By Matt Whittaker / NewsBreak
(Cañon City, Colo.) The Bureau of Land Management is considering longer-lasting birth control to manage wild horse populations on public lands in Colorado and elsewhere after dozens of the animals died in post-roundup captivity in Cannon City.
The bureau said this week it seeks public comment on three proposed research projects into fertility control methods that could work better than current short-lasting treatments that require multiple doses.
“Developing humane, safe, effective and long-lasting fertility control methods for wild horses is a top priority for the BLM,” said David Jenkins, assistant director for resources and planning with the bureau.
Meanwhile, a wild horse roundup is in progress in a BLM herd management area in northwest Colorado. As of Thursday, the bureau had gathered 512 wild horses and treated none of them with birth control. Two horses have died of what the bureau says were pre-existing chronic conditions.
Before the roundup, the bureau estimated there were 1,385 wild horses in that area, where it wants just 135 to 235.
As of March, there were about 82,000 wild horses and burros roaming public lands, a figure the bureau said is more than three times the appropriate herd size. That number could double in four years without intervention.
“An overpopulation of wild horses can degrade important ecosystems and lead to starvation and/or dehydration,” the bureau said.
Critics of the BLM’s horse management policies say the bureau favors cattle ranchers over the wild horses and burros that graze on the same land as cattle.
To limit population growth, the bureau is considering two proposed research projects that would study the effectiveness of vaccines for preventing pregnancies and another that would test equine intrauterine devices.
The proposed studies come as Colorado’s BLM office faces criticism for its roundups and care of wild horses after more than 140 died of pneumonia in its Canon City corrals in April and May.
The American Wild Horse Campaign called for an emergency halt to all federal wild horse and burro roundups. The group says the BLM should use horse birth control instead of roundups and holding facilities.
In January, the BLM said it planned to treat at least 2,300 wild horses and burros with fertility control – the largest number the bureau has ever treated that way in one year – and release them back onto public lands through the end of September.