Released on Feb. 14, the 47-page Heber Wild Horse Territory plan proposes managing herd growth by vaccinating wild mares with contraceptive porcine zona pellucida (PZP) and gelding wild stallions. The plan also calls for using removals to reduce the herd from its current population of approximately 250 horses to 50-104 animals.
As a result, some wild horse advocates believe the plan is more about decimating the Heber herd that it is about preserving it.
“Of course when they cull, they try to take the population down to the lowest number,” said Michele Anderson, of the Heber Wild Horses Freedom Preservation Alliance. “Even 104 horses is not a genetically viable population. We feel the draft proposal is a blatant attack on the Heber herd and a plan to manage them to extinction.”
Population control has long challenged government agencies and horse welfare groups charged with managing wild herds. Even so, Simone Netherlands, president of the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group (SRWHMG), believes population management programs applied to smaller wild herds can eliminate the need for removals altogether and provide blueprint strategies for herds of all sizes, including those managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
She said the Arizona-based nonprofit that monitors, studies, and protects the hundreds of Salt River wild horses that roam Arizona’s Tonto National Forest has successfully controlled herd growth by treating wild mares with PZP instead of removing horses from the range.
“In fact, we can show photographs of wild mares that had foals at their sides last year that have not become pregnant this year,” Netherlands said.
It’s a strategy officials can easily apply to other herds, she said.
“The truth is that if something works on small herds, it can work on larger ones,” Netherlands said. “It’s not easy, and it may take a larger number of experienced darters (to administer PZP successfully), but it will work.”
While the debate over herd growth continues, the public can view the proposed action plan to manage horses in the Heber Wild Horse Territory by visiting fs.usda.gov/project/?project=18916. To comment, visit fs.usda.gov/goto/asnf/HeberComments. Public comments are due by March 16, 2020.