Advocacy Group Slams BLM for Proceeding with Experiment on Nevada Wild Horses

Ely, Nevada (October 14, 2015). . . The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC) today blasted the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for ignoring scientific advice and environmental complaints in its decision to proceed with the use of an experimental fertility control vaccine on wild horses in the Antelope Herd Management Area (HMA) in eastern Nevada.

Last month, AWHPC filed a complaint with the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) against the BLM to stop a precedent-setting plan to use the experimental drug, known as GonaCon, for the first time ever on federally protected wild horses. The long- term effects of the vaccine on wild horses are unknown, and the National Academy of Sciences recommended that more research was needed on GonaCon’s impacts on wild horse behavior before being used in wild horse populations.

AWHPC asked the CEQ to direct the BLM to halt the pilot program until the agency completes adequate environmental analysis as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and prohibit its use in the absence of a formal scientific study to accurately collect and analyze data on the physiological and behavioral effects of the vaccine on horses.

“We are disappointed that the White House office that is supposed to ensure agency compliance with environmental laws is allowing the BLM to experiment on America’s wild horses without any scientific oversight, review, or, for that matter, any scientific method for determining the impacts of the experiments on the horses themselves,” said Deniz Bolbol, AWHPC Director of Field Operations. “Further, the use of GonaCon in this unscientific and unregimented manner will place in jeopardy the individual horses’ long-term well-being as well as their natural social behaviors, which are basic attributes that make wild horses celebrated American icons, treasured by Americans and others around the world.”

The BLM Ely District Office is proposing a 10-year fertility control “pilot program" for wild horses living in the Water Canyon area of the Antelope HMA. The agency intends to use helicopters to remove all of the estimated 60 wild horses in the area, and to return only 15 stallions and 15 mares to the range. All mares released would be inoculated with GonaCon.

In 2014, the BLM's Northeast Great Basin Resource Advisory Council, a citizen advisory board for the Ely District, recommended initiating a humane pilot fertility control program using the PZP birth control vaccine which has been safely and effectively used in wild horses for more than 20 years.

“The BLM is pretending that science is guiding its wild horse and burro management strategies and yet the agency is galloping ahead with the first-time use of an experimental drug in the total absence of scientific analysis and in contradiction of the recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences,” Bolbol continued.

The only available data on GonaCon in wild horses is from a study of just 15 free-roaming mares who received the vaccine and were tracked for one year after the vaccination. The current “pilot” program fails to incorporate a properly designed, rigorous scientific study conducted in conjunction with a reputable academic institution as needed in order to determine the short- and long-term effects of GonaCon on wild horses.

The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC) is dedicated to defending America’s wild horses and burros to protect their freedom, preserve their habitat, and promote humane standards of treatment. AWHPC’s mission to preserve and protect wild horses and burros in viable free-roaming herds on public lands for generations to come is endorsed by a coalition of more than 60 horse advocacy, public interest, and conservation organizations.

MORE INFORMATION: 

Final CEQ Letter

Final BLM Letter

Final Research Review

AWHPC Comments on Pilot Project EA