At the end of October, the Bureau of Land Management’s National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board met in Washington, DC, to consider a wide range of issues pertaining to wild horse management. AWI was present to deliver remarks to the board on the need to humanely manage horses on the range through proven immunocontraceptive vaccines, rather than pursue risky and unsafe methods to curb population growth.
As expected, a major topic of discussion during the three-day meeting was the BLM’s proposed surgical sterilization experiments. Since 2016, the agency has aggressively pursued the use of an outdated procedure known as “ovariectomy via colpotomy,” in which a metal rod-like tool is blindly inserted through a vaginal incision in order to sever the ovaries of wild mares while they remain conscious. The surgery is rarely performed on domestic mares and carries risks of trauma, infection, and even death. AWI successfully sued the BLM last year to stop the prior iteration of the proposed experiments. (See AWI Quarterly, winter 2018.) The BLM is attempting to revive the research plan, which would entail quantifying the incidence of complications and mortality rates among mares subjected to ovariectomies.
In advance of the board meeting, AWI commissioned a national survey by The Harris Poll, which found that 77 percent of Americans oppose the BLM’s surgical sterilization experiments. We also submitted a letter to the Department of the Interior signed by 80 veterinarians outlining the numerous and serious welfare concerns associated with the procedure. And dozens of lawmakers in the House and Senate signed congressional letters objecting to the experiments. During the meeting, one board member representing the livestock industry asked agency officials why the BLM doesn’t pursue research into noninvasive fertility control options.
Even so, the board, which is heavily stacked with representatives of ranching and other agricultural industries, voted in favor of two recommendations that promote the use of surgical sterilizations on wild horses. AWI will continue to press for humane management strategies; we are prepared to return to court should the BLM move forward with the ovariectomy experiments.