Congress Members Seek Halt to Contested BLM Herd Plan

Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva and 64 of his colleagues have asked Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director Bob Abbey to abandon a plan to create nonproducing wild horse herds in Wyoming.

In June, some wild horse advocates criticized the BLM when the agency announced that it would gather animals from the White Mountain and Little Colorado Herd Management Areas in Wyoming, and spay mares and castrate stallions to reach designated appropriate management levels (205-300 for the former and 69-100 for the latter). Sterile herds would reside on both ranges.

The BLM later revised its plan to exclude the spaying of mares. Under a revised plan the BLM would begin gathering approximately 873 animals from the ranges on Aug. 16. Following the gather, approximately 177 geldings would be returned to the ranges. No mares would be returned to the range. BLM Spokesperson Tom Gorey said the gather's goal is to create a minimally reproducing herd containing 177 geldings and 97 breeding horses.

"For now, what the BLM can say is that no mares will be spayed in connection with the BLM's gather of horses from the White Mountain/Little Colorado HMAs," Gorey said.

On July 28, Grijalva, who is a member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, and his Congressional colleagues submitted a letter asking Salazar and Abbey to abandon the plan to sterilize any wild horses under BLM jurisdiction on grounds that procedures used to castrate stallions and spay mares put the animals at risk. The letter instead urges the BLM to expand its use of the contraceptive porcine zona pellucida (PZP) to control herd growth.

The letter is the second from the Congressional delegation to address the White Mountain/Little Colorado gather.

Both letters also urged the BLM to suspend all gathers pending results of a National Academy of Sciences (NAS)/National Research Council (NRC) review of the agency's wild horse and burro program is complete. That study is expected to be completed in 2013.

Gorey said the BLM is still reviewing the July 28 letter from Grijalva and will respond directly to the issues it contains. In the meantime, Gorey said the gathers will continue while the NAS/NRC study is under way.

Depending upon federal budget allocations, the agency also intends to conduct so-called "catch and release" gathers to boost the number of gathered mares treated with PZP from the current level of 850 to 2,000 animals. Along with treated the mares, some geldings will also be returned to the range to reduce the number of on-the-range pregnancies, Gorey said.

Finally, Gorey said the agency is preparing to publish a new wild horse and burro management strategy that emphasizes fertility control and promotes private ecosanctuaries to hold excess horses removed from Western public rangelands. The plan also includes a comprehensive animal welfare program and measures to increase the number of trained wild horses available to the public through the agency's Wild Horse and Burro Adoption program.

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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