Controversy is a given, and every year in eastern Nevada and across the west it couldn’t be more so in regards to the wild horse round-up dictated by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The BLM manages 83 wild horse and burro herd management areas on approximately 15.6 million acres in Nevada alone. The Nevada 2023 “Roundup” which began July 9th, has proven to be another controversial year. A judge has asked federal land managers to explain why they should be allowed to continue capturing more than 2,500 wild horses in northeastern Nevada. Roundup opponents say it is illegal, and has left 31 mustangs dead in 26 days. Wild Horse Education, https://wildhorseeducation.org, a nonprofit seeking to protect the horses, has sued the BLM and is seeking a court order to temporarily halt the roundup. U.S. Rep. for Nevada Dina Titus stated “Despite BLM’s directive to `humanely capture’ wild free-roaming horses and burros … the use of helicopters routinely creates frightening and deadly situations for horses as demonstrated in recent weeks. These horses have suffered through a host of tragic injuries, ranging from broken necks, broken legs, and even dehydration due to the oppressive triple digit heat.”
Advocates for wild horses and burros claim the BLM sets low population limits for wild horses and burros in order to maximize public lands to appease ranchers who don’t want horses competing with their livestock that graze for precious forage in the high desert. But, the most controversial tactics both past and present, are the inhumane ways that advocates say allow private contractors to remove the wild horses from their natural habitat…one of those being the use of helicopters that fly at low altitudes along with the “helicopter cowboys” who ride on their own horses to coerce and scare the herds into ready-made holding pens. That tactic alone causes death to some of the horses due to a number of variables. These private contractors receive $500-$800 per gathered horse. Scientific research shows that more humane and cost-effective alternatives exist to control equine populations, such as fertility controls. However, the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program currently spends less than one percent of its budget on fertility control.
In 2021, the BLM marked the 50th anniversary of the tax-payer-funded “Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act”, signed into law in 1971, where promoting roundups on public lands hail as beneficial not only to wild horses and burros, but to wildlife, public lands, and public interests. “By balancing the herd size with what the land can support, the agency aims to protect the habitat for other wildlife species including sage grouse, pronghorn antelope, mule deer, and elk” stated Gerald Dixon, the BLM’s Elko district manager.
Allen Eldridge who is a life-long resident of White Pine County, and comes from a generational ranching family states “My concerns are the feral horses. It’s a problem that not only exists with ranchers, but with wildlife, and everyone that uses rangelands. Nevada is unique in a few ways. First being it’s the driest state in America with drought cycles that last many years and are usually concurrent. The horses, when overpopulated, can be very destructive to the habitat when that habitat is at its most vulnerable state. Second, many of the water sources used by feral horses are owned by ranchers with permit-use for livestock. The springs, infrastructure, and other sources are destroyed by these horses during drought and at other times of the year when the water declines. This is when the horses have been found choked to death. The third, and most important, is that Nevada has the majority of feral horses, more so than any other state. This, coupled with severe drought, have left some of the rangelands all but wiped out, and we now see horses moving heavily to the Forest Service lands from the BLM lands. My feelings are tha, with a few more drought seasons, the mountains will be decimated. Many Nevadans, such as the outdoorsman and hunters, are becoming very vocal about the feral horse issue(s). They have seen the numbers drastically increase over the past few years all the while competing with wildlife, and the decline of certain wildlife numbers. I think most ranchers understand the hardships that the BLM faces when trying to maintain a healthy balance of horses, to roam free, while still managing all aspects of multiple-use lands. Most allotments are over-populated with the feral horses, and without the BLM gatherings, both the range and horses suffer. The Agency is caught in the middle of a highly charged debate between the advocates and people that use the public lands for hunting, ranching, mining, recreation, and natural resources. The State of Nevada manages the wildlife, BLM the horses, and the ranchers their livestock. This all takes place on the same multiple-use lands where the rancher acquired most of, if not all, the water from the state early in its history.”
This article covers just a shred where Nevada’s wild horse round-up(s) is concerned. There is a slew of info to be absorbed, and one can Google “2023 Nevada Wild Horse Round-up”, or blm.gov.whb for articles and discussion on this topic.