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BLM seeks to expand fertility control efforts for wild horses and burros

Free-ranging wild horses gallop from a watering trough last year near U.S. Army Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. The U.S. government plans to capture more wild horses on federal lands this year than ever before, drawing sharp criticism from mustang advocates. (Rick Bowmer/Associated Press file)
$20 million available for contractors to administer programs

To slow the growth of wild horse and burro herds on public lands, the Bureau of Land Management is seeking new contract services to administer fertility controls on the animals.

The BLM anticipates making up to $20 million available over one to five years for the efforts.

Wild horse and burro herds grow rapidly on public lands and can double every four or five years if not managed. The herd management areas are designated under the federal Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act.

Feb 26, 2017
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As of March 1, the BLM estimated there were more than 82,000 wild horses and burros on public lands, which is more than three times the appropriate number for the range.

Overpopulated herds face increased risk of starvation and thirst and might overuse and degrade forage and water resources shared by other species on public lands.

“It’s imperative that we do all that we can to protect these national icons and other wildlife from the effects of drought and overpopulation,” said BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning in a news release. “Increasing the use of safe and humane fertility control methods to help stabilize herd growth is an important part of our plan to protect these animals and their habitat.”

As extreme drought conditions continue across the West, these impacts are amplified and have already caused the BLM to take a record number of emergency actions last year to save animals.

In August, the BLM announced plans to gather 6,000 wild horses and burros to prevent widespread thirst and mortality because of lack of water and forage. Most emergency roundups took place after chronic overpopulation had stretched food and water resources to their limit. Gathered horses are available for adoption.

Fertility control for horse herds use a dart gun that administers birth control called porcine zona pellucida, or PZP.

Though some animals can be darted with the help of partners and volunteers, most need to be rounded up because of the large and remote landscapes they inhabit. All activities to manage wild horses and burros must follow handling standards to prioritize animal care and welfare.

Under BLM supervision, contractors will gather wild horses and burros using approved bait-trap and helicopter-assisted methods, apply a fertility control treatment, provide any care or short-term holding if required and then return the animals to public land. Contracts must be for one year, with the possibility of four option years. The solicitation closes 10 a.m. June 9. Additional information is available at sam.gov.

Spring Creek Basin Herd stable

A fertility control program for the BLM’s Spring Creek Basin Herd in Disappointment Valley has kept the population in check, and no roundups are planned, said Tres Rios Field Manager Connie Clementson.

With the contraception program, up to three foals are born per year, compared with 14 before the program began in 2011.

“It’s been a total success story and has allowed us to manage the herd size very effectively in-house,” Clementson said.

Every year, BLM staff members and a trained volunteer deploy birth control darts into select mares in the field to prevent conception.

Controlling herd size this way reduces the need for roundups when the population exceeds range capacity.

The BLM’s appropriate management level for the Spring Creek Basin Herd is 50 to 80 horses.

The Spring Creek Basin wild horse herd is one of 177 herd management areas the BLM oversees under the federal Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971.

The estimated wild horse and burro population on BLM-managed public land decreased for the first time since 2012 last year, from a record of about 95,000 animals to 82,000 animals. The estimated population remains at a level more than three times what has been deemed sustainable and healthy for the land and the animals.

jmimiaga@the-journal.com