The House of Representatives has approved $102.6 million for the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Program, a portion of which will be spent on implementing a humane fertility control vaccine used to manage wild horse populations.
The Senate has yet to take up companion legislation.
Thanks to an amendment introduced by Nevada Democratic Rep. Dina Titus and Tennessee Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen, the BLM will be required to direct at least $11 million from the program’s annual budget for a noninvasive fertility control vaccine advocates have long favored.
Growing herds of wild horses is a growing public lands management crisis facing BLM today according to the agency. Overgrazing by cattle and wild horses has led to a grassland full of invasive “cheatgrass” — grasses that are a major cause of wildfire and harm perennial grassland that provides diverse habitat for wildlife.
The fertility control regiment Porcine Zona Pellucida (commonly known as PZP) can keep a mare from becoming pregnant for a year, slowing herd growth, and reducing the need for BLM to perform wild horse roundups that lead to the animals sitting in holding pens or getting injured.
Recently, the BLM funded research into the effectiveness of a noninvasive vaccine called GonaCon and found that the treatment has an efficacy rate of 30 to 40 percent in the first year and a 90 percent efficacy rate for the next 4 to 5 years with an estimated cost of about $12,000 per mare for a lifetime.
Rep. Titus called the amendment a “step in the right direction.”
“Nevada is home to the largest population of wild horses in the nation,” Titus said in a statement. “Taxpayer-funded roundups and removals are not only costly, not only an ineffectual management strategy, but they also endanger the lives of these animals, as evidenced by the recent horrific death of a young mare witnessed during a roundup in Utah.”
Earlier this month a wild horse was killed during a BLM helicopter roundup in Utah that caused the horse to crash into a pen, breaking the mare’s neck.
Advocates said the amendment addresses concerns raised by the BLM’s recent report to Congress outlining a plan to accelerate roundups and remove as many as 90,000 wild horses and burros from public lands at a cost of nearly a billion dollars, a move Joanna Grossman, the equine program manager at the Animal Welfare Institute, a nonprofit focused on animal advocacy, called “inhumane and unsustainable.”
“It’s a promising start,” said Grossman. “We already know that PZP works very well because it’s been used for a long time on a number of herds.”
“Americans do not want to see their tax dollars being used to stampede wild horses by helicopter and then stockpile them in government-run holding facilities.”