Get Informed: What BLM is Proposing for Wild Mares in Oregon

By Brieanah Schwartz, AWHC Government Relations and Policy Counsel

The Bureau of Land Management’s Burns District Office is accepting public comments on an Environmental Assessment for the Spay Feasibility and On-Range Behavioral Outcomes Assessment and Warm Springs HMA Population Management Plan. The first four years of this EA deal with a spay study that will begin this year by rounding up 100% of the horses and burros in the HMA, primarily using helicopters, and then spaying over 100 mares!

Located in Hines, Oregon, the HMA encompasses 474,547 acres and it is currently estimated that 738 adult horses and 147 foals live in the HMA. After the BLM rounds-up 100% of the horses, 100 horses will be returned to a fenced in area of the range as the control group and 100 horses will be returned to an adjacent, fenced in area as the treatment group. The remaining approximately 685 horses will be permanently removed from the range.

The EA is considering an extremely controversial and dangerous surgical spay procedure—ovariectomy by colpotomy. In the study, 28-34 mares will be spayed by this horribly inhumane procedure. Eight mares will be released into the treatment group without the spay procedure. An additional 70 mares will be spayed but not returned to the range at all. These 70 mares are spayed only to contribute to the complication rate of the study.

The study will conduct this painful procedure on mares that are three years of age and older. However, and worst of all, the procedure will be conducted on mares that are in three different gestational groups: not pregnant, early term (less than 120 days), and midterm (120-150 days). There is a known, extremely high risk of abortion in the early to mid- term pregnancies following this procedure.

In a hardly sterile environment, the mares are lightly sedated for the procedure, and, as seen in the BLM’s video of the procedure, the mares are alert and aware the entire time. After the excruciating 15-minute procedure, the mare is given a long-term antibiotic and turned out in a half-acre pen with other mares to recover from the light sedation. As soon as a mare recovers from the sedative, she is hastily moved to a larger pen with more mares and dependent foals. The mares will then be held separately for only seven days of “recovery” in a pen for “post-surgery welfare observations” before they are released into the treatment group. This period of observation is to record instances of pain or discomfort in the mares following this harmful surgery.

Any horses that show signs of distress will be closely evaluated, further analgesia may be given at the vet’s discretion, but no post-operative antibiotics will be given. Mares that take a turn for the worse within 24 hours will be given further analgesia as necessary, and then the vet will decide if euthanasia is necessary.

The 70 mares who will be spayed but not returned to the range will be observed for 2-4 weeks by ultrasound to evaluate their pregnancy status.  The BLM states in the proposed EA that this period of observation will help with pregnancy loss data; meaning the BLM is spaying 70 mares in different stages of pregnancy to see if and how they abort their unborn foals. Unlike the 34 mares that are returned to the range, these mares will receive veterinary care as needed.

The study will last for four years, until 2022, and then the Population Management Plan will be in place until 2028. Once the study is complete, and if the study is deemed successful, the Population Management Plan will implement the controversial ovariectomy by colpotomy procedure and roundup more horses to the low AML of just 111 individuals.

Burros will not be involved in the study or in the sterilization treatments of the Population Management Plan. However, the BLM will roundup burros as part of the Plan’s implementation.

If the BLM implements spaying as a management tool after the conclusion of the study, the plan 25-37 mares, ages two and older, will be spayed and 0-76 horses will be removed from 2022 through 2028. If the study is found to be unsuccessful, the BLM will move forward with a humane PZP program instead. Under that scenario, 37 mares will be treated with PZP, but 110 horses will still be removed from 2022 through 2027.

This plan is incredibly inhumane, uneconomical, and once again reflects the BLM’s preferential treatment of privately-owned livestock, will devastate the wild horse population in the Warm Springs HMA.

Remember – All horses and burros removed from the Complex are in grave danger of being killed if Congress grants the BLM's request to lift the restriction on destroying healthy wild horses and burros or selling them for slaughter.  Also, mares would be subjected to unprecedented and largely untested surgical sterilization procedure of spaying by colpotomy.

Now is the time to weigh in for humane on-the-range management and fair treatment of the wild horses living on our public lands in the Warm Springs HMA, so please get your comments in by taking action below!