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Wild Horses

Washington, D.C. – In an announcement Feb. 24, BLM Director Bob Abbey told the media that, following an extensive public comment process, the agency will accelerate fundamental reforms in managing wild horses and burros.
Abbey said the announcement was not spurred by BLM budget cut votes in the House or bipartisan criticism of the wild horse program. He said the announcement is a result of over 9,000 comments collected and reviewed in 2010.
“Instead of waiting to release the information we’ve compiled and incorporated, we wanted to move forward and make announcements of the actions we’re immediately taking while putting other proposals out for further review,” he explained.
The proposed strategy that Abbey announced includes reducing the number of wild horses removed from the range for at least the next two years; reaffirming the central role that the National Academy of Sciences (NAS)’s on-going review of the program will have on science-based management decisions; increasing adoptions; significantly expanding the use of fertility control to maintain herd levels; and improving its care and handling procedures to enhance the humane treatment of the animals.
While waiting for the NAS to complete their review, which is expected in early 2013, the agency plans to reduce the number of horses removed from the range over the next two years from 10,000 to 7,600 head. The agency is waiting to hear from the NAS regarding the number of horses that can be “safely and humanely left on the open range.”
Immediately upon the announcement, it was unclear how that reduction would affect gathers in Wyoming, if at all. Since 2003 the BLM has worked under a consent decree with the state that dictates the agency must keep wild horses at Appropriate Management Levels (AMLs).
Regarding wild horse gathers, Abbey said, “Our management has been reviewed, and it’s been found that the BLM’s gathers are necessary and humane.”
Abbey reaffirmed the agency’s commitment to transparency, which includes increasing public viewing during gathers, at short term corrals and at long-term holding to the “highest extent possible.”
On the concern from some people that helicopter use for gathering horses is inhumane, Abbey said, “We will continue to use them when it’s determined they’re the safest, most effective and humane manner of gathering. Gathers are necessary, and helicopters are humane.”
However, he said the BLM is considering having wild horse gather contractors and helicopter pilots complete low stress livestock handling training patterned after what Australia is doing in the same situation.
Abbey said that, in the actions to be announced over the next six months, the BLM will no longer “kick the can down the road because it’s a challenge, or because people disagree.”
“Managing for public rangelands is paramount, and we believe we have to have healthy rangelands and healthy populations of wild horses and burros, and that requires active management,” he said.
An analysis of the public’s comments collected in 2010 and the resulting detailed proposed implementation strategy will be posted at blm.gov on Feb. 28. The public is invited to review and provide comments to the BLM on the strategy through March 30 and should submit them to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with “Comments on Strategy” in the subject line.
Christy Martinez is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

As Wyoming BLM continues to try to manage their horse populations within the state’s borders, a new fertility control drug is being tested and considered for use in feral horses.
    The new treatment is Spay Vac, a liquid vaccine.
    “We’re entertaining the idea of trying it this fall as a research project,” says Wyoming BLM Wild Horse and Burro Specialist Scott Fleur. “It’s not being used anywhere else right now, and there is a study at a facility in Oklahoma where BLM is treating 90 mares in a five-year research project.”
    Of using it in Wyoming, Fleur says, “We were prepared to go with PZP (porcine zona pellucida) until last week, but if we get the go-ahead to use Spay Vac from the U.S. Geological Service and APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service), and I can get the environmental assessment put together and the public is ok with it, I’d like to try Spay Vac.”
    Although there’s not a lot of research to date, Fleur says Spay Vac has shown promising effects.
    “It’s been shown to be about 86 to 87 percent effective,” he notes. “It either permanently sterilizes a mare, or provides four to five years of sterility.”
Results pending for PZP
    Currently PZP is the most popular choice for the agency’s reproductive control.
    “PZP acts as a foreign protein against which the treated mare produces antibodies and becomes infertile,” explains Fleur. “Over time, the antibody levels fall off and fertility returns. A booster injection should be given at 10 months, but we can’t catch the mares again, and ideally the mares with PZP have to be caught every two years to be treated, which is expensive.”
    On a typical gather, Fleur estimates the BLM is able to capture about 80 percent of the horses. The mares treated with PZP through time-release pellets are aged and described, a freeze brand is applied to the neck and hip and they’re turned back out.
    “We’ve used PZP since 2004 in a couple HMAs (Herd Management Areas), and now we use it in 14 of the 16 HMAs,” says Fleur.
    Fleur says he has flown the HMAs in July for the last three years to get a count on the foals born that spring.
    “Reproduction of 18 to 25 percent each year is the average, and we’re running about 18 percent, based on the number of foals born that we caught in relation to the total number of animals we caught,” he says.
   Although the Antelope Hills HMA is down in percentage, Fleur says he doesn’t know if that’s because of PZP, the weather or predation.
Additional strategies
    Other methods of reproductive control that the BLM has considered, in addition to PZP and Spay Vac, include gelding – which is in litigation in Nevada – and a three- to four-year PZP vaccine that is under study in Nevada.
    “There are 80 mares being tested, and if it works it would extend gathers from every two years to every four,” he said of the longer-lasting PZP.
    Spaying mares has been placed on hold, pending review by the National Academy of Science, with a decision on how to proceed expected next summer.
    GonaCon is a product that is being used in a deer study in New York. Fleur says it consists of a single shot that renders fertility control for up to five years and is effective with a booster injection.
    Of the self-regulation theory, Fleur says, “If you let them self-regulate, you’ll deplete your range. There aren’t enough predators that want to eat horse, or spend the time to chase one down. We know predation occurs, but it’s not signification enough to impact the population.”
    “The BLM is trying to be proactive in knocking production down,” says Fleur. “We’re getting there, but not quite fast enough.”
    Christy Martinez writes for  the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

