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Bureau of Land Management (BLM) director Bob Abbey announced Feb. 24 that less mustangs will be removed from the range and more mustang mares will receive anti-fertility treatment under a new BLM management strategy plan.

The plan calls for the BLM to reduce the number of wild horses slated for removal during the next two years from 10,000 to 7,600, unless conditions such as drought or other emergencies require removing more animals. In addition, the BLM will treat more mares with the contraceptive porcine zona pellucida (PZP). Injected as a liquid or fed in pellet form to fertile mares aged 4 to 20 years, a single PZP vaccination renders treated mares infertile for 22 months.

Abbey said the plan will be put in place in advance of results from a National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council (NAS/NRC) review of the BLM’s wild horse and burro management operations.

The NAS/NRC is an independent, nonprofit group that advises government agencies on scientific issues. In August the BLM asked the NAS to review technical aspects of the program including science-based animal population estimation methods, annual herd growth rates, and population control measures, and to make recommendations for future wild horse and burro management techniques. That two-year review is expected to be complete in early 2013.

Abbey said the reforms respond to input from more than 9,000 public comments about the agency’s Wild Horse and Burro Program Strategy Document.

“We’ve taken a top-to-bottom look at the Wild Horse and Burro Program and have come to a straightforward conclusion,” Abbey said. “We need to move ahead with reforms that build on what is working and move away from what is not.”

Virginia Congressman Jim Moran, ranking member on the U.S. House’s Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, praised the plan. Moran was among lawmakers that helped pass an omnibus spending bill amendment that cut $2 million in future BLM funding in protest of current agency mustang management. That amendment along with the rest of the spending bill is now under Senate consideration.

“The modifications of the National Wild Horse and Burro Program announced by BLM represent first steps in a long-overdue overhaul of this program,” said Moran. “We cannot afford to wait any longer to make fundamental changes.”

Meanwhile, wild horse advocates have split opinions about Abbey’s plan.

According to a report on The Horse, Jerry Finch, president of Habitat for Horses, labeled the plan as purely political.

“Bob Abbey’s concept of a ‘kinder, more gentle’ approach is nothing more than … a politician trying to placate the general masses while continuing the insanity of destroying our wild horses,” Finch said. But Bonnie Matton, president of the Wild Horse Preservation League, said smaller gathers will reduce stress on wild horses. She also supports wider PZP use to manage herd growth.

“I don’t know why the BLM hasn’t done it sooner,” Matton said.

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