By Deniz Bolbol, AWHPC 

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) provisional committee appointed to conduct a review of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) wild horse and burro program met for the first time in Reno, Nevada on October 27, 2011. Attending the meeting were AWHPC coalition founder and CEO of Return to Freedom, Neda DeMayo, wild horse advocate and businesswoman Ellie Phipps Price and dozens of Americans who spoke on behalf of wild horses and burros.

The meeting consisted of a closed session held in the morning, during which committee members discussed concerns about conflicts-of-interest and bias that have been raised by the public, followed by a public portion of the meeting that included a presentation by Dean Bolstad, who is the deputy chief of the wild horse and burro program for the BLM. Three experts provided presentations to the panel:

1. Dr. Gus Cothran, clinical professor of veterinary medicine at Texas A&M University and genetics expert, provided an overview of "Genetics of Wild Horses and Burros" (View video of Dr. Cothran's presentation: Part I and Part II)

2. Dr. Steve Jenkins, Emeritus Professor of Biology, University of Nevada, Reno, outlined the "WinEquus Model" (software used by BLM to estimate mustang/burro populations).

3. Dr. Charles de Seve, of the American Economics Foundation, presented "the Humane Society of the United States Model" for mustang/burro management

Of particular interest were the presentations by Dr.Cothran,  who conducts genetic testing of wild horse and burro herds for the BLM,  and Dr.  DeSeve, whose economic model demonstrates  cost-savings of nearly $200 million that could be realized if BLM were to manage wild herds on-the-range utilizing  PZP fertility control and minimizing removals.

At the end of the meeting, approximately 30 people spoke during the public comment period, the majority being wild horse advocates.

AWHPC and coalition partner ASPCA jointly delivered public comments raising concerns about lack of balance on the NAS panel as well as shortcomings in the study scope, which, if not addressed, will lead to the committee's failure to address the core issues at the heart of the wild horse controversy. For more information, please read AWHPC's statement to the committee and news release regarding our concerns.

RTF's Neda DeMayo addressed the committee about its failure to address the issue of the wild horse as a native, North American species and lack of balance on the panel with regard to types of immunocontraception available for use in wild horse herds. DeMayo spoke of serious concerns about SpayVac, for which several of the panel members advocate. No advocates for PZP, which has a 20-year history of safe and effective use on wild horses, have been included on the panel. DeMayo's statement can be found here.

How the committee addresses the concerns about lack of balance and bias that have been raised remains to be seen. AWHPC will monitor this situation and continue to provide the committee with information as it holds additional public meetings and conducts its two-year review of the BLM wild horse program.

Additional information, including panelist biographic information, the meeting agenda and the current scope of the study, are available at the NAS website.

Highlights from the NAS 1982 report on the wild horse and burro program are available here.