A report to Congress from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) titled “Management Options for a Sustainable Wild Horse and Burro Program” laid out four concrete alternatives to decrease the number of on-range horses by 69 percent over the next six to 12 years. 

“If wild horse and burro populations continue to expand, the impacts to animal and plant species will grow more severe across even larger swaths of the Western public rangelands,” according to BLM’s report.

BLM proposes decreasing horse populations from 86,000 wild horses and burros to the appropriate management level (AML) of 26,715 horses by 2030 at the latest. 

The four options include a mix of sale, fertility control, sterilization and adoption. 

Under option one, BLM would attain AML in eight years by using all legal authorities, including sale of horses without restriction, euthanasia, contraceptives, sterilization and adoption. 

Option two provides for AML within 10 years using birth control, such as Porcine Zona Pellucida treatments and minimal permanent sterilization. At the same time, the option would include increased costs for holding facilities.

The third alternative would achieve AML in six years using “an aggressive removal operation, in conjunction with sterilization of 3,000 mares and stallions gathered annually. The option also includes an incentive of up to $1,000 to adopt horses. 

Finally, the four option would achieve AML in 12 years through sterilization and adoption incentives. 

Look for a more in-depth discussion of BLM’s report to Congress in next week’s Roundup.

In a late April report to Congress, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) laid out detailed options for reducing the number of wild horses on western rangelands. 

“Since receiving federal protection in 1971, wild horse and burro populations on public lands have dramatically increased, far exceeding what is healthy for the land and the animals,” read the report, titled, Management Options for a Sustainable Wild Horse and Burro Program. “BLM is committed to finding solutions to achieve long-term sustainable populations on the range in a humane manner.”
With wild horse and burro populations spreading across 26.9 million acres of public land West-wide, BLM is charged with managing herd numbers under the tools provided in the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burro Act. 

“However, current congressional appropriation riders prohibit BLM from using all the authorities available in the Act,” BLM says. “Specifically, Congress blocks the sale of wild horses and burros without limitation and has limited the use of euthanasia.” 

Options for control

BLM cites the potential for irreversible, severe damage across even larger acreages as wild horse and burro populations continue to grow. 

“The damaging environmental effects may soon become irreversible and large die-offs of wild horses, burros and multiple species of plants and other animals could begin,” says BLM. “The groundwork for this unacceptable outcome has been developing for some time, and certain areas have already experienced damaging effects of overpopulation.”

As a result, the agency provides four detailed options to realistically address wild horse and burro overpopulation that would allow for improved  management of both the animals and rangelands. 

Option I

In their first detailed option, BLM would achieve appropriate management level (AML) in eight years, while also reducing off-range holding costs in the first four years. 

“In addition, during the first four years, BLM would achieve AML in HMAs that overlap priority habitat for multiple species,” the report says. “This would require making use of all legal authorities contained in the Act – especially sale without limitation and euthanasia of un-adopted or unsold animals – including use of contraceptives and limited sterilization techniques.” 

The option would achieve a national AML of 26,715 horses and burros by 2026. 

Option II

The second option achieves the same AML by 2028, a 10-year plan, and emphasizes use of contraceptive fertility control and minimal permanent sterilization. 

“Under this option, the off-range costs of caring for animals would significantly increase over current levels, because of increased reliance on off-range care,” BLM says. “Due to the large numbers of animals being held in off-range facilities, the cost of this option could be greatly affected by changes in the cost of contracting for off-range pastures, as the BLM would need more facility space than is currently available.”

