BLM to Spend $10M on Contraception for Wild Horses, Burros

April 22, 2014 - 7:25 PM

Big Bend Burros

Cheyenne Rideaux relaxes on the back of Penny, a rescued burro, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011, at Rachael Waller's ranch in Alpine, Texas. Texas park rangers are trying to wipe out hundreds of free-roaming donkeys in Big Bend Ranch State Park along the U.S. - Mexico border, killing nearly 130 to date, stirring up a whole new kind of border-crosser controversy. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

( – The Bureau of Land Management announced it is planning to award 10 grants of up to $1 million each for wild horse and burro contraception and sterilization for up to five years.

"The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Wild Horse and Burro Program protects, manages, and controls wild horses and burros under the authority of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 to ensure that healthy herds thrive on healthy rangelands," the grant announcement said.

"Development of effective population growth suppression methods for wild horses and burros is vital to effectively managing herd population growth rates as an alternative to gathering and removing animals from BLM lands," it added.

"Any sterilization or contraceptive method applicable to male or female horses or burros, including surgical, chemical, pharmaceutical, or mechanical (such as Intrauterine Devices) approaches, will be considered (with the exception of surgical castration)," the grant solicitation said.

In 1971, when Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, these animals were found roaming across 53.8 million acres known as Herd Areas, of which 42.4 million acres were under the BLM's jurisdiction.

According to the BLM, there are approximately 40,605 wild horses and burros roaming BLM-managed rangelands in 10 Western states, based on the latest data available as of Feb. 28, 2013. That exceeds by nearly 14,000 the number that the agency says "can exist in balance with other public rangeland resources and uses." The maximum appropriate management level is about 26,677.

Since the animals have virtually no natural predators, and their herd sizes can double every four years, the agency must remove thousands of them from the range yearly to control herd sizes.

As of April 2014, there were 48,194 other wild horses and burros that are fed and cared for at short-term corrals and long-term pastures off the range. Wild horses and burros in holding as well as those on roaming Western public rangelands are protected by the BLM under the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act.

BLM spokesman Tom Gorey told that the agency is spending over 60 percent of its budget - $80 million - on holding wild horses and burros. Therefore,  the grant is "a worthwhile expenditure," he said.

Gorey acknowledged, however, that the program is "very contentious."
"We have a lot of critics who want the horses to, as they put it, run free and let the population run out of control - don’t like us rounding them up, which is what we’re mandated to do to keep the levels in what we call an appropriate management level," he said.

However, the BLM has "almost run out of capacity off the range in terms of both short-term and long-term holding," Gorey said.

The 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act said that horses for which there is no adoption demand cannot be "put down," Gorey noted. Older animals are put out to pasture immediately.

The agency has used contraceptive and sterilization on the animals before, but on a small scale, according to Gorey.

"The problem with the fertility vaccine we’re using – it’s called PZP – is that it’s really only effective for a year, and when you have an area, an expanse just from BLM land alone. It’s about 27 million acres that these animals cover," Gorey said.

"The idea of gathering, treating and then releasing and then gathering a year later, it’s just logistically formidable and expensive, and so it’s really not working. This drug, this vaccine is not working in a way for our agency that it can make a big difference, so that’s why we’re looking for a breakthrough in technology," he added.

The grant solicitation was announced on March 6, 2014 and will close on May 7, 2014.