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Wild Horse Advocates Sue BLM Over Spay Procedures


The collection of pens at the Oregon BLM corrals near Burns have held from 600 to more than 1000 horses at a time in recent years.

The collection of pens at the Oregon BLM corrals near Burns have held from 600 to more than 1000 horses at a time in recent years.

Nick Fisher/OPB

An advocacy organization has announced it will sue the Bureau of Land Management over proposed spaying procedures for wild horses in eastern Oregon.

Feral horses and burros are protected under the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, but overpopulated herds can do a lot of environmental damage. This summer, wild horse managers decided to try spaying some of the wild mares. One of the procedures is an ovariectomy — or surgically removing a mares’ ovaries — which is performed on domestic horses regularly.

The other two procedures are tubal ligation, which consists of cutting fallopian tubes, or a laser ablation, which uses a laser to essentially dismantle the horse’s ovaries. There is no existing research about those two procedures performed on equines, according to the BLM.

“The proposed procedures are technically less invasive than a typical ‘spay’ in that they are designed to include only internal incisions or none at all, remove only the ovaries (not the uterus), or simply alter portions of the oviduct to prevent eggs from reaching the uterus,” the BLM said in an email to OPB.

A group called Front Range Equine Rescue believes that tubal ligation and laser ablation could be dangerous.

“It’s never been done before; it’s never been tested,” said attorney Bruce Wagman, who represents the nonprofit in the case. “What they are literally doing is performing research on live animals. And the reason it’s illegal is these live animals are special.” 

BLM officials couldn’t comment on the pending litigation. But officials did say the procedures will be conducted by experienced veterinarians. The agency also said that as of yet, there are no easy, affordable options for fertility control with wild horse populations.

Wild horse advocates would like the BLM to continue the practice of using a vaccine called porcine zona pellucida as a birth control method. But the BLM said the method is impractical because it has to be administered every 1–2 years to tens of thousands of feral horses.

The BLM’s plan calls for 225 mares in the test group to be sterilized at the horse corrals in Hines, Oregon, where they will remain unless they are adopted.

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