- Associated Press - Saturday, May 9, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - The U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s plan to inject 50 wild horses in western Utah with contraception drugs to help control the population is being applauded by one wild horse advocacy group but derided by another.

The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign supports the plan, saying it is a more humane method than taking horses off their ranges, the Deseret News newspaper in Salt Lake City reports (https://bit.ly/1zCcWkw ).

“This is the best-case scenario,” campaign spokeswoman Deniz Bolbol said. “We really applaud Utah BLM for doing this for the Onaqui herd and letting these horses stay with their families, remain wild and free, and at the same time manage the number of horses born so they don’t have to do roundups into the future.”

But the group Protect Mustangs says the anti-fertility drug can lead to sterilization and wreak havoc on natural selection.

“This is an essential part of survival of the fittest. Nature knows best,” said Anne Novak, Protect Mustangs executive director. “No one should be shooting wild horses with dart guns. It’s harassment, plain and simple.”

This marks the first time this method has been used in Utah. The BLM plans to begin injecting the drugs in the horses using darts in May, said spokeswoman Lisa Reid. It will continue with the project over a five-year span.

The drug that will be used, called porcine zona pellucida, is most effective for one year, the BLM said. It is effective in preventing pregnancy in horses for one year, Reid said.

The BLM says there are 317 wild horses in the Onaqui Mountain area about 60 miles southwest of Tooele. That’s more than double the appropriate level of 120.

Statewide, there are about 4,300 wild horses and burros in Utah, above the appropriate management level of about 2,000, the agency said.

“This is a very important program. The only tool we’ve had in the past to manage herds is through removal,” Reid said. “We prefer not to round them up, so administering birth control through darting is a great tool because it’s less invasive and less stressful to the herds, and it allows us to hopefully reduce reproduction effectively.”

Roundups are also expensive, said Gus Warr, Utah director of the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro program. Helicopter roundups cost about $400 to $500 per horse while fertility drugs cost roughly $100 per horse, Warr said.

The issue of wild horses has been a lightning rod across the West for years. Many ranchers claim the horses are overrunning the range, causing ecological damage and reducing grazing for livestock. They want the BLM to immediately round up excess horses.

Bolbol, of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, said she hopes BLM officials around the West use this method to keep herds at manageable levels.

But Warr said the contraception plan won’t work in all Utah herds because of difficult terrain and skittish horses.

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Information from: Deseret News, https://www.deseretnews.com


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