As the National Wild Horse & Burro Advisory Board’s 2/25/08 meeting draws near, rumors have been flying that managing wild gelding herds is the hottest topic currently on the table.
A review of prior Advisory Board minutes has revealed that indeed, what to do with geldings has been of special interest in the past to both BLM and Advisory Board members with subjects ranging from lowering age limits of when to start castrating stallions, how to promote gelding adoptions, and costs associated with long-term holding.
It appears the subject of gelding herds first began when the Advisory Board asked BLM to look into “storing” geldings now in long-term holding facilities in vacant livestock grazing allotments because the Board was looking for ways to reduce holding costs.
It took BLM two years to get back to the Board with an answer they summed up in one sentence and I’ve summed up even further - not feasible. The BLM provided no explanation as to how or why they came up with this final answer, so it looks like we’re just going to have to take their word for it and trust their conclusions.
In the same breath BLM announced this was not an option, they smoothly switched the focus from moving current long-term holding geldings to presenting the Board with an “alternative” of managing wild gelding herds in the HMAs instead. In other words, BLM has determined it isn’t feasible to take geldings out of long-term holding but it may be feasible to return gelded stallions after the round ups back to the range.
The Las Vegas Field Office has already proposed doing this twice but so far hasn't followed through and top BLM officials have affirmed the Wild Free-Roaming Horse & Burro Act allows for sterilization and are confident wild gelding herds can withstand any legal challenge.
So here’s some food for thought…….
- What kind of effect will adding geldings have to the already controversial issue of genetically viable herds? If geldings will now be included in the maximum populations allowed, won’t this create the illusion that wild herds are more genetically viable than they really are?
For example, if a herd has an AML of 100 but BLM gelds 20 of the stallions and return them to the range, in actuality only 80 wild horses are now capable of breeding. When someone looks at the AML, unless they know that geldings have been included in that herd, they will think the herds are more genetically viable than they really are.
But then again, that’s the best-case scenario. When BLM rounds up wild horses and burros, they usually leave only 40% of what “high” AML is. So after BLM rounds up those same 100 wild horses, they would usually remove about 60 of them and leave 40. What happens if 20 of those are now geldings? Isn’t the breeding population now only 20? And what about horses too old or too young to breed in the 20 now left?
And once BLM begins gelding them, will they have to tell the public every time they geld more or only the first time? Will they start with a proposal that gelds 20 stallions but will more be gelded every time they do a round up? Will they be required to tell us “We plan on gelding 5 more? 10 more? 20 more? Or will they just do it based on their own best judgment?
- Will BLM be able to use gelding herds in conjunction with fertility control drugs on mares?
BLM has administered the experimental fertility control drug PZP to many of the wild horse herds over the last few years but has yet to publish much in terms of its effectiveness, impacts or side effects (if any). Should BLM be allowed to start gelding stallions before they are absolutely sure that PZP hasn’t harmed the reproductive capabilities of the herds?
- Will there be a minimum population established before BLM can even consider adding geldings or fertility control to the herds to keep them viable?
- Who will decide when and how many foals will be allowed? What rate of population growth are they aiming for?
These are just a few of the issues looming on the horizon……..
BLM has already written a draft paper on the subject and presented it to the Advisory Board titled “Options for Managing a Non Breeding Component Within Self-Sustaining Herds of Wild Horses” (July 2006).
Click Here to read excerpts from previous Advisory Board meetings regarding gelding management.SPECIAL FEATURE
American Herds will now feature a new section titled “Advisory Board” with links to BLMs website for easy access to the National Wild Horse & Burro Advisory Boards meeting minutes, recommendations, current Board members as well as now providing you the opportunity to post your Board submissions publicly. Check it out!