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The Cost of Violent Means of Environmental Protection on Wild Horses

Updated: Sep 24, 2022

As Berry students, we are connected to nature every day. Most consider the deer, cows and horses across the campus as integral to their Berry experience. Perhaps that is why many Berry students are very concerned with the mounting environmental crisis.

As endangered species populations continue to dwindle and habitats are destroyed due to deforestation, drought, flooding, and toxins released into the environment, it is easy to call for more drastic solutions to stop this destruction. However, these desperate solutions can often cause more death and harm than was meant. Our society and government too frequently end animal lives in favor of others, as with the wild horses that inhabit the rangeland of America.

These horses are protected by law under the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) as of 1971. Congress recognized that “wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West, which continue to contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people.” However, in recent years, they have failed in their duty to protect these horses that have defined American identity for centuries.

Many of us know stories of the horses that have carried us through American history. It is accurate to say that without the blood and sweat of horses working alongside us, our nation would not be as it is today. Most of the wild horse population resides in Nevada, Wyoming, Oregon, Utah, and Montana. Current estimations of on-range wild horses are around 86 thousand. These high numbers within herds have led to the trampling of grass and the over-consumption of water, especially in Nevada where water is already scarce.

This high number must be controlled, but the bureau’s response to this crisis has been more violent than necessary. BLM’s chosen method of reducing the mustang population has been through aggressive roundups to reduce the population to a manageable size of 26,690. A gather or roundup is a process by which the bureau drives wild herds towards an enclosure where they are taken into confinement until their future is decided. Horses often die during these roundups due to gather-related injuries. Although the BLM attempts to sell the horses to trainers, the supply far exceeds the demand for them. The leftover horses are often held in long-term confinement, or they are killed for horse meat.

There are multiple alternatives to these gruesome methods of population control, and combining them will achieve the best result. These include the removal of kill programs on the mountain lion species, a natural predator of the horse, limiting access of private cattle ranchers to public rangeland, and a Porcine Zona Pellucida (PZP) fertility program.

The PZP vaccine has been used for decades on wildlife to prevent fertilization for a period of time without affecting the animal’s hormonal system. It has a 95-97% efficacy rate, and the injections are done through a dart shot at the horse. The dart is retrieved, and the horse is free to roam with its herd as it pleases. One dose costs $30, which is a small price compared to the millions of dollars spent on the capture and confinement of horses. While the BLM has used this method of fertility control in the past, they currently contribute 0% of their 1.6 billion dollar budget toward a fertility control program. Such a program would be vital in reducing the overpopulation issue while demanding little money.

Conclusively, it is imperative that we make the evidence for ethical population control known in order to convince the bureau to change their tactics. To horse lovers and nature-lovers alike, these wild horses represent the heart and soul of American history. Since they cannot speak for themselves, we must fight on their behalf.

To learn more about wild horse and burro management, visit the websites for the Bureau of Land Management and the American Wild Horse Campaign.

Photo Credit: Unsplash, Vladimir Vujeva

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