Wild Horse Advocacy Groups Urge Haaland to Promote Safe Management Methods

Leading wild horse advocacy groups have sent a letter to New Mexico congresswoman Deb Haaland requesting that she direct the BLM to stop pursuing dangerous surgical sterilizations on wild horses.

Iconic American wild horses on the range. Photo by Shutterstock.

Washington, DC (Feb. 22, 2021)  On the eve of U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland’s historic confirmation hearing for Secretary of the Interior, the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC), and several other leading wild horse advocacy groups sent a letter to the New Mexico congresswoman applauding her nomination, and respectfully requesting that, once confirmed, she direct the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to stop pursuing dangerous surgical sterilizations on wild horses.

Haaland’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources is scheduled for Tuesday. The full Senate is expected to vote on her confirmation in the coming weeks.

Since 2016, the BLM has pursued multiple schemes to surgically sterilize wild horses as a form of population management using a procedure called ovariectomy via colpotomy, despite objections from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). In its comprehensive report on wild horse and burro management, the NAS explicitly advised against performing ovariectomies as a form of fertility control due to the risks of prolonged bleeding and infection. The procedure can cause pain, evisceration, hemorrhaging, and even death.

In 2018, a federal court sided with AWI, AWHC, and The Cloud Foundation and blocked the BLM from conducting ovariectomies on a herd in Oregon. However, in October, the BLM announced that it would proceed with a management plan to ovariectomize wild horses in the Confusion Herd Management Area in Utah. The procedures could start as early as this spring, marking the first time that the agency would conduct ovariectomies on federally protected wild horses.

Haaland, who would be the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary, has been a vocal critic of the BLM’s efforts to surgically sterilize wild horses, along with dozens of federal lawmakers in the House and Senate. Veterinarians have also criticized the use of ovariectomies on wild horses due to the risks involved, and national polling shows that Americans overwhelmingly oppose the BLM’s plans to ovariectomize wild horses.

Currently, the BLM spends less than 1% of its Wild Horse and Burro Program budget on fertility control, but spends approximately $60 million annually rounding up horses from the range and keeping them in long-term holding facilities for the rest of their lives — “a shortsighted approach that has failed to successfully manage populations on the range and which comes at enormous taxpayer expense,” wrote the horse advocacy groups in their letter.

BLM Wild Horse Roundup on Public Lands. Photo by American Wild Horse Campaign.

Haaland has supported the robust implementation of proven and safe fertility control methods to manage wild horse populations. She co-authored an amendment to last year’s Interior appropriations bill directing the BLM to use the PZP immunocontraceptive vaccine, which has helped successfully manage herds for decades.

“We support Congresswoman Haaland’s vision for the safe, humane management of our nation’s wild horses,” said Joanna Grossman, Ph.D., AWI’s equine program manager and senior advisor. “The Trump administration’s aggressive efforts over the last few years to use unsafe and outdated procedures on wild horses runs counter to the BLM’s mandate to protect these beloved animals. It’s time for the BLM to abandon its gruesome sterilization experiments and adopt a proven strategy.”

“The vast majority of Americans want our nation’s wild horses and burros protected and humanely managed on our Western public lands,” said Brieanah Schwartz, policy counsel for the AWHC. “Subjecting wild mares to invasive, painful, and risky sterilization surgeries is far below the humane standard that Americans demand for these iconic animals. We look forward to secretary-designate Haaland’s confirmation and working with her to prohibit the BLM from using this inhumane procedure.”

The Animal Welfare Institute is a nonprofit charitable organization founded in 1951 and dedicated to reducing animal suffering caused by people. AWI engages policymakers, scientists, industry, and the public to achieve better treatment of animals everywhere – in the laboratory, on the farm, in commerce, at home, and in the wild. Follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram for updates and other important animal protection news.

The American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) is the nation’s leading wild horse protection organization, with more than 700,000 supporters and followers nationwide. AWHC is dedicated to preserving the American wild horse and burros in viable, free-roaming herds for generations to come, as part of our national heritage. In addition to advocating for the protection and preservation of America’s wild herds, AWHC implements the largest wild horse fertility control program in the world through a partnership with the State of Nevada for wild horses that live in the Virginia Range near Reno.