Horse tales

A nonprofit group has resumed its wild horse fertility control program in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management nearly two years after it was shut down by a lawsuit filed against the Environmental Protection Agency by the animal rights advocacy group Friends of Animals, which cited concerns over the safety of the birth control drug used in the program.

Pine Nut Wild Horse Advocates began administering Porcine Zona Pellucida vaccine (PZP)—a chemical birth control made from a protein found in pig ovaries—to wild mares in the mountains east of Minden in 2012. It’s given through a dart and, according to several scientific studies, can be up to 90 percent effective. In 2014, a pilot program to control the population of wild horses near the Pine Nut Mountains was officially established with the blessing of the Wild Horse and Burro Program’s Nevada office. It was shut down in 2016 amid fears of a lawsuit, which manifested in 2017.

The lawsuit remains unresolved, but the BLM in Nevada has completed its review process and green-lighted the Pine Nut Wild Horse Advocates’ program to resume. But, according to the group’s president, Deb Walker, the two-year hiatus in the darting program has come at a steep cost.

“They gave us the go-ahead on Jan. 5 to start darting,” she said. “So we’ve already darted almost half of our mares that are eligible.”

Soon, Walker said, they’ll start darting mares that would normally be considered too young to be eligible.

“Because of roundups and the drop in the numbers, the horses are compensatory breeding, and they’re breeding younger mares, which is really sad in so many ways—especially for the mare and the foal, because they’re so young,” she said.

The number of horses in the area where the Pine Nut group runs its program has actually increased in the last few years. The BLM completed an aerial survey and estimated the horse population at 57. Walker said that’s 17 more horses than were in the area when her group’s pilot program was first initiated. Now, she fears that the BLM—which estimated the number of horses that area can support at a much smaller number—will round some of them up.

“We’re still working with the BLM,” Walker said. “We’re going ahead with our darting program as if they’re going to leave all of the horses out here. When we met with them, it looked like they wouldn’t start taking horses until maybe late summer or fall.”

Walker said the population increase would have been greater had it not been for predators in the area killing 18 foals during the last year. She said she blames Friends of Animals for any horses that may be rounded up from her area in the future.

“The groups that call themselves animal activists, that stopped our program—not only once, but twice—are pretty much the reason we’ve had births that we wouldn’t have had,” Walker said. “And, so, the horses that they’ll take, you know, what they call excess horses, that they will take, are a direct result of our program being stopped. … It’s very sad, and our area is not the only one. There are several horses that will lose their freedom because the PZP fertility control program was stopped.”