Warm Springs Spay Experiment EA Comments

Lisa Grant
Wild Horse & Burro Specialist
BLM Burns District Office
28910 Hwy 20 West
Hines, OR 97738

Subject: DOI-BLM-ORWA-B050-2018-0016-EA Spay Feasibility and On-Range Behavioral Outcomes Assessment and Warm Springs Herd Management Area Population Management Plan

Dear Ms. Grant,

On behalf of The Cloud Foundation (TCF), a 501(c)3 non-profit and our hundreds of thousands of supporters throughout the United States, we would like to thank you for the opportunity to comment on DOI-BLM-ORWA-B050-2018-0016-EA.

Experimental research involving wild horse mares, especially in the unsterile Burns Corrals facility, is unconscionable. It is particularly abhorrent when the research is invasive and likely lethal for at least some of the mares in the study as well as their unborn fetuses. Frankly, this proposed animal cruelty should never have seen the light of day, and the plug should be pulled immediately on this type of unnecessary, dangerous, abusive and inhumane “research” before even one wild horse mare is mangled by misguided intentions.

TCF also views the BLM’s proposal to explore Research on Sterilization of Mares as a violation of the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. The Act states “all management activities shall be at the minimum feasible level…” and “in a manner that is designed to achieve and maintain a thriving natural ecological balance on public lands.“ This research program does not fall within either of those decrees. Furthermore, we believe it is a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Currently over 70% of wild horse herds are managed at “appropriate management levels” which the National Academy of Sciences has deemed “not transparent to stakeholders, supported by scientific information, or amenable to adaptation with new information and environmental and social change.” The low appropriate management levels set for these herds endanger the genetic viability of the animals. Use of permanent sterilization as a method of population control will further endanger the future of North American Wild Horses, ensuring their eventual extinction.

The implementing regulation 43 C.F.R. § 4700.0-6(a) requires that activities affecting wild horses and burros shall be undertaken with the goal of maintaining free-roaming behavior. Sterilization destroys those aspects of wild horse behavior, developed over millions of years of evolutionary history in North America. A Judge in the US District Court of Idaho ruled that sterilization removes an animal’s ability to be wild, in essence destroying the animal:

“… preventing births and reproductive capacity of the horses alters wild horse behaviors and the social structure of the herd. …. The NAS Report concluded that ‘absence of young horses itself would alter the age structure of the population and could thereby affect harem dynamics.’ …. Accordingly, the Court concludes the Defendants have violated NEPA by failing to take a hard look at these important aspects of its decision and failing to disclose and analyze the NAS Report in the FEIS.”
Case No. 1:16-cv-00001-EJL. United States District Court for the District of Idaho, 2017. Pg. 21-23.

The implementing regulations require that “wild horses and burros shall be managed as self-sustaining populations of healthy animals in balance with other uses and the productive capacity of their habitat.” 43 C.F.R.§ 4700.0-6(a). “. . .activities affecting wild horses and burros shall be undertaken with the goal of maintaining free roaming behavior.” Id. at § 4700.0-6(c). Sterilization of these animals does not honor either implementing regulation.

Safety Concerns regarding Mare Sterilization Research

Ovariectomies have been shown to have a high complication rate under sterile conditions per the EA. In the scoping notice, it states that this study will determine the feasibility of performing this procedure in a “BLM facility.” Because the Burns Corrals facilities are not sterile, the procedural risks will be even higher than the already demonstrable risks of performing the procedure in a sterile environment. Ovariectomy is also known to cause behavioral changes and bone density loss. Why then would you subject wild mares to this technique? Ovariectomies via colpotomy as proposed in the scoping notice are even more suspect. Expert equine veterinarian Don Moore notes that many professional veterinarians do not even consider ovariectomy via colpotomy as an option.

“In private practice, colopotomy is considered an inferior procedure with likelihood of post-surgical infections and complications (i.e., colic) especially in unsterile conditions. Post-operative care usually lasts several days to often weeks and mares are monitored and in most cases are monitored in box stalls or cross ties, which cannot be accomplished with wild mares.
Dr. Don Moore, Expert Equine Veterinarian

Additionally, in discussions with our personal equine veterinarian Dr. Lisa Jacobson, an alumnus of the Colorado State University Veterinary Program, she expressed concerns with colpotomies, fearing that infection, bleeding from a severed artery, and prolapse of the intestines would most likely result in death in some cases. We are, quite frankly, shocked that CSU has agreed to participate in such a dangerous and inhumane study that is certain to diminish their reputation as a renowned veterinary school.

Furthermore, mares who have just received this procedure will be turned back out into the wild, which will put them at great danger. The University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine cites that the ovariectomy procedure will make many mares “appear to be permanently in estrus” (https://largeanimal.vethospitals.ufl.edu/hospital-services/surgery/ovariectomy/). Not only will these mares be given little recovery time, then they will be turned back out into the wild where it is likely that permanent estrus will result in them being bred by stallions, over and over again. We shouldn’t have to further explain why this is so extremely dangerous for these mares. The physical damage they could suffer both during and after this procedure is likely to be so dangerous, and lethal in many cases. Also, the social disruption of mares in constant heat will result in increased activity levels by the entire herd and would increase the risk for injury to adults and to foals.

