By Dianne L. Stallings, Ruisodo News
Officials with a group that advocates for wild horses on Bureau of Land Management ranges across the West criticized a plan by the agency to permanently sterilize a horse herd, claiming it is a path to herd extinction.
The executive director of The Cloud Foundation contended the BLM already is failing in its mission to protect wild herd, because of its “inhumane” helicopter roundups, massive removals and warehousing of America’s wild horses and burros. Now agency officials announced ther intention to sterilize the Saylor Creek wild horse herd in Idaho. The BLM’s Jarbridge Resource Management Plan would “treat all wild horses surgically or chemically to eliminate reproduction capability,” according to Ginger Kathrens, executive director of TCF.
“This chilling decision, if allowed to stand, will set a deadly precedent for all our wild horse and burro herds in the West,” she said in a news release from her organization. “Sterilizing a herd is the opposite of the intent of the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burro Act and the BLM’s long repeated mantra, ‘Healthy herds on healthy rangelands.’ How can a sterilized wildlife population be considered healthy?”
In mid-September, agency representatives said as part of its Range Management Plan, a 150-square mile area in southwestern Idaho will become a sanctuary of sorts for several hundred non-reproducing wild horses that have not been adopted.
The Saylor Creek Herd will be sterilized either chemically or physically, keeping the population between 50 to 200 horses, according to the plan manager. The process likely is years away as details are worked out, officials said.
The herd will be replenished with wild horses rounded up from Idaho and other states when resources are insufficient to support them. The agency estimates that more than 47,000 wild horses and burros are confined in designated corrals and pastures.
Several wild herds roam areas of Lincoln County. The state Department of Transportation installed signs warning drivers of their presence along the highway leading into the village. A local group advocates for their protection, which is managed by the New Mexico Livestock Board. Interest runs high locally about the fate of the BLM wild herds. One resident recently participated in the Extreme Mustang Makeover competition, which aims to train the wild horses in 100 days and to find them adoptive homes.
TCF, partnered with the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, argues that the plan violates both the National Environmental Protection Act and the WFRHBA, because it fails to analyze an alternative that restores access to the Snake River as a water source for wild horses; because it fails to adequately analyze the impacts of managing a non-reproducing herd in the Saylor Creek Herd Management Area; because it does not analyze the impacts to: the “wild” and “free roaming” nature of wild horses and other behavioral dynamics, the physical health of mares, genetic diversity and rangeland health; and because it proposed to manage a non-reproducing herd at Saylor Creek.
“The BLM has run rough-shod over the wild horse and burros for over 40 years, zeroing out almost half the herds that were identified for protection in the WFRHBA,” Paula Todd King, TCF communications director, said. “Now they want to turn the Saylor Creek Herd area into a ‘sanctuary,’ more accurately described as a dumping ground for other sterilized mustangs in holding.”
Many experts conclude there are safer, reversible ways to control wild horse populations in the wild, including the prestigious National Academies of Sciences in its 2013 Report to the BLM on the management of the Wild Horse and Burro Program, TCF officials pointed out.
“The NAS report clearly supports safe, effective and proven methods for controlling wild horse populations ‘on-the-range’ like the reversible fertility vaccine PZP,” Linda Hanick, manager of TCF social media followers, said. “By implementing field sterilization of mares and stallions as a means of population control, the BLM guarantees managing wild horses and burros to extinction.”
In 1971, 339 herds were identified for protection after the passage of the WFRHB Act. Only 179 herds remain. The vast majority of the remaining herds are managed at non-viable levels of under 150-200 adult animals, according to TCF. Eighty-three percent of forage in the 179 wild horse and burro herd areas is allocated to privately-owned livestock that cost taxpayers more than $120 million a year for administration of a flawed and range damaging program, TCF officials contend..
“This is just the beginning of the end for wild horse families in the wild if we don’t say ‘no’ as loudly and collectively as we can,” Kathrens said.