Wild horse plan stirs objections

By Pat Caldwell
Malheur Enterprise

HINES – A Bureau of Land Management proposal to spay wild horses in the Burns District is under fire from a conservation group that calls the effort “barbaric.”

The BLM recently announced it would move forward, in conjunction with Oregon State University, on a trial effort to test three methods to spay some wild horses held in Hines.

The BLM contends the program is safe and humane and will be a first step toward finding an effective method to manage the growing number of wild horses on the range.

The agency estimates there are about 67,000 wild horses on public lands in 10 western states. According to the agency, that’s more than double the number of wild horses and burros the rangelands can support.

The wild horse and burro population is growing but the resources to effectively manage the animals are not, according to BLM spokesperson Tara Thissell.

“We are in a very difficult situation right now with many horses in holding and that many on the range. We are over capacity on what the rangeland can support,” Thissell said.

She said the program is a research project designed to figure out the best method to control the population of the wild horses.

“We are doing the best we can to actively manage these horses. We are in a difficult spot. They naturally reproduce and they have no natural predators. So it is the agency’s job to manage that population so the rangeland they use can continue to sustain them and everything else that uses the rangeland,” Thissell said.

In the past, wild horse adoptions program helped to alleviate the numbers.

However, Thissell said adoption numbers are down.

According to the BLM, it costs about $50,000 to care for an un-adopted wild horse situated in one of the agency’s corral facilities.

“This is just a good step toward creating some new population control methods,” Thissell said.

Thissell said the spay procedure will be monitored by veterinarians to ensure safety for the horses.

“We have veterinarian guidance to make sure there is a sterile environment. We are working with veterinarians who fully support this effort,” Thissell said.

Suzanne Roy of the American Wildhorse Preservation said her organization agrees with the BLM that the wild horses should be managed. However, she contends the method the BLM will use to spay the animals is unacceptable and inhumane.

“We think this is a very reckless and inhumane decision. The procedure comes with a high risk of hemorrhage. If it is done on domestic horses, five to seven days of rest are required. You can’t do that with wild horses,” Roy said.

There are other risks to the proposed plan, Roy said.

“The procedure has a significant risk of mortality. The other issue is they want to do it to 100 mares and 75 of the mares are pregnant. The procedure will cause at least some of them to have miscarriages,” Roy said.

Roy also questions the agency’s wild horse numbers, saying they “are grossly overestimated.”

Roy said a vaccine approach would be safer and just as effective as the method proposed by the BLM.

“We don’t argue that wild horses should be managed in some way. But the management that should be implemented is a birth control vaccine which prevents mares from getting pregnant but it does not impact their natural behavior,” Roy said.

Thissell said the vaccine, called PZP is effective, just not for very long.

“The problem with PZP is that it only has an effectiveness for about one to two years,” Thissell said.

Plus, Thissell said, rounding up 60,000 wild horses to vaccinate them one by one isn’t feasible or cost effective.