Frustrated with the inability of federal land managers to control wild horse overpopulation, this past week Gov. Brian Sandoval put out a press release saying he plans to pursue legal action to force the federal agencies to fund wild horse population control.
The statement said the Bureau of Land Management is already telling ranchers they will face a reduction or even elimination of some grazing permits due to the overpopulation, a major economic impact for the state.
“The BLM has underfunded the wild horse program for years and as a result, the livelihood of our local economies is now being threatened. For too long, Nevada has been forced to compensate for the federal government’s inability to manage these growing populations without the appropriate resources,” the governor said. “If the Department of the Interior refuses to adequately fund this program, the State will pursue all legal options to protect our local producers and communities.”
In response, Attorney General Adam Laxalt, whose office would be tasked to handle such litigation, sent out a statement saying, “I remain committed to defending our state, counties and local economies from actions by the federal government that endanger our future.”
The governor notes that the problem is particularly severe in southeast Elko County, where there are more than 5,000 wild horses — 350 percent more than the range can sustain. There are about 28,000 wild horses in all of Nevada and a total of 47,000 across the West.
Jim Barbee, director of the Nevada Department of Agriculture was quoted as saying, “Livestock producers could see anywhere from 25 to 100 percent grazing reductions on their allotments. Elko County could see an estimated $1.8 million loss as a result of the decision, negatively impacting jobs and the economy on a local and state level.”
Congressman Mark Amodei said he was told Washington has not funded any horse roundups in Nevada this year.
“It’s irresponsible that the BLM has known about the horse numbers, and instead of taking action to alleviate the problem, the agency waited until ranchers are about to turn out their cows to make an announcement — leaving them with no time to find alternatives,” Amodei said.
BLM officials have said they don’t have the budget to roundup wild horses this year because it spends $40 million a year caring for those it already has captured.
On Monday The Associated Press reported that BLM Nevada Director John Ruhs has asked Washington for $4 million to roundup 4,000 wild horses in Elko County.
Even though the wild horse law passed in 1971 specifically states, “The Secretary (of Interior) shall cause additional excess wild free roaming horses and burros for which an adoption demand by qualified individuals does not exist to be destroyed in the most humane and cost efficient manner possible,” congressional appropriations since 2009 have stipulated no funds are to be used “for the destruction of healthy, unadopted, wild horses and burros …”
Since wild horses are an invasive species with few natural predators, perhaps Nevada should take a page from Louisiana’s playbook.
When the swamps were being overrun by non-native nutria — basically giant 20-pound rats — they came up with the idea that they could reduce the population and make a few bucks, too, by convincing Yankees that nutria is a culinary delicacy. They figured if they could convince people to eat crawfish, basically mudbugs, why not giant rats?
Nevada could use the slogan: “Don’t say, ‘Nay,’ to the other red meat.”
OK, we’re being facetious, but Congress, the federal land bureaucrats and the horse huggers need to stop treating feral horses like hooved deities.
Yes, these majestic creatures are an integral part of our Western heritage and should be protected. But by letting them breed to such excessive numbers, they are starving and fighting each other for the dwindling supply of food and water, which is hardly humane.
Nor is it conducive to environmental or economic balance. Not only does overpopulation reduce grazing allotments, but it damages the habit of truly native species such as a greater sage grouse, deer and elk.
“I think the BLM needs to do their job. …” Sen. Dean Heller said. “The issue is this, we’re either going to have wild horses in Nevada, which I don’t have a problem with wild horses as long as the herd is managed; or if they’re not going to manage it, then we’re not going to have elk, deer, antelope or for that matter cattle in our state.”
Thomas Mitchell is a longtime Nevada newspaper columnist. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He also blogs at http://4thst8.wordpress.com/.