Elko Daily Free Press: One good idea concerning wild horses

Elko, Nev., Oct. 25, 2014 -- Maybe, just maybe, I recently heard one good idea regarding the BLM’s broken Wild Horse and Burro Program. It is an idea that will not save the program, and it won’t work in most parts of Nevada, but it still sounds workable.

This idea is based on one figure, the $49,000 it costs the WHBP to maintain one captive horse in long-term holding over the horse’s lifetime. Multiply that times the more than 50,000 horses in long-term to see why the program is broken. This idea could reduce these costs by reducing the number of future horses placed in long-term holding.

Dr. Jay Kirkpatrick is Senior Scientist at the Science and Conservation Center, a group that produces a working horse contraceptive called Porcine Zona Pellucida. His group has used PZP in several studies that have shown their methods can slow and stop herd population growth. Jay talked to the BLM’s Northeastern Nevada Resource Advisory Council recently, explaining methods that could help reduce the number of gathers needed to hold down population number of wild horses.

Jay described studies where volunteers work with 100-200 horses in places like the Pryor Mountains, Montana, McCullough Peaks, Wyoming, Little Book Cliffs, Colorado, and other locations. The volunteers spend enough time with the horses to accustom horses to people and allow the volunteers to recognize each mare in the herd. They use a dart gun to inoculate a certain number of mares with PZP, and they repeat this treatment for three to four years.

The PZP quickly stops or slows herd population growth. They work with these horses year after year to maintain this population. One project is taking place at Nevada’s Pine Nut HMA and another should soon begin with the Virginia Range state horses. Other PZP projects have involved wild deer, bison, and elephants, along with various zoo animals.

The above methods would not work on one of Nevada’s huge Herd Management Areas containing 1,000-plus horses, but Jay also described methods that could be used here. Such projects are long-term, five to 10 years and require precise record keeping. They must include public education and be a priority with the local BLM office.

Jeannie Nations is hoping to start a pilot project along the Elko/ White Pine County line. She will work with a group of about 60 horses that are fairly isolated from the rest of the 616 wild horses in the Antelope Herd Management Area. Jeannie and other volunteers will use water and/or bait trapping to catch these horses. Enough horses will be removed to bring the population down to 25-30 horses. Trap-site adoptions will place some removed horses but some may need to go to long-term holding. A BLM Wild Horse Specialist will administer PZP to the remaining mares and brand them. Using catch, treat and release methods over several years, Jeannie will try to maintain this small group of horses so no gathers are needed to reduce their numbers.

Jeannie’s is a small project but imagine 10 small projects across Nevada. Then imagine catch and release, trap-site adoptions and PZP doing enough to eliminate the need to remove 100 wild horses from Nevada’s Herd Management Areas. These small efforts could reduce the long-term holding costs by $4.9 million. Roundups would still be needed, but such efforts, along with more use of these methods by the BLM, could make a difference.

Jay listed benefits of such projects. They included reducing captive horse numbers and holding costs, less stress, mortality and injuries to horses during roundups, along with better body condition and genetic makeup of the horses. Also important would be people benefits in reducing public confrontations and contentions while involving volunteers. Such projects would also encourage others to start similar projects elsewhere.

During the RAC meeting, Jay said “any little bit will help,” Jeannie said “it is a first step” and a RAC member said “can’t be any worse than what we are doing now.” Indeed.

Originally published in the Elko Daily Free Press, Oct. 25, 2014

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