By Nicole Rivard

The Bureau of Land Management’s next crime against wild horses is slated to take place in the Onaqui Mountain Herd Management Area of Utah, which encompasses approximately 206,795 acres. The Salt Lake Field Office has issued a decision to vaccinate 50 mares with the fertility control pesticide PZP to help slow population growth of the herd.  

As usual, the BLM has established an artificially low appropriate management level, ranging from 121-210 horses. In March 2014, the BLM claimed there were an estimated 264 horses, and now it claims that there are an estimated 317 wild horses. Once again the BLM is asserting that the population grew 20 percent in the last year, ignoring the National Academy of Science report “Using Science to Improve BLM,” suggesting BLM estimates are not based on sound scientific methodology.

The National Academy of Science report determined that BLM has no evidence of excess wild horses and burros, primarily because BLM has failed to use scientifically sound methods to estimate the populations. NAS cited two chief criticisms of the Wild Horse and Burro Program: unsubstantiated population estimates in herd management areas and management decisions that are not based in science. As researchers noted: “Effective wild horse and burro management is dependent on accurate population counts and defensible assumptions. The BLM routinely uses the assumption that wild horse and burro herds increase annually at an average rate of 20 percent. However, our review of available scientific literature combined with an analysis of BLM data for 5,859 wild horses found that approximately 50 percent of the foals survived to the age of 1 year, which indicates a 10 percent population growth rate based on yearling survival rates.”

The environmental assessment for Onaqui Mountain HMA lacks consideration of newer research that reveals the negative side effects of PZP — that it sterilizes wild horses after multiple uses and results in risky foal birth out of season and significant behavioral changes that can affect the overall health of the herd, making it susceptible to a change in the environment or one chance natural event.

The environmental assessment also reveals the BLM has been messing with this herd and administering PZP since 2005—and continues to mess with it despite a report showing that the herd’s genetic variability was at a critically low level after blood samples were collected from horses who were removed in 2005.

Underscoring the BLM’s cruel, insane unscientific mismanagement of wild horses, after breaking up families and terrorizing the Onaqui herd beginning in 2005, it then brought in 10 stallions and 10-15 mares from other HMAs to help with genetic viability, to increase the size of individuals and adoptability of the Onaqui HMA horses. Every 3-4 years since then, another 3-5 horses have been released. This does not sound like the minimal management of wild horses that is outlined in the Wild Horse and Burro Act. This sounds more like the BLM is running a breeding program for domestic horses and therefore exacerbating the horse homelessness problem that already exists in the United States.

Friends of Animals has a different definition of wild than the BLM—no human exploitation and manipulation of free-roaming animals. Humans should not be managing any wild animal by keeping them in small “herd areas,” or limiting their population through culling, relocation or forcibly drugging them with the fertility control pesticide PZP.

We have a better solution. Remove cattle and sheep from the Onaqui Mountain HMA. In the Onaqui Mountain West allotment, there are 228 cattle grazing; and in the Onaqui Mountain East allotment, there are 299 cattle grazing. In the nearby West Lookout Pass allotment there are a staggering 8,736 sheep grazing.

(Photo credit: Jerry Sintz)