Paul Steblein, Project Leader, (541) 947-3315
Amy Gaskill, Exterrnal Affairs, (503) 231-6874
Upcoming roundup will provide about 200 horses for adoption
On September 23, the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge will conduct a round-up of feral horses in an effort to maintain the population at 2007 levels until the refuge finishes work on its Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP), scheduled for completion in 2010.
The refuge intends to capture approximately 340 horses using a helicopter and horseback riders and make about 200 of the horses available for adoption. Because of the challenging adoption market for horses, only the most promising animals will be offered for adoption. The refuge is also beginning a management study to see if contraception will work to slow the increase in horse numbers. About 140 horses are expected to be released back on the refuge, with male horses receiving vasectomies. Stud horses are receiving vasectomies instead of castration so they still exhibit normal social behaviors but be sterile. If reproductive rates decline, fewer horse gathers will be needed. All animals in the round-up will be processed by expert staff and a veterinarian.
The approach of using horse gathers, adoption and exploring contraception were described in the Sheldon Refuge Horse and Burro Management Plan and Environmental Assessment, released in April 2008.
"Our horse and burro management plan has gone through a thorough scientific and public review and we're confident we can capture these animals in a humane way and put them in good homes or return them to the refuge," said Paul Steblein, Project Leader for the Sheldon-Hart National Wildlife Refuge Complex.
The area of Sheldon Refuge where the round-up will take place will be closed to the public for the two to three days of field operations for safety of public, staff, contractors and horses. Several sites will be designated for public viewing. Directions will be posted on Monday, September 22, at the refuge complex office in Lakeview, Oregon and at the Sheldon Refuge Headquarters on Virgin Valley Road.
Sheldon NWR was established in the 1930s to conserve pronghorn antelope and other native species. Since the 1990s, the population of feral horses and burros has been growing at a rate of 17 to 23 percent per year.
The refuge intends to stabilize the population at about 800 horses and 90 burros until it finishes work on its CCP, which will guide overall refuge management, including the Horse and Burro Management Program. An aerial survey conducted in July counted 1,148 horses and 161 burros.
Burros will be gathered over the winter by baiting them into corrals. The refuge is considering a partnership with a burro rescue group in California to ensure the burros are captured humanely and placed in good homes.
The refuge is contracting with Cattoor Livestock Roundup Company to conduct the horse round-up by helicopter. This company has conducted successful roundups for many years for the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management. Horses going to adoption will be handled through Carrs Wild Horse and Burro Adoption Center of Tennessee, one of the most trusted and accomplished adoption groups in the United States. Horses released for adoption will each be marked with a PIT tag, allowing identification of individual horses.
Carrs Adoption Center is already lining up prospective adopters, Steblein said. If people are interested in adopting horses, or groups are willing to help find good adoption homes, they should contact the refuge. All adoptees and adoption groups are screened to ensure they have good facilities, adequate knowledge of horses and will take necessary steps to ensure the animals are well-cared-for.
Future gathers will depend, in part, on the availability of homes for the horses. The limiting factor can be funding. The price for gathering, transporting and adoption is expected to be more than $2,500 per horse this year. Horses gathered, sterilized and released on the refuge cost $500 per horse. The total cost for this gather is estimated at about $570,000.
Over the past two years, the Service has also spent $200,000 to improve the refuge's corral facilities where the horses will be held until they are released to Carrs Ranch or returned to the refuge. Large pens have been reconfigured into smaller, safer pens to increase the efficiency of holding and sorting horses and to reduce risks of injury to animals and personnel. The ramp for loading and unloading horses has been rebuilt. A new barn has been built for hay storage. The Service also spent $300,000 to complete the remaining 20 miles of fence that surrounds the refuge and to repair the remainder of the perimeter fence. Additional improvements are scheduled in 2009 to enhance efficiency and safety in care and handling of horses.
Although the Service has conducted periodic gathering of horses and burros on the refuge since the 1940s, recent efforts have not kept pace with growth in the population, exacerbating competition between horses and burros and refuge wildlife, particularly in wetland and riparian areas. Maintaining the population of feral horses and burros at 2007 levels will preserve the status quo until completion of the refuge's CCP.
Additional information on the horse and burro management plan, adoption of horses and other information can be found on the Sheldon Refuge website: http://www.fws.gov/sheldonhartmtn/sheldon/horseburro.html
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