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Wild horses: Plan to sterilize Wyoming herds triggers protests

Outraged by a federal plan to manage two Wyoming herds of wild horses into oblivion by sterilizing hundreds of mares, activists will gather outside a public hearing at the Bureau of Land Management field office in Rock Springs tonight to denounce the large-scale "experimental surgery" -- the latest flashpoint in an escalating battle over the future of the West's wild mustang population.

The BLM plan (a summary can be found here, the environmental assessment here) calls for rounding up around one thousand horses from the White Mountain and Little Colorado management areas and returning only about a third of them to the range -- with all of the returned mares being spayed. The horses would be managed as "non-reproducing herds," presumably until they died out -- although the plan leaves open the possibility that horses from other (sterile?) herds might be introduced to keep the population stable.

Ginger Kathrens, executive director of the Colorado Springs-based Cloud Foundation, calls the proposal "the most invasive, most dangerous and the most permanently destructive decision they could have made. If this does not clearly demonstrate the BLM agenda of managing America's wild horses to extinction, I don't know what does."

The BLM plan contemplates spaying mares at a corral and keeping them in a recovery pen for a minimum of two weeks. But some veterinarians regard this type of "field" sterilization of wild horses to be risky and the recovery time inadequate, particularly since it's never been done on such a large scale before. Tonight's gathering in Rock Springs is the first of a series of protests that Kathrens's group is coordinating with other horse activists.

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BLM's increased "gathers" of wild horses across the West in recent years have touched off numerous protests and harsh criticism of Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. The BLM insists that the herds are overpopulated and must be reduced to avoid further damage to natural resources. While some BLM opponents generally have supported birth-control measures as less brutal than the roundups, which use helicopters to chase horses (sometimes to the point of collapse), the plan for the Wyoming target populations involves both a drastic reduction in numbers and a gravely altered surviving herd.

There are currently more horses "in custody" of BLM and its contractors than there are left in the wild, a costly situation that has put Salazar under increasing pressure from Congress to find a better solution.

More from our News archive: "Wild horses: BLM backs off plan to round up West Douglas herd."

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