By Thomas Mitchell
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 percent 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.
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Thomas Mitchell is a former newspaper editor who now writes conservative/libertarian columns for weekly papers in Nevada. You may email Mitchell at firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs at http://4thst8.wordpress.com/.