Federal Judge Stops BLM from Conducting Inhumane Horse Sterilization Experiments

Photo by Christine Mendoza

Portland, OR—US District Court Judge Michael W. Mosman today issued a preliminary injunction to stop the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from proceeding with controversial experiments to surgically remove the ovaries of wild mares in Oregon. The experiments were set to begin this month on mares recently rounded up from the Warm Springs Herd Management Area.

The decision handed a victory to wild horse advocates and plaintiffs in the case — the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI); American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC); The Cloud Foundation and its executive director Ginger Kathrens, who is also a member of the National BLM Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board; and photographer Carol Walker. Judge Mosman ruled that the coalition was likely to prevail on its claims that the BLM’s restrictions on public observation of the sterilization procedures violated their First Amendment rights, and that BLM’s decision to drop further inquiry into whether the sterilization procedure was “socially acceptable” was arbitrary and capricious.

Judge Mosman also stated that the plaintiffs’ arguments for an independent veterinary observer to monitor the procedures and to place non-intrusive cameras in the surgical and horse holding areas were reasonable. The ruling halts the surgical sterilization experiments until the court reaches a final decision in the case.

“We thank the court for preventing the BLM from proceeding with a reckless and inhumane surgical sterilization experiment that would endanger the welfare and lives of federally protected wild horses,” said Joanna Grossman, Ph.D., equine protection manager for AWI. “Today’s ruling is a decisive victory for animal welfare and for the American people, who not only cherish wild horses but have a First Amendment right to understand how the federal government is treating and managing these herds on public lands.”

“We’re pleased that Judge Mosman recognized the strong public interest in humane treatment and protection of wild horses and our clients’ strong First Amendment rights to observe the procedures being performed on these federally protected animals,” added Nick Lawton, an attorney for Meyer Glitzenstein & Eubanks, who is representing the plaintiffs.

“We hope that the BLM will reconsider its plans to conduct this inhumane research and focus instead on humane, scientifically recommended forms of population management, including PZP fertility control,” said Brieanah Schwartz, government relations and policy counsel for AWHC.

“Hopefully, BLM will rethink their decision to move forward with the most inhumane and impractical management tool imaginable,” stated Ginger Kathrens, executive director of The Cloud Foundation. “For decades, humane fertility vaccines have been available and, where used, have been successful. Unfortunately, BLM has resisted getting out on the range and using them. Now is the time for the agency to change course.”

“The BLM should not be allowed to proceed with these deadly and inhumane surgeries on our wild mares,” said Carol Walker, wild horse photographer. “Hopefully our preliminary injunction will be the first step in stopping this gruesome sterilization.”

This is the second time wild horse advocates have stopped BLM from proceeding with these risky experiments. In 2016, the BLM dropped plans to conduct the research after AWHC and The Cloud Foundation filed a similar lawsuit.

The experiments called for performing an outdated surgical procedure called ovariectomy via colpotomy, which involves manually twisting, severing and removing ovaries via an incision in the mares’ vaginal walls. Veterinarians called the procedure unscientific, inhumane and dangerous, noting that it would result in pain, suffering and potentially life-threatening complications for wild mares. In 2013, the National Academy of Sciences warned that the procedure was “inadvisable for field application” due to risk of bleeding and infection. Video of the procedure can be seen here.

The BLM had planned to move forward with the experiments despite massive public opposition and the withdrawal of Colorado State University from the project.

Click here for more information on the lawsuit.

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Media Contact

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

The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) 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. For more information, visit www.awionline.org.

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.

Photo by Christine Mendoza