Editorial: Time to bring wild horse population under control

The Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board met in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 31 and came up with a list of recommendations for the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service on how to curb the exploding wild horse and burro populations on the public land in 10 Western states.

On a vote of eight in favor with one member abstaining, the advisory panel recommended, “The Advisory Board recognizes the value of and supports ongoing research and funding of humane long-term fertility control and permanent sterilization as viable tools in our quest to achieve a thriving ecological balance by achieving and maintaining AML (appropriate management level).”

There are about 90,000 wild horses and burros on the range, though the BLM estimates the range can adequately support less than 27,000.

According to a United Press International account, the permanent sterilization proposals includes the use of a surgical procedure called “ovariectomy via colpotomy” — in which a metal rod is inserted into the mare severing the horse’s ovaries.

A year ago, veterinary researchers at Colorado State University withdrew from a plan to use the technique at a mass-spaying event in Oregon. The university backed off after being attacked in the press by self-styled animal rights activists who called the practice “barbaric.”

Days before the advisory board meeting a group of 78 veterinarians sent a letter to Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt asking that some other method of fertility control be used because ovariectomy via colpotomy is “far more invasive, inhumane, and risky than other non-surgical methods of fertility control …”

But, according to information posted on a BLM website explaining the procedure and its planned use, ovariectomy via colpotomy has been used for more than 100 years on domestic horses. It takes approximately 15 minutes per mare, is performed under standing sedation and there are no external incisions that could increase the risk of infection.

The website says that it takes about one week for the mare to recover and be returned to the range, and previous use on feral mares shows a less than 2 percent mortality rate. Also the cost per mare is less than the $300 it costs for one dose of PZP-22, a chemical fertility drug delivered by darting. The darting must be repeated, while the surgical method lasts a lifetime.

The BLM also explained why spaying is more effective than gelding.

“With vasectomy or gelding, there is little to no expected reduction in growth rates until a critical threshold in the percentage of stallions treated has been reached — although this exact number is unknown, according to one peer-reviewed research paper, 80% or more of stallions may need to be treated in order to stabilize wild horse populations just due to the fact that a single stallion can impregnate many mares on the range,” the agency says. “Logistically and financially, this is not practical. In one well-studied herd, about 14 percent of stallions with a harem were 4 years old or less when they first held their harem. Therefore, to reliably prevent males from impregnating mares, BLM would need to conduct gathers every 3 years just to geld or vasectomize nearly all the young males.”

Congress has for years blocked funding that would allow captured wild horses and burros to be sold for slaughter in Canada and Mexico.

There are currently 50,000 feral horses and burros being held in pens and private pastures at a cost of $50,000 each over their lifetimes.

UPI reports that BLM acting director, William Pendley, plans to ask Congress for $5 billion over the next 15 years — about $3,750 per animal per year — to bring population levels down. Getting the populations under control is the only way to stanch the ongoing hemorrhage of tax money.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

Wild horses on the range. (BLM pix)

6 comments on “Editorial: Time to bring wild horse population under control

  1. Anonymous says:

    Faster, easier, better, cheaper, solution:

    Get all cows off our public lands.

  2. HighflyinBrien says:

    Amen Anonymous!

  3. bc says:

    and 5 years from now the horses will have overrun all of it and we would be in the same situation again only with more horses.

  4. HighflyinBrien says:

    Sorry bc…that is flat out bravo sierra!


  5. Steve says:

    Unfortunately, you might see memes like this today. It seems fashionable to paint the Pilgrims and Puritans as greedy invaders, set on seizing land and killing the natives, but this is not accurate. Modern historians specializing in this field give a much more favorable view of the early American settlers than many might think. The following are some interesting findings taken from Columbia University historian Alden Vaughan’s scholarly work, New England Frontier: Puritans and Indians, 1620-1675:

    -In the years before the Pilgrims arrived, the native population in New England was decimated by disease. By the time the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth in 1620, there were only 15-18,000 natives in ALL of New England, an extremely low population density.

    -Virtually all land acquired by the Puritans was done by voluntary means. The Indian tribes were often more than willing to trade land, which they had more than they could ever use, for new tools like metal plows and knives. In fact, it was the Indian tribes who typically approached the settlers to sell land. The Puritans were warmly welcomed into the Connecticut Valley, as the local natives wanted protection from their enemy, the Pequot Tribe.

    -The Puritans actually believed the Indians to be WHITE. They thought they were one of the 10 lost tribes of Israel, and their darker skin was a result of the sun and the harsh elements, not of a different race. While they thought themselves to be culturally superior, they didn’t view themselves as racially superior. Most saw their purpose as integrating and converting the Indians to adopt their customs. Not to conquer or slaughter them.

    -Puritans invited and encouraged the natives to attend their schools, both grade school and higher learning. The 1650 charter of Harvard declared its mission “the education of the English and Indian youth”. Unfortunately, most of the Indians who did integrate into their schools and society were decimated by disease, a reoccurring problem. The primary reason for the decline in Indian population was disease.

    -John Eliot, “the Apostle to the Indians”, undertook and completed the monumental task of translating the entire Bible into Algonquian. Since they had no written language, this involved not only learning Algonquian, but inventing a written language for them. Then, copying the entire Bible into that language, a mind boggling task.

    -Puritan courts generally decided in favor of the Indians during land disputes. The historical records show a much fairer system than most would think today in settling disputes and crimes.

    -Like every society, the Puritans were complex, imperfect and indeed committed atrocities. In particular, the Mystic Fort massacre during the Pequot War, where hundreds of Pequot tribal members, including women and children, were surrounded and killed. However, the lead up to this conflict was nuanced, with both sides bearing responsibility. Additionally, the Mohegan tribe joined the Puritans in fighting the Pequots during the war.

    The real history of the early settlers is much more complex (and interesting) than the standard Thanksgiving fairy tale or the more contemporary notion that they were greedy, bloodthirsty, genocidal invaders. To learn more, Dr. Vaughan’s book is a good start. http://amzn.to/2fv1KAk

  6. Steve says:

    Whoops. Wrong place for that.

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