Colorado’s General Assembly recently passed the Wild Horse Project, which directs state funds to supplement current fertility control vaccine efforts and improve darting programs for greater effectiveness in managing population growth among wild horse herds. 

An article in the Colorado Sun, however, characterized fertility control darting as “far less efficient at maintaining population control than a (Bureau of Land Management) helicopter roundup, which can corral hundreds of mustangs within a few days.”

The best, and proven, way to protect wild horses is through fertility control. The best way to keep wild horses free on public lands is through fertility control. In Broncos country, Coloradans know horses belong in the West. They also deserve far better than cruel captures by helicopters, to then be placed in cramped government holding facilities.

That’s why last summer, Coloradans responded in outcry to the fatal conditions at the Canon City government holding facility, where nearly 150 wild horses died due to a preventable equine flu. This contagion preceded a summer helicopter roundup season where pregnant mares and baby foals were brutally injured. These incidents were so graphic that Gov. Jared Polis asked the Bureau of Land Management — the federal agency responsible for off and on range management of wild horses on public lands — to halt the roundup.

Sadly, the bureau has been using helicopters to round up and remove horses for decades to reach an arbitrary population target. This method hasn’t worked and defies public opinion; the majority of Americans oppose rounding up and removing wild horses from public lands.

In the past two years alone, the bureau removed over 30,000 wild horses and burros from their habitat in the wild. The captured animals are taken to government-funded holding facilities; today there are nearly 60,000 wild horses and burros in those facilities.  

The removals cannot manage wild horse populations over the long run because every time a removal is conducted, the horses that remain on the range continue to breed. The population grows again, and yet another removal is conducted.

This year marks a decade since the National Academy of Sciences has called the bureau’s management approach “expensive and unproductive for the BLM and the public it serves.”

Far too often, helicopter removals lead to fatal injuries, including broken necks and legs. As flatout helicopter bans are unlikely due to a myriad of complex political issues, we know greater investments in fertility vaccines lessen the need for helicopter roundups. 

It’s clear the current model is not working, yet it costs taxpayers millions. The Bureau of Land Management spends about 70% of its Wild Horse and Burro Program budget on removing and holding wild horses. In Colorado’s Piceance Basin, the bureau wants to remove up to 500 horses, the cost of which could reach $24 million over the lifetime of the horses (the bureau’s own estimates place removing and holding a horse at $48,000.) 

Meanwhile, a lifetime of fertility control for a mare is $1,500 and fertility vaccines are more than 90% effective at preventing pregnancy. We operate the world’s largest fertility control program in the world and have the data to back it up. And unlike helicopter roundups, effective fertility control stabilizes the population, eliminating the need for removals altogether.

We applaud Gov. Polis, House Majority Leader Monica Duran, House Minority Leader Mike Lynch, and Sens. Joann Ginal and Perry Will for their bipartisan effort to bring together diverse interests in passing the Wild Horse Project.

☀ MORE IN OPINION

Colorado’s new approach also advocates for paid contractors to apply fertility control to mares, and our view is that the Colorado office of the Bureau of Land Management should do the same. Volunteer groups have historically taken on this task, and these groups should be applauded for their dedication and hard work, but they have been under-resourced by the bureau. The horses, lands, and taxpayers would benefit if the Colorado office of the bureau invested in paid employees to implement fertility control vaccines, working in partnership with volunteers.

In the West, where ranching and livestock communities often lock horns with competing interests like wild horse advocates, it was Colorado that brought those diverse interests together and is leading the nation in a new way to balance both viewpoints and ways of life. 

Let’s hope that with Colorado’s new state law, the Bureau of Land Management continues to lean into protecting horses via the approach we know keeps wild horses where they should be: in the wild. 


Suzanne Roy, of Davis, Calif., is executive director of the American Wild Horse Campaign.

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Suzanne Roy, of Davis, Calif., is executive director of the American Wild Horse Campaign.