Further, BLM notes they would be required to identify additional partners to provide low-cost off range housing. Additionally, they would strive to identify pasture-based holding facilities, rather than short-term corrals to control costs. 

Option III

The most aggressive option of the set includes achieving AML in six years, targeting “an aggressive removal operation in conjunction with sterilization of 3,000 mares and stallions gathered annually and later returned to the range.” 

BLM says, “Under this option, far fewer animals would be gathered and returned to the range than Option II, and all of those animals would be sterile upon reintroduction. Animals that are gathered and not sterilized would be moved to off-range facilities.”

At the same time, they would work to increase off-range pasture holding facilities, rather than corrals, and would keep corral populations at minimum levels, only to supply the adoption pipeline. To incentivize adoptions, Option III would provide a monetary incentive of $1,000 for horse adoptions, which, while initially expensive, would lower off-range holding expenditures. 

“Current research on long-term contraceptives would continue, with the possibility of greater use of contraceptives in the future should a longer-acting agent prove to be effective,” says BLM, emphasizing this option achieves AML by 2024.

Option IV

The final option would achieve AML by 2030 using aggressive gather and sterilization, after which horses and burros would be returned to the range. 

“The BLM would hire veterinarians to sterilize and return approximately 18,000 animals per year in each of the first five years and 8,000 in year six,” the agency comments. “Under this option, off-range populations would begin to decrease almost immediately through natural mortality and continued efforts for private care placement.”

At the same time, BLM predicts by year 10, off-range populations would decline faster, as almost all animals held would begin to reach normal lifespan limits. 

Additionally, fertility control would focus on permanent sterilization through 2024, where more than 80 percent of animals on the range would be sterilized. 

“Finally, under this option, BLM would institute a program to increase adoptions by providing a monetary incentive to the adopter of up to $1,000,” they agency comments. “If the incentive proves to increase adoptions beyond the planned 5,000, the BLM could decrease the use of permanent sterilization and increase removals to match adoption and sale totals.” 

With an imminent disaster predicted due to horse overpopulation, BLM emphasized the necessity of involvement from all stakeholders, including Congress, livestock operators, state and local governments and public interest organizations.

The agency comments, “BLM is open to working with partners on common sense solutions and will continue to pursue collaboration where possible.”

Saige Albert, managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup, compiled this article from BLM’s report. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Rock Springs – A process that began a year ago in October 2010 has reached the point where a scoping report will soon be released for the Rock Springs Resource Management Plan (RMP) revision.

Although the process began last October, a Federal Register notice was not released until February 2011, which kicked off the public RMP revision process with a 60-day scoping period through April 11 and four meetings throughout the area managed by the BLM’s Rock Springs Field Office, which oversees approximately 3.6 million surface land acres and 3.5 million acres of mineral estate in southwest Wyoming.

“The scoping report is for the public’s information, as a summary of the results of the combined scoping and comment period,” says RMP Lead Lynn Harrison, who works in the Rock Springs Field Office.

Following the release of the scoping report, the BLM office will begin alternative development through a series of meetings with cooperating agencies.

“We will take into consideration any planning issues that came up, as well as internal BLM issues,” says Harrison. “There’s a good contingency of cooperating agencies from all five counties in the planning area.”

Those counties include Fremont, Uinta, Sweetwater, Sublette and Lincoln. Harrison says the cooperating agencies include conservation districts, multiple state agencies, including the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, and the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, as well as the Wyoming U.S. Geological Survey and federal agencies including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service, with a focus on historic trails.

Harrison says her agency had already internally identified multiple planning issues that would be considered in the revision, and she says public comments supported those same issues.

“Wild horses are an issue identified both internally and externally, and we’ll address them and pay close attention. The wild horse program is dynamic, and it has policy changes coming about, so we’ll no doubt revise the plan as needed prior to going final with the RMP,” she says. “That is something that will be dynamic and ongoing throughout the revision process.”

Harrison says it’s too soon in the process to identify the revision’s affects on grazing permittees.

“We’ve just started the alternative meetings, and that’s really where we start getting into the relationship between the resources and the resource users, special designations and socioeconomics,” she says.

The next opportunity for public involvement in the Rock Springs RMP revision will be when the draft RMP is released for public comment, which won’t be until Fall 2012. When it is released, the public will have 90 days to review the document and make any comments, changes, or suggestions.

For more information, the public is encouraged to contact Harrison or Serena Baker at 307-212-7399. Christy Martinez is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..