Nevada model could reform federal wild horse and burro program

This humane fertility control program could shape the future of wild horse conservation

RENO, Nev., Nov. 6, 2023 — Today, the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) released the results of its fourth annual report for the Virginia Range Horse Fertility Control Program, conducted just outside Reno, Nevada, in partnership with the Nevada Department of Agriculture.

American Wild Horse Campaign

The year four data, May 2022 through April 2023, establishes that the Virginia Range Horse Fertility Control Program continues to achieve its goal of vaccinating 80 percent of the mares in the Virginia Range, a critical threshold for population stabilization and reduction. As a result, there’s been a 66 percent reduction in the foaling rate (January-June 2023) compared to the same period in 2020 within this historic wild mustang herd. The combination of fertility control and natural population regulation, especially predation, is resulting in a population reduction within areas of the range where darting is permitted.

Cost-effective, humane alternative

The data comes as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) ramps up winter helicopter roundups of wild horses even though this method is considered by many to be inhumane and is more costly to the American taxpayer than investments in fertility control. In recent weeks, two stallions died under tragic circumstances while under the BLM’s management in Nevada. 

“The report underscores that wild horse herds can be responsibly controlled at scale through scientifically proven fertility control vaccines. Utilizing an immunocontraceptive vaccine delivered remotely by darting mares is a far safer and more cost-effective, humane alternative to taxpayer-funded helicopter roundups,” said Nevada State Director Tracy Wilson.

The results of this study coincide with Congress changing its direction and instructing the BLM to prioritize the use of fertility control. Over the past two fiscal years, Congress has directed the agency to utilize up to $11 million for fertility control measures. “We hope this compelling data will further encourage Congress and state lawmakers to make inhumane helicopter roundups a thing of the past,” said AWHC Executive Director Suzanne Roy.

Widespread community support

The Virginia Range Program offers a humane alternative to removals for population reduction that have been necessitated by rapid habitat loss from commercial and residential development in the greater Reno area, where the horses live. This approach is implemented at no cost to Nevada taxpayers and enjoys widespread community support in stark contrast to the controversies surrounding wild horse helicopter removals. Recent BLM roundups have increased public scrutiny on the use of helicopters.

The Virginia Range data is the basis of a soon-to-be-released peer review scientific study through a collaboration with the University of Pretoria, South Africa, one of the largest research universities on the continent. The findings were also presented at 2023 International Symposium on Equine Reproduction, a scientific meeting intended to bring together the world’s top veterinarians, reproductive biologists and trainees working in equine reproduction in Brazil.

Over half a century ago, the Virginia Range wild mustangs inspired the successful campaign of Velma Johnston, known as “Wild Horse Annie,” to protect wild horses in the American West. Despite being excluded from the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act due to their primarily non-federal habitat, these resilient mustangs have endured in the Virginia Range. Now, they’re pioneering a modern, science-based approach to wild horse protection for wild horses even those living on federal land.

“Our latest findings can help reshape the future of wild horse conservation. Through science, collaboration, and community engagement, this initiative demonstrates that there is a better way to manage wild horses and preserve their beauty and freedom for future generations,” said Roy.

About the American Wild Horse Campaign

The American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) is the nation’s leading wild horse protection organization, with more than 700,000 supporters and followers nationwide. AWHC is dedicated to preserving the American wild horse and burros in viable, free-roaming herds for generations to come as part of our national heritage.




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