BLM, wild horse advocates discuss horse birth control program Thursday in Gardnerville

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GARDNERVILLE (KOLO)-- The Bureau of Land Management and two wild horse advocacy groups meet Thursday in Gardnerville to review efforts to control a wild horse herd at the south of the Pine Nut range through birth control.

There are about 40 to 60 horses in the Fish Springs Wild Horse Pilot Program. This program and a similar program in the Virginia Range uses darts fired from a carbon dioxide-powered rifle to inject mares with the vaccine PZP, which prevents them from getting pregnant.

The first Fish Springs horses were darted in April 2014, the BLM said, so it is too soon for the BLM to assess its effectiveness.

“We are already seeing a difference of the amount of foals out there,” said Sheila Schwadel, president of the Pine Nut Wild Horse Advocates.

Her group and the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign came together to form a partnership with the BLM after the BLM proposed removing the horses from the Fish Springs area. Horses began going onto people's property and walking on roads.

“We're working to help find alternative for the wild horses rather than just rounding them up,” Schwadel said.

About 20 Fish Springs mares have been inoculated.

That partnership with the BLM is one of the things that will be discussed on Thursday.

In addition to the program in the Virginia Range, there are about 10 to 20 similar programs nationally, said Deniz Bolbol, programs director for the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign. That includes some American Indian tribes.

Using the vaccine PZP does not change a horse's personality like surgical choices, Bolbol said.

“Basically, you'll have just a bunch of pasture horses if they start spaying and gelding wild horses,” Bolbol said.

And it is also reversible. Horses kept from breeding one year can be allowed to breed other years.

“It's successful when you administer it to the majority of the females,” Bolbol said. Targeting 80 percent to 85 percent will stop population growth and darting even more will cause a population decline through natural mortality, she said.

The BLM is managing 50,000 horses nationally but only gives the vaccine to about 400 horses a year, Bolbol said.

Deb Walker, vice president and community education director for the Pine Nut Wild Horse Advocates, is the person in charge of tracking which horses get inoculated.

She said they sneak up to 28 yards to 38 yards of the horses, dart a mare, collect the dart and leave. Each mare gets a primer and then gets a booster, then must be darted once a year after that.

Walker said she has worked with local photographers to make a database to help identify the horses, including recording markings on faces and legs, scars and which side the horses' manes fall.
Like others, Walker hopes for a big turnout on Thursday.

“The BLM has worked with us in partnership and the more people who come out, the more they will see that there are people who want these horses to remain on the range,” Walker said.