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September 12, 2016 – Return to Freedom Wild Horse Sanctuary and Preservation condemns the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board recommendation, made on Friday, urging the Bureau of Land Management to use euthanasia to reduce the number of so-called “unadoptable” wild horses and burros in BLM’s long-term holding facilities.
At their two-day meeting in Elko, Nevada, advisory board members said that they voted to support euthanasia to force Congress’s hand in the debate over wild horses — 45,191 of whom have been captured, often by helicopter roundup, and placed in short-term corrals and long-term pastures at a cost of $49 million taxpayer dollar annually.
Neda DeMayo, Return to Freedom founder and president, said that while euthanasia for “excess” wild horses is within the law, “no one wants the blood of tens of thousands of wild horses on their hands.”
She urged all taxpayers, but particularly those who care about wild horses, to oppose euthanasia and to be vigilant about other proposals that would lift restrictions on adoptions and on the sale and transfer or wild horses and burros.
“It is way overdue for the Bureau of Land Management to develop a proud vision for a preservation program for America’s wild horses and burros,” DeMayo said. “Americans have invested millions of tax dollars to protect the wild horses and burros captured off the range.
“To destroy these beloved animals would be a complete betrayal and even more irresponsible than the crisis that has been created by the agency’s refusal to manage wild horse and burro populations on the range over the past 20 years, with proven, safe and humane fertility control.”
The fate of wild horses hangs in the balance because BLM has systematically favored ranchers over horses and has leaned on roundups over the use of safe, effect fertility vaccines. Federally protected wild horses and burros have been routinely blamed for range degradation, even as they represent a fraction of the animals grazing on a shrinking amount of public land.
For example, while 34,531 wild horse and burros live in Nevada, according to BLM’s March count, the agency has granted 677 grazing permits and leases amounting to nearly 2 million animal unit months (ATM), defined as the amount of forage needed to sustain one cow and her calf, one horse or five sheep or goats for a month.
The National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board is made up of nine federally appointed members. On Friday, only one, fellow wild horse advocate – Ginger Kathrens of The Cloud Foundation – voted against the euthanasia recommendation.
Also on Friday September 9, 2016, the Bureau of Land Management withdrew its support for surgical sterilization experiments on captive mares in the face of public outrage and lawsuits by multiple wild horse advocacy organizations.
Return to Freedom has for months been urging BLM to abandon experiments that would have been dangerous, illegal and unnecessary. In discussions with BLM’s Division Chief for the Wild Horse and Burro Program, Dean Bolstead’s responded that the BLM wants to look into every possible option to manage wild horse populations on the range.
“Although we are supportive of increased on-the-range management alternatives for wild horses, as opposed to capture and removals, this was an unacceptable option. We have stated our position clearly that these invasive surgeries would be both unsafe and impractical to perform on the range for tens of thousands of wild mares,“ said Neda DeMayo, President of Return to Freedom
“Since February, thousands of Return to Freedom’s supporters have sent letters and made calls to the BLM and OSU expressing their outrage over the proposed sterilization research. We want to thank our supporters who took the time to respond as well as coalition partners who took the fight to court.”
BLM had planned to spend $348,000 on sterilization experiments this fall on 225 mares, including at least 100 pregnant mares, held at its Wild Horse Corral Facility in Hines, Oregon.
The BLM and Oregon State University intend to perform three procedures: tubal ligation, which has never been performed on horses; hysterpscopically-guided laser ablation, using a laser to seal oviduct openings, which has never been attempted on wild or domestic mares; and removing both ovaries.
This last surgery, ovariectomy via colpotomy, is a rare procedure which carries significant risks when performed by veterinarians on domestic mares in sterile settings using imaging equipment. BLM researchers plan to cut blindly on previously wild horses – most in various stages of pregnancy — not in a sterile setting, but a holding facility.
Return to Freedom contends that BLM can effectively and humanely manage wild horses and burros on the range through judicious use of a proven fertility vaccine, porcine zona pellucida (PZP), that is backed with decades’ worth of data – including use at Return to Freedom’s American Wild Horse Sanctuary.
Ironically, BLM has said that administering PZP – listed by the National Research Council in 2013 among the most promising population control methods available for wild horses – is impractical and too expensive, yet it pursued research on much more expensive surgeries impossible to perform.
Return to Freedom and other advocates also took exception to BLM experimenting on the very horses it is tasked with protecting under 1971’s Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act.
In recent weeks, advocacy organizations Front Range Equine Rescue, The Cloud Foundation, the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign and Friends of Animals filed various suits aimed at stopping the experiments or, if they went forward, providing public access.
Founded in 1997, Lompoc, Calif.-based Return to Freedom is dedicated to preserving the freedom, diversity, and habitat of America’s wild horses and burros through sanctuary, education, advocacy and conservation, while enriching the human spirit through direct experience with the natural world. www.returntofreedom.org