My first visit to the White Mountain Herd Management Area in Wyoming was in November of 2006. This herd is touted as a tourist attraction by the State of Wyoming, with its “loop tour” that is easily accessible to visitors to the town of Rock Springs. You might imagine that being a tourist attraction would save this herd from molestation, given that tourism is Wyoming’s 3rd largest source of income. But think again. http://www.blm.gov/wy/st/en/field_offices/Rock_Springs/wildhorses/tour.html
At the time of my visit, plans were already in the works to roundup and remove most of the horses in 2007. I had no trouble finding horses, even though the Herd Management Area itself is almost 400,00o acres. There were horses in the southern and in the northern parts of the area, and the family bands were large – this is a hallmark of a herd that has not been rounded up for a few years. The dominant stallions tend to accumulate large families, and watching the interactions of the mares and youngsters and stallions in these large families is amazing. I found healthy, beautiful families of wild horses, and my favorite encounter of this trip was with a very proud and beautiful bay roan stallion with a large family. He stopped and looked at me, making sure to be between me and his family, and I was captivated by him.
I visit this herd about once a year, but I never saw him again after the roundup. Imagining that proud and beautiful stallion in a holding facility still makes my heart hurt. They removed 654 of the 817 wild horses in White Mountain, and the mares returned to the area were given PZP, a one year birth control drug. There was no follow up with the birth control for the mares. It was too much trouble for the BLM to go into the field and keep darting the mares each year in order to keep the population in check. It was much easier to just round them up again in 3-4 years and remove most of the horses.
In 2011 the herd was again rounded up, and this time they removed 696 wild horses, leaving 209 wild horses, with the sex ratio of stallions to mares skewed, releaseing 98 stallions and 51 mares. In the wild, the ratio of stallions to mares ends up being about 50-50. One of the BLM’s unproven brilliant ideas is that the population will grow less if there are less mares than stallions. In my experience, all it does is create more turmoil, as the stallions spend more time battling other stallions and defending or winning the much fewer number of mares. The mares were also given PZP-22, a two year birth control drug. Again, despite this being a small herd and easy to find and approach, the BLM did not follow up and administer birth control every one or two years to keep the population in check.
Now it is 2015, and the BLM is intent on following the 2013 Consent Decree: http://www.blm.gov/style/medialib/blm/wy/programs/wildhorses.Par.47621.File.dat/2013Consent.pdf and appeasing the Rock Springs Grazing Association, because a majority of the land in the Herd Management Area is a checkerboard of public and private land, and the Grazing Association, who has the majority of private land and leases on public land in the area want all the horses gone, and/or sterilized.
The BLM did a flyover count of the White Mountain Herd in April 2015 and the “statistician Contractor working under the direction of USGS” came up with 268 adult wild horses in White Mountain. Notice that that is an increase of only 59 horses since 2011. The PZP-22, even though it was not reapplied, did work. But BLM says that the population will explode if the horses are not rounded up, and removed down to low AML – they say that there will be 386 wild horses in White Mountain by July 2016. This seems like a ridiculous assumption to me, but it justifies doing the roundup.
The plan is this: in July 2015 roundup and remove wild horses in White Mountain to get the population down down to 205. Little Colorado, the adjoining Herd Management Area will be gathered down to high AML, 100 wild horses, and serve as the control group.
1. Once the horses are rounded up, they will put Radio collars on “a portion” of the mares and radio tail tracker tags on “a portion” of the stallions that are released. USGS is conducting this research study and their goals are “to examine their behavior and band fidelity, demography (birth and survival rates), and spatial ecology both pre- and post-treatment.” There is a big problem with studying band fidelity – when they round up the horses they immediately separate them by sex and the horses do not get back together into their families, families that may have been together since 2011. It is possible to keep the horses rounded up in their families – I have seen it done in only one place, the Pryor Mountains of Montana in 2009. The Catoors brought in each family band separately and kept them in separate pens. They can do it, but it is just too much trouble for them. So do bait trapping instead. This is a small herd with known water sources – it can be done, and it would be less stressful for the horses. Why subject them to the trauma and fear of a helicopter roundup if it is not necessary? It does take longer, yes that is true. But it is much easier to keep the families together.
2. Radio Collars? Can’t the horses get hung up on brush and fencing and get injured or die? Supposedly the new model is improved and will prevent that, but how about using a breakaway function to insure that it does not happen? http://horsetalk.co.nz/2014/09/17/tracking-collars-safe-monitoring-wild-horses-researchers/#axzz3wfTPHSaW
Better yet, how about NOT using tracking devices on these wild horses and actually getting out into the field to observe and study them? This is how they can collect useful data. The herd is pretty colorful, and the individual horses are for the most part easy to identify. Photographer Rachel Reeves from Colorado has been observing and visually tracking and photographing the horses since 2010. The horses can be easily approached close enough to identify them. They would need a couple of interns to do the observation. They do not need radio collars.
3. Now we are getting to the absolute worst part of this plan. After tracking the horses at White Mountain for 1 year, they plan to round them up again and this time spay “a portion” of the mares.
Spaying domestic horses in sterile, hospital conditions is one thing, and it is not a common practice. But most large animal veterinarians agree that the surgical environment needs to be completely sterile and recovery time isat least a month – this is NOT a suitable procedure to do in the field, on wild mares. The risk of infection and death is far too high. Some of the mares may die from shock. I do not care if they plan to submit their plans to the Colorado State University Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (which by the way mainly reviews laboratory procedures) prior to the spaying, it is too dangerous, inhumane, cruel, and certain to result in the senseless death of many wild mares. There is only one example of spaying wild mares in the field. This was at the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada, where 10% of the mares (30) died. And some of the mares were released into the wild and not tracked to see if they died, so the death rate was probably much higher than 10%. I say one death of our wild horses is too many.
Why would the BLM use unproven, dangerous and cruel methods of sterilization instead of using safe, relatively unintrusive, proven methods of birth control to control the population of the wild horses in White Mountain?
The BLM is planning 5 more studies of spaying wild mares with USGS. They are planning even more studies using other methods of sterilization on other herds, including chemical sterilization and gelding. This needs to stop. This is BLM’s end game for our wild horses – sterilizing the herds, and ending up with no more wild horses.
This needs to stop, now, if we are to have a future with our wild horses on our public lands.
Make sure you say “Do Not Spay White Mountain Mares.”
Please comment on this horrible and cruel plan for the White Mountain wild horses. Comments are due by end of day Mountain Time on January 14. You will need to include “White Mountain & Little Colorado EA” in the subject line of your email. Please use your own words. Here is the email address:
Here is the mailing address to mail in your comments: