The debate over wild horses on public lands has been raging for decades. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), charged with their management, has rounded up tens of thousands of wild horses since 1971. While many have been adopted out, vast numbers languish in holding facilities. AWI strongly disagrees with BLM over its management of these iconic animals on Western rangelands and, in particular, with its decisions to reduce wild horse numbers and the amount of habitat on which they can roam.
However, one issue with which we should be in agreement with the BLM is the usefulness of contraception as a means to control numbers of wild horses and to prevent needless suffering. Immunocontraception can be used to stabilize and reduce growth rates in wild horse herds. Reducing fecundity may spare wild horses from being doggedly chased for miles on end, captured, and manhandled during BLM roundups which, for most horses, results in a life of confinement or, even worse, slaughter.
Critics have expressed concern about the genetic viability of horses if contraception is used. While long-term monitoring under such conditions is imminent, immunocontraceptive agents generally don’t cause permanent sterility. In that respect, there is no reason to believe wild horse populations can’t be stabilized and reduced while retaining the herd’s genetic diversity.
Managing horses in this way does not mean that we surrender to those who prefer livestock on the range instead of the horses, nor does it mean that we do not continue to advocate for horses to occupy public lands as the law requires. It also does not mean we are giving up on efforts to restore wild horses to the more than 19 million acres from which they have been illegally removed. That must not only be a priority, but it could provide wild horses, including those in holding facilities, a second chance at freedom. However, it is up to us to recognize the current political reality for wild horses while continuing to advocate for wholesale improvements in their management.
On October 7 the BLM announced a new initiative for managing wild horses and burros. AWI is seeking critical details about the plan and will let you know of its findings.