BLM Wraps Up Contested Wild Horse Gather

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Elko and Winnemucca Districts concluded the Owyhee Complex wild horse gather on Jan. 16. The BLM successfully removed 871 wild horses from the herd management areas (HMAs) in the complex; 140 horses were released back to the range within the Owyhee HMA and fertility control vaccine was applied to 46 mares prior to release.

The gather began on Nov. 26, 2012, and concluded on Jan. 16. An Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service veterinarian was on site daily to evaluate animal conditions and provide recommendations to the on-site BLM wild horse and burro specialist for care and treatment. The gather was suspended Dec. 20, 2012, for the holidays and resumed Jan. 4. The gather was again suspended on Jan. 5 due to the filing of a temporary restraining order which was lifted Jan. 11.

Of 1,011 wild horses gathered, there were only two gather-related deaths (0.2% of the gather total) while eleven horses were euthanized for preexisting conditions or deformities (1% of those gathered).

BLM staff utilized the Henneke body condition scale to classify gathered wild horses. On a scale from one to nine (one being poor condition and nine being extremely fat), Owyhee Complex horses were generally a body condition score of three to four, with a few wild horses observed to be higher or lower.

The Owyhee Complex consists of the Owyhee, Little Owyhee, Little Humboldt, Rock Creek, and Snowstorm HMAs. The appropriate management level, or AML, for the complex is 621 to 999 animals. This was the initial gather in a 10-year phased approach to achieve AML and to reduce overall population growth by applying fertility control to mares and adjusting the sex ratio to a 60/40 male-to-female ratio. While this initial gather does not achieve the low end of AML, the target removal number for this gather was reached and the BLM plans to return for two to three follow-up gathers to reach low AML and implement population controls over a period of 10 years contingent upon funding and holding space.

"We achieved our goal of removing the desired number of excess wild horses while successfully implementing fertility control," said Rich Adams, Elko District, Tuscarora Field Manager. "Despite some challenging weather conditions and mechanical issues, the team completed the gather across two districts in a safe and humane manner."

The removed wild horses were sent to the Palomino Valley Center outside Reno, Nev., and the Litchfield Wild Horse Corrals near Susanville, Calif., where they will be prepared for the BLM's adoption program. Any unadopted wild horses will be placed in long-term pastures where they will be humanely cared for and retain their "wild" status and protection under the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. The BLM does not sell or send any wild horses to slaughter.

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