hunting. If these horses are sterilized then released they are still using up recourses. Some type of management of the horses needs to be developed seriously and taking in count of the wild life also cattle grazing. is there really enough feed and water for that many horses.

  18. Anonymous says:

    The real question is not whether there’s enough food and water for the horses, but rather why does this country continue to allow ranchers to get fat because their “product” is feeding at the public trough?

    Get the cows off our land and then ain’t not a word will ever be heard about those poor old horses. Leastways from a republican. They care as much about those horses dying of thirst or starvation as they do about anything else which is to say only to the extent they they personally benefit.

  19. Steve says:

    Patrick’s a vegan.

    It’s the only explanation.

  20. Rincon says:

    I followed some of the links. As suspected, this appears to be a list of only those fires burning at present. Big deal.

  21. Steve says:

    And, at present, where are the large majority of them located?

    Oh, in the state with the worst Forrest management in the nation.

    Yeh, no biggie

  22. Rincon says:

    You are willing to observe only a point in time because it seems to support your hopes, but you completely fail to even consider that the longer term track record completely annihilates your hypothesis. Not much more to discuss. Have the last word.

  23. Steve says:

    The discussion is about current status for a reason. This year certainly does show what we have been claiming because in past years, while Cali continued bending over for their tree huggers, other western states have been CLEANING UP THEIR FORESTS!


  24. Steve says:

    OH, and for “last word” snark…Rincon IGNORED my post in reply to this blog topic.
    Here is a reminder, I posted;
    “Crap forest management resulted in their worst fire season ever while none of the other western states burned anywhere near like extent Cali.”

    Note that? I said RESULTED not historically. This was all about the results of Cali’s tree hugger cult!

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