Letter to the editor: Oregon State University should focus more on ways to benefit lives of horses

Carlotte Roe

I am saddened that OSU, a pioneer in environmental sciences, would become involved in unethical, highly controversial experiments on protected wild horses. This issue has already brought unfavorable publicity to a great University. We can all do better.

The Daily Barometer’s April 18 article on Wild Horse Sterilization Research stated that “BLM first contacted OSU and the School of Veterinary Medicine and asked them to examine three potential sterilization methods as a third party researcher and determine which one is the most safe and effective, according to VP Clark.” BLM cannot pre-pick its research partners. OSU competed for and won a grant of its own design to participate in these experiments.

The proposed sterilization experiments would be performed on 225 wild mares and young fillies in a non-sterile outdoor pen without pre-operative or post-operative standard care . Invasive and highly risky surgeries using “inferior” veterinary methodologies would be performed on these already highly stressed animals. Many will die, according to the BLM’s own estimates. The subjects of these brutish experiments, if they survive, would no longer be wild by nature.

The experiments violate the guidelines of AAALAC, which accredits OSU’s animal research activities. They would also violate the law. The Bureau of Land Management has no statutory authority to conduct invasive experimentation on protected wild horses.

Assistant Professor Dawn Sherwood asserted that wild horses are overpopulating, ruining the range and competing with other species. This is an old canard. Wild mustangs have long been accused of ruining the rangelands by commercial interests that treat federal lands as their private domain. Yet BLM statistics count 47,329 wild horses on federal lands totaling 31.6 million acres in 2015. On average, that amounts to 667.6 acres per horse — hardly an overpopulation. Dr. Gus Cothran, the leading U.S. specialist on equine genetics, maintains that the majority of BLM-managed wild horse herd areas are far below the population levels required for genetic viability.

Livestock outnumber wild horses and burros by at least 37 to 1 on federal lands. Cattle typically congregate around water holes; predator-wary wild horses drink and move on. Cattle and sheep, having no upper teeth, use their palates to rip the grass and often uproot forage. Equines’ teeth clip the grass down. Unlike cattle, horses do not digest grass seeds but distribute them like “seed farmers.” They coexist with livestock and with many wild species.

The Administration maintains that by simply observing and evaluating the proposed experiments, OSU will distance itself from the outcomes. Yet by enabling research that abuses protected animals, the University’s good name and the credibility of its students will be badly compromised.

There’s time for a reset: reject this bogus research, and instead examine ways to better the lives of wild horses and burros through humane management practices by perfecting reversible methods of fertility control and by improving the range ecology for all species.


Charlotte Roe

Berthoud, CO 80513

Was this article helpful?