Federal officials are stalking wild horses and shooting them with darts laced with contraceptives to control excessive and ever-growing herd populations, Wyoming’s The Powell Tribune reported.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is responsible for managing an estimated 78,000 wild horses running on federal lands capable of supporting only 26,000. The agency also looks after an additional 50,000 horses in federal holding pens.
A BLM official organizes several excursions in Wyoming every day to inject wild horses with a contraceptive that lasts for about a year. Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area Natural Resources Program Manager Bill Pickett walks up to eight miles a day to dart horses on such hunts.
“A successful day for us is vaccinating one horse. Some days we only get one, some days seven. There’s more to it than people might think,” Pickett told The Powell Tribune.
Despite attempts to control the population through contraception and wild horse adoptions, herd numbers are still growing at a rate that will double the amount of wild horses every four years, Montana and South Dakota BLM wild horse and burro program leader Jerrie Bertola told The Powell Tribune.
The BLM has the authority to euthanize excess horses, but only when the animals are old, sick or lame.
For months in 2017 and this year, lawmakers in Congress haggled over expanding BLM flexibility to manage wild horses by removing restrictions on euthanasia and sale of the animals. A provision was introduced into a spending package that would do just that, but it was cut before the final version of the bill passed last week.
The BLM issued a statement in support of the amendment in a press release.
“With few natural predators and limited tools for controlling herd growth, our nation’s wild horse and burro herds are chronically overpopulated and increasing exponentially,” the BLM said. “Given the extensive overpopulation, wild horses and burros routinely face starvation and death from lack of water. The high number of excess wild horses and burros causes habitat damage that forces animals to leave public lands and travel onto private property or even highways in search of food and water.”
“Simply put, the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro program — in its current form — is unsustainable,” the BLM added.
Animal rights groups oppose any legislation that could result in the “mass killing” of wild horses and lobby against efforts.
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