Views differ on how best to manage Oregon’s wild horses

By Rolando Hernandez (OPB)
Aug. 10, 2022 12 p.m. Updated: Aug. 10, 2022 6:54 p.m.
Cruiser flees Arrow's aggression by running right towards observers who witness a moment rarely seen by humans.

An OPB file photo of wild horses in Oregon. As the Bureau of Land Management considers how to control wild horse populations, some advocates say agencies are putting livestock and fossil fuels ahead of protecting these animals.

Vince Patton / OPB

Oregon is home to about 4,500 wild horses, but according to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management the state can only sustain about 2,700.


The federal agency has proposed testing three methods of contraception on the animals. But some advocates are questioning the agency’s priorities.

According to Rob Sharp, the supervisory wild horse and burro specialist for the BLM Burns District, the proposed methods would last longer and cut back on some of the work BLM staff do now when horses need to be treated again.

Two of the contraceptives are vaccines and one is an intrauterine device. The agency already administers one immunocontraceptive, but it only lasts up to two years.


“Less human work as well as less impact on horses themselves,” he said. “The longer we can space that timeframe out, the less stressful it is for the animal.”

But Gayle Hunt, the president and founder of the Central Oregon Wild Horse Coalition, says it’s time to reassess how agencies interpret and implement the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971.

Advocates argue that livestock and extraction industries, such as oil and gas, have taken priority ahead of the wild horses and burros — or small donkeys — the law was created to protect.

“There are a lot of people wanting a piece of the public lands that the horses and burros are allocated under this act,” Hunt said.

Hunt added that she is not against fertility control or removal of wild horses, but opposes the agency’s overall management strategy to control their population on nearly 27 million acres in 10 Western states.

The Bureau of Land Management is accepting public comment on the contraceptive methods it has proposed for use on wild mares until Aug. 22.

Sharp and Hunt discussed wild horses in Oregon on OPB’s “Think Out Loud.” Listen to the full conversation here: