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With the estimated 38,400 wild horses reproducing faster than the BLM can remove them, the BLM is looking to quadruple the use of another option it’s been using since 2004: the fertility control drug PZP. A horse sperm has proteins that fit protein receptors on a horse egg. PZP is made up of sperm proteins, but from a pig. Once the vaccine is injected into a horse the horse’s body will create antibodies, which will attack the pig protein, said Jay Kirkpatrick, director of the Science and Conservation Center at ZooMontana in Billings, Montana. Those same antibodies will attach to the sperm receptors on the horse egg and cause them to change so they can no longer receive the proteins from the horse sperm. The Science and Conservation center is one of the largest producers and distributors of the PZP vaccine. After the mares are injected with the $24 PZP pellet they become infertile for 22 months, but in order to apply the fertility drug, the horses still have to be corralled by a helicopter.

BLM Hopes to Increase Wild Horse Birth Control

The iconic image of the western cowboy riding through the range and rounding up wild horses with nothing but his lasso and trusty steed is a far cry from how the 21st century Bureau of Land Management rounds up the horses on its land in the Intermountain West. Today, the BLM cowboys are helicopter pilots herding animals into a holding area.

“It’s kind of like a bee that hovers over the animals and herds them in to a trap,” said Tom Gorey, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Land Management. “And it’s really the most way humane and efficient way.”

But after the helicopter gathers the horses, the animals either have to be adopted or sent to a long-term range in the Midwest—the BLM doesn’t destroy the animals—and this process can be expensive, up to 60 percent of the Wild Horse and Burro Program’s $63.9 million budget for fiscal year 2010, Gorey said.

With the estimated 38,400 wild horses reproducing faster than the BLM can remove them, the BLM is looking to quadruple the use of another option it’s been using since 2004: the fertility control drug PZP.

A horse sperm has proteins that fit protein receptors on a horse egg. PZP is made up of sperm proteins, but from a pig. Once the vaccine is injected into a horse the horse’s body will create antibodies, which will attack the pig protein, said Jay Kirkpatrick, director of the Science and Conservation Center at ZooMontana in Billings, Montana. Those same antibodies will attach to the sperm receptors on the horse egg and cause them to change so they can no longer receive the proteins from the horse sperm. The Science and Conservation center is one of the largest producers and distributors of the PZP vaccine.

After the mares are injected with the $24 PZP pellet they become infertile for 22 months, but in order to apply the fertility drug, the horses still have to be corralled by a helicopter.

“PZP is effective up to a point,” Gorey said. “But the big problem for us is the horses are scattered across 30 million acres and it’s a hard job herding horses and applying it and releasing them.”

Use of the drug may reduce the frequency of gathering horses, “in theory,” said Gorey.

“Ordinarily we gather every four years, if [PZP] were working it might allow us to stretch the amount of time between gathers.”

Since the inception of the program, the BLM has been treating about 500 horses per year with PZP and they’re currently looking to expand the program to include 2,000 animals a year. But for the program to go further, the BLM must wait for recommendations from the National Academy of Science, which aren’t expected to be complete until 2013, Gorey said.

Addressing the reproductive problem is the only real answer to the wild horse population issue, Kirkpatrick said.

“The problem is reproduction, you can remove horses until the cows come home,” Kirkpatrick said. “But they’re reproducing and you’re going to do this forever.”

Until the fertility control program can be perfected, the BLM will still have to rely on its current gather system.

“The more we can rely on fertility control the better because more horses can stay on the range,” Gorey said. “But there are challenges associated with applying the drug.” The BLM’s optimal wild horse population is 26,600, making the current level 12,000 animals over. “For the immediate future gathers will be necessary,” Gorey said.

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9 comments

  1. “The problem is reproduction, you can remove horses until the cows come home,” Kirkpatrick said. “But they’re reproducing and you’re going to do this forever.”

    ————————–

    If rounding up and removing horses is not the answer, how is rounding up horses to be injected with the drug any more effective?

  2. Well, its interesting that after removing over 10,000 horses in the last year, Tom Gorey is still citing the 38,000 number which was based on the estimated number at the beginning of 2010. Either the Salazar initiative of mass removals to lower the wild horse numbers is a failure, the BLM doesn’t have a clue to how many horses are on the range, or they are determined to give out wrong information to justify more removals.

    To the rest of you two who commented, the idea is NOT to stop the horses from reproducing, it’s to make them reproduce at a lower rate so the herd populations don’t increase as fast and ensure that so many don’t end up in long term holding.

    And to Gorey, the PZP vaccine is available now. Why are you stuck in solutions and patterns of the past when a preferable solution is available? Your holding pens are already overcrowded, staff is overworked and horses are treated like cattle. Yet, you continue to insist that removals are needed and use “old numbers” to try to make your case.

  3. L Griffith, whether horses are removed or vaccinated with PZP, the first step is capture. IF they cannot capture enough horses for removal to be effective, how is it they can capture enough horses for vaccination to be effective?

    This seems more like a “make work” effort that must be repeated rather than a solution to a problem. Can’t a health population of wolves solve this more cheaply?

  4. Craig, I guess you didn’t get my sarcasm. The BLM should be using numbers based on their own modeling formula which should have been updated at the end of February. You should ask Gorey why he is using last year’s numbers. I can only guess.

    And removals are effective but not the most cost effective and humane. Fertility control is available and proven so why the BLM insists on archaic roundups and removals is beyond me, unless too many people profit from the cycle of roundup and removal to stop.

    And Wyoming only has an estimated 3,000 wild horses on public lands. How man cattle and sheep on the same HMAs? Probably many, many more.

  5. Todd, I have a better question for you? How much does it cost to let those cattle, etc. graze on public lands? The livestock grazing program costs FAR More than the WH&Burro;program. The GAO reported costs of nearly 150 million to maintain the range for livestock in 2005 and the real costs are probably far higher.

    You could take every last head of livestock off the public range tomorrow and it wouldn’t make a dent in the price of beef at the supermarket. Not only that, it would save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars per year. The welfare ranchers in this country should be grateful to pay well below market value for their grazing rights and for a federally subsidized program that removes predators, weeds and other pests. Instead they want the land groomed at government expense so they can make the most profit.

    Honestly, I don’t begrudge them making a living, what I don’t like is their general unwillingness to share the public lands. Instead of being grateful to be on the public dole and enjoy the live they chose, they seem to want more and more .. for every coyote, wolf and horse to be dead or removed. If they were willing to “play better with others” than I would not mind them making their living on public lands at my (and your) expense.

    At the end of the recently concluded Antelope roundup, while horses were being removed, nearly 300 head of cattle were moved onto the range. So, taxpayers pay three times. Once to have the horses removed to make way for the cattle, again to maintain the land for livestock and again at the grocery store when they buy that beef.

  6. In the Antelope HMA, the grazing season is from November 1st to May 15th. That’s not a just few weeks. In nearly every roundup this year where pictures or video has been taken, no matter what the season, there are cattle,cattle ..and more cattle grazing or hanging around water supplies while horses are being removed. Livestock often outnumber the horses on public lands by ten or more to one.

    I don’t buy your logic at all, but if you were correct there would be no reason to remove horses either, especially since there are, (using the BLM’s old numbers), less than 40,000 of them spread across nearly 30 million acres of public land.

  7. I don’t understand why this is an issue of how many should be on the land. Horses are a non-native species. They should be removed from the natural landscape. They are destroying the mule deer habitat in northern newmexico. Could somebody please explain to me why there place in the nature is so important.

  8. My God, talk about disnified, 64 million dollars YEARLY budget!!!!!!! That’s 853 well paid teachers which could be added to the payroll. It’s the cost of a huge brand new high school paid in full every year! That’s 138 brand new high end fire trucks each year. or 921 new firemen added to the payroll. or 12.7 brand new highway overpass or 64 miles of brand spanking new highway! WOW! Who the hell is running this country the Depletors of wildlife!

  9. Peggy, This animal will cost the US taxpayer 75 million dollars this year! People like you that wear their heart out on their sleeve are the very people that need to be held accountable! You’re no different than the animal hoarder that takes on 20 dogs they cannot handle. Our society needs to step up to you and your bleeding heart bullying and make you pay! Sending unwanted and menacing horses to the slaughter house for dog food and glue is a social solution! It grinds me that they passed a federal law on sending horses to slaughter knowing that it was going to be a tax burden without holding your ilk accountable for at least part of the bill!

    I for one would rather that 75 million (YEARLY) be spent on relief for African drought victims, local relief for drought victims in the central south US or paying down the national debt! Overpopulated menacing wild horses are nowhere to be found on my list to be paid for by the US taxpayer! I have written my Congressman & Senators asking them to set up a fund that your ilk can contribute too as to allow you to save these animals. If there is no money in the fund we do not let them become a burden on the taxpayer which includes slaughter! This will only get worse & I encourage others to write there congressman/senators also!