If private practice veterinarians feel uncomfortable performing this procedure on domestic mares in sterile conditions with substantial post-operative supervision, we cannot fathom how the BLM could contemplate putting these mares through the agony of this procedure, particularly in a non-sterile environment. In a wild setting the procedure will be in an even less sterile environment with little to no postoperative observation and no protection from repeated stallion breeding. Wild horses should not be used as guinea pigs. This practice will endanger the mares without adequate resources to care for them postoperatively.

Experimentation on wild horse mares is not needed. What is needed is a commitment to use the safe, reversible fertility vaccine PZP or PZP-22 which is being used successfully in numerous HMAs lucky enough to have enlightened, caring, and forward-thinking BLM managers. The BLM has received offers of volunteer support to aid in developing the ongoing administration of fertility control programs in other wild horse areas but has more often than not ignored such offers of help. The most recent research shows that PZP-22 is now dartable and is very promising as a contraceptive with longer-term effects on wild mares. This kind of research should be the BLM’s focus, not the invasive experimental sterilization of wild mares that has been proven to be dangerous.

A U.S. District Court Judge has already struck down the approach of creating sterile herds of wild horses.

“The Defendants decision to manage the herd as entirely non-reproducing is arbitrary and capricious. The BLM failed to consider the impacts of maintaining the herd as nonreproducing and whether those impacts were consistent with the requirement that the herd maintain its free-roaming behavior.”
United States District Court for the District of Idaho, Case No. 1:16-cv-00001-EJL, Memorandum Order, Pg. 40.

Furthermore, professional veterinarians agree that mass experimental surgeries performed on wild mares amounts to negligence and abuse.

“Any veterinarian(s) who would perform these experiments is in violation of the oath taken as a graduating veterinarian, ‘above all else, do no harm.’ If a veterinarian in private practice performed these procedures in the manner described in this document they would most certainly be reported to and disciplined by the regulatory board of that state. Disciplined would likely mean suspension of that veterinarian’s license to practice in that state.”
Dr. Don Moore, Expert Equine Veterinarian

The Cloud Foundation strongly urges the BLM and all government agencies dealing with wild horses to abandon research plans involving sterilization of wild horses in an unsafe environment and immediately pursue sustainable, ethical, economic and humane methods which are already available and supported by the National Academies of Science.

If the BLM insists on proceeding with this misguided and inhumane experiment on ovariectomy via colpotomy, the BLM should at least provide the public with a meaningful opportunity to observe and document the experiment, and in particular should abandon the agency’s current arbitrary restriction on recording. Notably, this is not the first time that BLM has decided to experiment on ovariectomy via colpotomy and to restrict the public’s right to observe and document this government activity. In 2016, the BLM decided to undertake very similar experiments involving ovariectomy via colpotomy as well as two other surgical sterilization procedures. Because these experiments presented grave risks to wild horses, I worked with a coalition of wild horse advocates to request that the BLM provide an opportunity for the public to observe and document the experiment.  When the BLM denied two such requests and stated its intention to proceed with its inhumane experiments behind closed doors, I worked with the same coalition of wild horse advocates to file a lawsuit challenging BLM’s decision as an arbitrary abuse of the agency’s discretion and a violation of the constitutional rights of myself and others. In the face of these legal claims, the BLM abandoned the earlier experiments. I am attaching the declaration that I submitted in that legal proceeding to these comments, in which I explain the importance of public observation and documentation of these experiments.

Now, the BLM has decided to resurrect this ill-founded and inhumane experiment on ovariectomy via colpotomy.  And although the BLM is allowing limited public observation, the agency has decided to restrict the public from recording the procedures, or even carrying cameras or cell phones. This restriction is baseless and violates the public’s rights.  To begin with, there can be no doubt that just as was the case in 2016, determining whether the public finds these inhumane experiments acceptable must continue to be a critical aspect of BLM’s analysis of this procedure, and the best way to determine whether the public will accept this procedure is to provide the public with an open, transparent opportunity to observe and record what is actually happening to the horses. The BLM cannot be relied on to provide its own recordings, because those recordings will be sanitized in order to make the procedure seem more humane than it really is; unrestricted public recording is essential to an honest and open account of these procedures. 

Additionally, there is no reason to restrict recording. An observer carrying a cell phone or a camera is no more disruptive and poses no greater risk than an observer without such equipment. Nor would recordings necessarily jeopardize any interests in privacy that BLM officials or those performing the experiments may have; observers could easily agree to blur faces, obscure voices, or redact other identifying information from recordings—and observers from the Cloud Foundation would certainly agree to do so. Although BLM attempts to pass the buck to CSU by stating that the restriction on recording is based on CSU’s policies, those policies do not provide any legitimate basis for the BLM to restrict the public’s right to document this important government activity.

I have no doubt that the BLM’s true reason for restricting recording is that it does not want the public to be able to disseminate accurate video evidence of how ghastly and inhumane a procedure ovariectomy via colpotomy truly is. However, the agency’s desire to shield its decisions from meaningful public oversight is not a rational or legitimate basis for a restriction on the public’s right to observe its own government agency in action.

Because the BLM’s restriction on observation and documentation of this brutal experiment has no legitimate basis and infringes on the public’s rights, I request that the agency abandon this restriction.

Please feel free to contact us if you have questions or wish to discuss our comments. We are always open to partnering with BLM personnel who want to manage our wild horse herds on the range.

Sincerely,

Ginger Kathrens
Executive Director, The Cloud Foundation

Kayah Swanson