By Hilary Corrigan, The Bulletin
August 10, 2016
Bureau of Land Management officials in Hines may know by midmonth whether their proposal to sterilize wild horses in Oregon, including through a procedure that would remove mares’ ovaries, can proceed.
The plan has drawn three appeals to a U.S. Department of Interior appeals board and a federal lawsuit. Two of the appeals have petitioned to immediately halt its start, pending resolution of the objections, according to BLM. A decision from the Department of Interior appeals board is expected within a couple of weeks.
BLM has proposed using three methods to sterilize about 200 mares, some of them pregnant at various stages. According to the proposal, one of the methods, ovariectomy via colpotomy, involves sedating the mare — although not fully — before a veterinarian reaches into the horse’s abdomen through the vagina to sever and pull out the ovaries. The other two less invasive methods involve using endoscopes and a laser to make an internal incision and cauterize the fallopian tubes; and to cauterize the oviduct so eggs cannot pass through.
The Oregon Wild Horse & Burro Association, Central Oregon Wild Horse Coalition and Wild Equid League of Colorado jointly appealed to the Department of the Interior late last month.
The groups argued that more humane birth control options exist and that the proposed procedures are major surgeries and risky, painful experiments that would take place in unsanitary conditions and would violate animal cruelty laws. The procedures would take place at the BLM’s wild horse corral facility in Hines.
The groups also argued that BLM has provided no cost analysis of possible options. For instance, the BLM could be creating jobs for people to dart horses with an existing contraceptive, the groups said. And they said that BLM has not adequately analyzed the environmental impacts of the proposal, including on genetics and on the herd’s family bands.
The other two appeals to the department come from individuals.
Meanwhile, Colorado-based Front Range Equine Rescue has sued the interior department and BLM in U.S. District Court over the proposal, charging the agencies with breaking major federal laws and noting the existence of an effective contraceptive.
BLM has said that the contraceptive only lasts for about a year, meaning that it would have to be readministered regularly to horses on the range. BLM has declined to respond to the appeals and lawsuit. But the bureau has defended its proposal as a way to gather information on how the procedures go and how the animals react, noting a lack of research so far on the procedures’ safety, efficacy and any complication rates.
BLM aims to use the data to determine whether the procedures could be used on wild horses on the range. The agency has said that 67,000 wild horses and burros roam public lands in 10 Western states — far more than the population the agency considers healthy for the animals and for rangeland resources. It has also said that it has 46,000 unadopted horses and burros in off-range pastures and corral facilities, numbers that it wants to reduce through new population management tools.
Meanwhile, two other wild horse advocacy groups — American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign and The Cloud Foundation — are considering legal action. Those groups have sought the ability to witness and record the sterilization procedures if the proposal proceeds. Paula Todd King, spokeswoman for The Cloud Foundation, said BLM rejected the request. The groups could decide next week whether to take legal action so they can observe the procedures, if they occur, and how the horses fare afterward in case of any bleeding or other complications, said Suzanne Roy, executive director of the wild horse preservation campaign.
“The public has a right to see what the procedures entail,” Roy said.