BLM Drops Wild Horse Sterilization Experiments, Plans to Return Some Horses & Burros to the Range

Photo by Christine Mendoza

Burns, OR—Wild horse advocacy groups are hailing an announcement Friday by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to officially abandon any plans to use mares rounded up from Oregon’s Warm Springs Herd Management Area (HMA) for cruel surgical sterilization experiments. Now the BLM is seeking public comments on its plan to return a portion of the wild horses back to the range, after removing the entire population in a mass roundup last fall.

The American Wild Horse Campaign, the Animal Welfare Institute, The Cloud Foundation and its executive director Ginger Kathrens (a member of the BLM National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board) and photographer Carol Walker sued to stop the sterilization experiments, which involved performing an outdated surgical procedure—ovariectomy via colpotomy—described by veterinarians as unscientific, inhumane and dangerous.

In November of 2018, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction to stop the federal agency from its cruel and controversial plans. The plaintiffs said they were pleased by the BLM’s official abandonment of the experiments as part of the Warm Springs HMA management plan. The plaintiffs have also advocated for the return of some of the 845 horses rounded up from the Warm Springs HMA in October. Now that the BLM plans to return some of the horses to the range, the agency will administer PZP fertility control to the mares before they are released.

“The BLM’s decision to end its misguided ovariectomy experiments on wild mares in the Warm Springs HMA, and instead employ humane immunocontraceptive vaccines to curb population growth is a welcome outcome for these federally protected horses,” said Joanna Grossman, Ph.D., equine program manager for the Animal Welfare Institute. “We are heartened that these wild and free-roaming animals will not be subjected to an invasive surgical procedure that would put their lives at risk. The agency should, however, return a significant number of the horses back to their range on public lands. With the proper use of PZP, their population can be kept in check.”

“The BLM made the right decision to abandon these barbaric experiments and to return wild horses to the Warm Springs HMA, where they have a right to live in their natural habitat, protected under federal law,” said Brieanah Schwartz, government relations and policy counsel for AWHC. “It’s time for the BLM to focus on humane, publicly supported and scientifically recommended population management methods, such as the proven PZP fertility control to keep wild horses wild and free on our public lands.”

"We are pleased some mares will regain their freedom and will be managed humanely with PZP,” said Kathrens of The Cloud Foundation. “However, releasing to a low population level of 111 horses seriously endangers the genetic viability of this herd. Leaving only one horse for every 4,000 acres is ridiculous but certainly not unusual and speaks to the unfair allocation of forage for our wild horses."

“Although I am relieved that the BLM will be releasing a small number of the wild horses removed," Walker said, “I am very concerned about the fate of those who will not be released and face a very uncertain future. Wild horses and burros are always better off in their homes on our public lands where they belong.”

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Media Contact

Margie Fishman, (202) 446-2128, margie@awionline.org

The Animal Welfare Institute is a nonprofit charitable organization founded in 1951 and dedicated to reducing animal suffering caused by people. AWI engages policymakers, scientists, industry, and the public to achieve better treatment of animals everywhere—in the laboratory, on the farm, in commerce, at home, and in the wild. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates and other important animal protection news.

The American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) is a national wild horse advocacy organization whose grassroots mission is endorsed by a coalition of more than 60 horse advocacy, public interest, and conservation organizations. AWHC is dedicated to preserving the American wild horse in viable, free-roaming herds for generations to come, as part of our national heritage.

The Cloud Foundation (TCF) is a Colorado 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation, that grew out of Executive Director Ginger Kathrens' knowledge and fear for wild horses in the West. TCF works to educate the public about the natural free-roaming behavior and social structure of wild horses and the threats to wild horse and burro society, to encourage the public to speak out for their protection on their home ranges and to support only humane management measures. Kathrens serves as the Humane Advisor on BLM’s National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board.

Carol Walker is a renowned wild horse photographer who regularly photographs wild horses throughout the West, including those living in the Warm Springs HMA.

The plaintiffs in this case are being represented by the public interest law firm Meyer Glitzenstein & Eubanks LLP.

Photo by Christine Mendoza