Taxpayers benefit when you manage wild horses with science

Nov. 14, 2016, Santa Fe -- The recent news that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management sold a Colorado rancher nearly 1,800 wild horses that illegally went to slaughter highlights the fact that our nation is doing a poor job by these animals at the taxpayers’ expense (“Wild horses sold by BLM may have gone to N.M. ‘kill buyer’,” Nov. 8).

In this one case alone, it has been conservatively calculated that $2.82 million was wasted on roundups, transportation and feeding of the horses that ultimately went to slaughter. BLM even spent an additional $140,000 to transport the horses to a rancher who sold them — for a large profit — to the “kill buyer.”

Clearly, slaughter is neither a legal nor feasible management solution. It’s also not supported by most Americans. A poll by the American Society of the Preservation and Cruelty to Animals shows that 80 percent of citizens oppose this practice.

A more humane and economical approach is managing horses in the field with already available fertility control vaccine: native PZP (Porcine Zona Pellucida) vaccine. This option costs less, is not harmful to horses and can reduce and even eliminate the need for cruel and expensive roundups.

Unfortunately, in most management areas, horses are still rounded up and removed. Some are adopted but thousands are kept in holding pens at taxpayer expense. This entire system costs an estimated $75 million annually.

However, some — but not enough — areas are doing better. These areas, including a few operated by the BLM, are working to reduce and eliminate the need for roundups by controlling populations with fertility control. Examples include Assateague National Park in Maryland, the Pryor Mountain horses in Wyoming, and others.

Here in the Southwest there are multiple tribes using this proven fertility control method recommended by the National Academy of Sciences. One such tribe in New Mexico has been working closely with the Wild Horse Observers Association and the Science and Conservation Center in Montana.

New Mexico passed the Wild Horse Observers Association’s protective wild horse legislation, which specifically calls for the use of PZP to manage New Mexico’s wild horses. This bill passed unanimously minus 1. Also in Placitas — a community of 6,000 — a recent independent poll commissioned by the association showed that 85.7 percent of the people want to preserve their wild horses and to manage them with native PZP.

Clearly, humane management based on science is supported by much of the public. It may also ultimately lead to fewer or no roundups and a huge reduction in wasted government spending. We just need more agencies and wildlife managers to embrace this alternative.

This slaughter scandal is a wake-up call for the feds to do the right thing — manage horses effectively, feasibly and humanely.

Patience O’Dowd is president of the Wild Horse Observers Association.

Originally published in the Santa Fe New Mexican Nov. 14, 2015

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