Sixty-four members of Congress joined Raul Grijalva ( D-Ariz) in expressing strong criticism for Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) wild horse and burro program in a letter delivered to Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar and Bob Abbey, BLM Director, on Thursday.
Areas of concern include; the spaying of wild mares and gelding of wild stallions in order to create non-reproducing herds, the accuracy of population census methods, and BLM's commitment to herd conservation and stewardship.
In a statement given to Examiner.com, Congressman Grijalva explained,
Plans to spay and geld horses- practices that are dangerous for wild animals and could lead to the injury or death of multiple horses - are inhumane and could even lead to the extinction of the wild horse altogether. The practice is in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act. We can't sit by and allow the Bureau of Land Management surgically to remove the wild horse from the American West. There are humane alternatives to herd management that would decrease the need for roundups, saving American taxpayer money and protecting the lasting legacy of the wild horse in the American West.
A June, 2011 BLM Record of Decision to spay wild mares and geld stallions from the White Mountain and Little Colorado herd management areas ( HMA's) of southern Wyoming with the goal of creating a "non-reproducing" herd has been a source of concern for many stakeholders in the program. Both procedures are irreversible and the spaying of mares in the field is considered particularly dangerous.
According to the letter, only one field example of spaying wild mares exists. Mares were "... hoisted into front loaders of tractors where the procedures were performed." Thirty of the mares, 10% of those spayed, were known to have died. Though at least a month is needed for recovery, many of the mares were released thus the total number of deaths is unknown.
BLM's original decision document has since been modified to exclude spaying of the mares, but returns only gelded stallions to the range and classifies the result as a "minimally reproducing herd". The possible need for subsequent population supplementation from other HMA's is cited. It is feared that irreversible surgeries intended to create non-producing or minimally producing herds will become acceptable procedures within the program. Western Watershed Project and the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign filed suit in U.S. District Court on monday challenging the decision based partly on an alleged violation of the National Environmental Policy Act. ( contued below)
The sixty-six Congressional members suggest, " Immuno-contraception is a much safer, more humane, and less costly method of fertility control." The Humane Society of the United States has urged the BLM to make better use of PZP, an immuno-contraceptive used sparingly in the program.
Addressing the procedures and accuracy involved in determining the actual number of horses on the range, the Grijalva letter states,
Given the current methods employed, we have serious doubts about BLM's ability to provide an accurate census of the wild horses and burros.
Instances are cited where the stated overpopulation of horses was found to be inaccurate after horses were already removed from the range.
Stewardship and budget allocations are addressed by showing expenditures for roundups to be 7.7 times that of on the ground range monitoring. " It appears that BLM is focusing their efforts on eradication of wild horses and burros, rather actual management and monitoring on the range.", says the Grijalva letter.
Carla Bowers, member of the National Wild Horse and Burro Team, commented, " We are extremely grateful to Congressman Grijalva for taking the lead to change the dangerous and inhumane course on which the BLM is steering the wild horse and burro program. Their course, if left unchecked and the program unreformed, will surely leave the western public lands completely void of America's iconic wild horses and burros in the very near future - all this fuss, uncalled-for animal abuse and millions of taxpayer dollars wasted, when America's legendary mustangs and burros are no where near overpopulated as BLM claims."
In closing, the letter states,
We ask that BLM not engage in the drastic, inhumane practice of spaying and gelding wild horses to create non-reproducing herds in protected areas. We also ask that BLM cease all roundups pending the results of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) review of BLM's wild horse and burro program.
Tom Gorey, BLM's Washington D.C. spokesman commented, " The BLM is still reviewing the letter of REP. Grijalva and his colleagues and will be responding directly to the various issues raised. 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 Herd Management Areas."
As of the time of publication, Secretary Salazar's office has not yet responded to a request for comment.