Justin Schatz is The Paper's daily news reporter. He has reported on New Mexico for KRQE News, Searchlight NM and the Santa Fe Reporter.

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Former Albuquerque Police Officer and founder of New Mexico Jeep Tours Roch Hart has turned his attention toward a new chapter in his business career: Wildlife Protection Management (WPM).

Hart manages a ranch in New Mexico that hosts a large population of wild horses and was inspired to start WPM after discovering how little technology there was to manage wildlife populations. “I didn’t mean to start a company. I manage a ranch in New Mexico that has rough terrain, about 20,000 acres, by myself; and I had a growing population of wild horses that I couldn’t get within 30 yards of. And I was trying to figure out a way to lower the population using birth control, because that is just the most humane way of doing it,” Hart said in an interview with The Paper. 

New Mexico is one of a few Western states that wild horses, relics of Spanish colonization, continue to roam. According to the WPM, an estimated 400,000 wild horses are roaming the West. Recent efforts to manage wild horse populations have been met with criticism from animal rights groups, who say that the roundups and adoptions are unnecessary or inhumane. Ranchers and conservationists have raised concerns about the recent population boom, which has led to land degradation and competition with livestock.

One criticism of federal roundups of wild horses are the exorbitant costs incurred. According to the Washington Post, the combination of roundups, housing and adoptions adds up to $50 million a year of taxpayer money. The one compromise between horse advocates, ranchers and conservationists has been providing contraceptives to horses—which is where WPM hopes to make a difference. WPM sees the current methods of wild horse management as superfluous.

According to their website, “It is widely agreed that contraception is the best way to manage horse or donkey and other feral or problem populations. Keeping populations under control helps to prevent the spread of diseases to humans, domestic animals and other species. The current brute force management of roundups or chasing horses around with single-shot dart guns has proven ineffective, expensive and inhumane. It costs the Bureau of Land Management anywhere between $1,000 to $3,000 per horse to capture, inoculate and ID. Then that horse must be found again, and the process happens all over again.”

When asked about the efficacy of this new approach, Roch said that current trials on his ranch have been successful and the program has already attracted the attention of federal entities and large private ranches.

“It’s brand new, and it is the most humane system in the world,” Roch said. “When you can implant an RFID chip and send a vaccine using the velocity of a squirt gun, it’s almost like having the vet right there doing the shot by hand.”

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Justin Schatz is The Paper's daily news reporter. He has reported on New Mexico for KRQE News, Searchlight NM and the Santa Fe Reporter.

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