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Utah BLM tries contraception to rein in wild horse population 

wild horses

From: The Salt Lake Tribune
By: Kristen Moulten

Federal agency has seen early success in its efforts with Tooele County herds.

wild horses

Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune

Simpson Mountains » A herd of wild horses grazes amid sagebrush and knee-high clumps of grass along the path Pony Express riders rode through southern Tooele County.

Foals lie beneath their mothers, stallions pester the mares and every little while, a quarrel erupts and studs rear up, slam their front hooves down and try to bite each other.

Accustomed to visitors with cameras, these 100 mustangs do not run when humans come near.

Their ease with interlopers makes this herd a perfect candidate for a kind of birth control that involves shooting the mares in the rump with a dart gun.

And that’s exactly what the Bureau of Land Management in Utah proposes to do next winter with the estimated 130 mares of the Onaqui herd, which ranges over 323 square miles between the Onaqui Mountains east of Dugway Proving Ground and the Simpson Mountains to the south of the Army base.

If approved after an environmental assessment, the fertility control effort will be the second one undertaken in the herd, which, like a sister herd 40 miles to the northwest in the Cedar Mountains, were vaccinated against pregnancy in the winter of 2012.

These efforts are important, even if they are a tiny piece of solving what has become a huge problem for the federal land agency: herds that double in size every four years.

Utah has 4,300 wild horses this year, double the number the BLM believes there should be on the range, says Gus Warr, who takes the lead on horses and burros for the BLM in Utah. “We could easily be at 5,000-plus animals next year,” he says.

The problem is mirrored in nine other Western states. Altogether, there are 49,000 wild horses and burros on ranges that should have less than 27,000, according to the BLM, which is charged with managing public land for recreation, resource development, wildlife and livestock as well as for horses.

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