By Elko Daily Free Press
The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign on Wednesday issued the following statement claiming that the Bureau of Land Management is 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 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 use 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 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, unregimented proposal will place in jeopardy the individual horses’ long-term well-being and their natural, social behaviors, which are 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.