Statement by Neda DeMayo, President of Return to Freedom to
NAS Wild Horse and Burro Review Committee, October 27, 2011
I would like to thank the National Academy of Sciences for the opportunity to address the committee.
I have 3 main points I would like to make regarding the wild horse issue.
First, I am disappointed that one of the keystone issues will not even be addressed. That is, the horse as a reintroduced native wildlife species. This issue is central to any future management decisions and must be considered within the context of several areas for review as part of the scope of the committee’s deliberations.
This issue is central to the larger issue especially because the horses are already classified as wildlife under The Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burro Act. You cannot have it both ways. You cannot have a legal mandate that states that they are wildlife and then argue that they are not when it is convenient for special interest groups.
Especially troubling is the fact that, the committee itself is populated by members of an organization – The Wildlife Society – that has ignored due diligence in reviewing and considering the current scientific data on the issue of a native designation. I would like to reiterate that this issue is pivotal to the ability of this committee to complete its mandate within the study scope.
The sponsor of this study group, the Bureau of Land Management, has the ultimate say in determining the scope of the study. How and why can this topic of the biological nature of the horse, that this agency is supposed to manage wisely, not be central to the scope of the study when it is fundamental to many of the review topics?
I am not suggesting that you take my word on the issue of whether or not the horse is native or exotic, but to not even include one scientist with expertise in the latest collection of data addressing this issue casts a shadow over the credibility of the work that you shall do in the next year. It would appear as though, yet again, the agency is setting up the questions to get the answers they want to serve a predetermined agenda. This weakens the credibility of the National Academy of Sciences.
The issue of horses returning to their natural behavioral state has been documented by Feist (pr feast) and McCullough, and describes evolutionary conservation of behavior. That is, when they are returned to the wild, they go right back to fundamental social organizations and behavior.
Second, we have presented a proposal in 2010 which could be a formula to work with permittees throughout the western states where wild horses are designated to be protected and preserved. The proposal outlines a model that would implement a pilot program where ranchers who have grazing allotments within or near HAs and HMAs to work in alliance with NPOs and, Env org, federal agencies. Volun- tourism, eco-tourism and other educational programs would be utilized to develop and expand conservation programs to address Public Land restoration projects that would improve water sources for all wildlife including the wild horse populations.
The proposal includes the option for permitees to re-allocate some or all of their AUMs, currently used for livestock, to the wild horses on those areas. With a collaborative spirit, wildlife corridors and the use of Native PZP would be part of a minimally intrusive ‘on the range’ management program which, would slow down reproduction and save millions of tax dollars.
Third, while I am gratified that the subject of fertility control will be addressed, I am disturbed by the fact that two of the contraceptives with any indication of being considered, are not only those that have already been shown to have unacceptable side effects- but are being represented by a member of the committee who has been engaged in long-term research with these fertility control agents.
One, that blocks GnRH will have profound behavioral effects upon treated horses. This has been documented in a paper that uses a similar vaccine (Improvac).
This paper, BOTHA ET AL. 2008. WILDLIFE RESEARCH. 35:548-554. DEMONSTRATED THAT ESTRUS RELATED BEHAVIOR DISAPPEARED AFTER TREATMENT.
Another, which uses a long-acting form of PZP has already been shown to disrupt elements of the reproductive tract in mares, has been cited in at least three papers.
KILLIAN ET AL. 2008. WILDLIFE RESEARCH.35:531-539; KILLIAN ET AL. 2006. PROCEEDINGS OF THE VERTEBRATE PESTCONFERENCE 22:82-87; KILLIAN ET AL. 2006. PROCEEDINGS OF THE VERTEBRATE PEST CONFERENCE. 22:67-71
These papers stated that “spayvac-treated mares had high rates of uterine edema during all four years of the study”, these papers and their results constitute grave concern for wild horse advocates.
It is appropriate for this body to examine these approaches objectively, but it is not appropriate for someone who has been intimately involved in this research to be seated on this committee.
Dr. Thain has co-authored studies of gonacon and spayvac, on virginia range horses, including:
KILLIAN ET AL. 2008. WILDLIFE RESEARCH. 35:531-539
KILLIAN ET AL. 2004. PROCEEDINGS OF THE. VERTEBRATE PEST
CONFERENCE. 21:263-268, KILLIAN ET AL. 2006. PROCEEDINGS OF THE VERTEBRATE PEST CONFERENCE. 22:67-71.
A third fertility control agent, Native PZP, which has a 20+ year history of effectiveness and safety has no representation on this committee . Either all three contraceptives should have scientists who have conducted research with them on this body, or none should have representation on this committee. This again suggests a biased outcome.
I am no stranger to this issue. I have used the native PZP vaccine for more than 10 years to manage over 60 mares on our sanctuary, and in the course of discussions with other advocacy groups and agency personnel, I detect a clear bias away from the only approach that has yet proved successful in managing horses at the population level. Now I see this same bias here.