BLM Cancels Controversial Horse Sterilization Plans

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Kevin Daley Supreme Court correspondent
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Controversial horse sterilization techniques will not move forward after several activist groups filed suit, alleging violations of federal law.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is currently struggling to stem the tide of an unprecedented surge in the wild horse and burro populations on the federal range. BLM estimates place the population of wild mares at 67,000, a forbidding development which threatens the ecological balance of federal lands. Some state officials estimate certain herd management areas have exceeded acceptable horse populations by 600 percent. (RELATED: Congress, Activists Eviscerate Land Management Over Horse Population Measures)

The methods in question involve the removal of ovaries, or cutting and burning the Fallopian tubes of female horses with a laser.

“We are relieved that the BLM has withdrawn its decision, both for the targeted 225 horses and for the future of wild horse management,” said Hilary Wood, president of Front Range Equine Rescue. “FRER remains committed to ensuring the BLM uses humane and reasonable efforts to protect the herds while considering all interests in the process.”

FRER brought a lawsuit against the BLM in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, arguing that several experimental sterilization procedures approved for use at the Hines Corral in eastern Oregon violate federal law. At issue are three procedures which the group argues are highly invasive and harmful to wild horses. Wild horses enjoy a range of legal protections afforded by the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act and the 2004 Burns Amendment. FRER also alleged the agency did not follow Administrative Procedure Act protocols in pursuing the project.

A similar lawsuit was brought by the Cloud Foundation and the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, that asserted the groups have a First Amendment right to send observers to watch the controversial procedures.

“This decision, though not made lightly, is in response to litigation that could have put the wild horses, BLM staff and our research partners at risk by requiring unnecessary persons or equipment be placed within the small confines of the space where the procedures would take place,” BLM said in a statement.

Activists argue that the overpopulation issue is largely a red herring. “Overgrazing and overpopulation are overgeneralized in nonscientific claims by the BLM to justify removals of horses and donkeys from our public lands,” Ginger Kathrens of the Cloud Foundation told the House Subcommittee on Federal Lands in June. Others say the issue is a pretext for the federal government to authorize the unrestricted sale of horses on federal lands to slaughterhouses and other unscrupulous buyers.

This story has been updated.

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