Victory! BLM Stands Down on Sterilization Scheme

In the last Quarterly, we discussed the Bureau of Land Management’s plan to conduct mass surgical sterilization experiments on wild horses from the Warm Springs Herd Management Area in Oregon. Colorado State University was slated to help monitor and assess the welfare impacts of the surgeries but—amidst enormous public backlash—withdrew from the project.

Rather than back down, however, the BLM simply dropped scientific observation of animal welfare from its study design. In late September, AWI and allies sued to stop the agency from performing these risky and inhumane experiments.

The BLM aimed to surgically sterilize 100 recently rounded up wild mares in a nonsterile corral facility using a method known as “ovariectomy via colpotomy”—whereby a veterinarian inserts his arm into a mares’ abdominal cavity through an incision in the vaginal wall, manually locates the ovaries, then twists, severs, and removes them using a rod-like tool with a chain on the end. The National Academy of Sciences explicitly warned the BLM against using this procedure due to the associated health risks and complications. The BLM was also proposing to perform these ovariectomies on pregnant mares in an effort to quantify the incidence of abortions that would result.

On November 2, Judge Michael Mosman from the US District Court for the District of Oregon granted our motion for a preliminary injunction to stop the experiments, finding that AWI and our co-plaintiffs were likely to prevail on claims that the BLM’s restrictions on public observation of the surgeries violated our First Amendment rights, and that the BLM’s decision to drop its inquiry into whether the sterilization procedure was “socially acceptable” was arbitrary and capricious. Judge Mosman also noted the legitimacy of our concerns about the BLM’s cavalier abandonment of experimental protocols to monitor animal welfare. Less than a week after the ruling, the BLM—to our tremendous relief and joy—announced it was canceling this stunningly ill-conceived project altogether.

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