Post Cards From Nevada: Wild Horse Solution
Yesterday we laid out the problem of wild horse management in the state. It's an ugly debate that's put the Bureau of Land Management at the center, and it's something we heard a lot about in rural nevada -- what to do with wild horses?
The uproar over the wild horse issue caused the House to vote cut the BLM's budget by $2 million in February. That spurred the BLM into action - they released a 32-page document detailing proposed reforms to the wild horse and burro management program. But not everyone is happy with the changes.
"We've changed this range so we have to manage it. Let's just manage it intelligently," says wild horse trainer Willis Lamm.
And that's what the BLM hopes their new strategy to deal with wild horses will do.
Step one is to manage the horses still on the range.
The BLM says they can do that by increasing fertility control to slow down birth rates and they've already begun trial studies. "If we can slow down the number of horses that are being - that are coming into annual foal crop, then we'll be able to slow down the actual gather rate," says Dr. Boyd Spratling, DVM.
By artificially controlling sex ratios and herd sizes, the BLM estimates they would round up 2,400 fewer horses every year.
Wild horse advocates say the idea has merit but that the BLM's projections don't go far enough. "Even with their proposal for 2012, it's laughable really because they're only proposing fertility control for 2,000 mares and they're claiming there's about 33,000 horses on the range so it's minuscule. It's a token effort," says Deniz Bobol, wild horse advocate with the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign.
Step two would address the thousands of horses already taken off the range living in long-term holding facilities.
The BLM is accepting proposals for public-private wild horse eco-sanctuaries. It's an idea that could mean a new stream of tourist revenue for the state, as people would be able to come see the horses in their natural environment.
"See them in their natural habitat and their natural surrounding and it would be quite an educational opportunity for the public," says Bryan Fuell, BLM Field Manager for the Elko District.
This plan has attracted some big names like billionaire Madeline Pickens who has already purchased 550,000 acres in Elko County. And country singer Lacy Dalton is working on her own sanctuary plan for Storey County.
But others worry that eco-sanctuaries might not be viable in much of the state. "There are not a lot of areas that are going to be that accessible to the public and that's what, that's going to be the key is to being able to bring the public to the horses," cautions Dr. Spratling.
And step three would allow the public to help. "Adoption is a really important issue that's totally disregarded in the big picturem," says Lamm.
The BLM currently adopts out about 3,000 horses a year. They'd like to bring that up to about 4,000. "In a perfect world that rate of horses being pulled off the range will match the adoption demand by society," says Dr. Spratling.
Still, not all Nevadans are convinced by the BLM's reform plans. "It will have a negative impact on the health of the range and the health of the horses and that concerns us," says rancher and veterinarian Dr. J.J. Goicoechea.
Rural ranchers consider themselves an economic force in the state and they aim to protect that.
"In 2009, $200 million in livestock sales in the state of Nevada. We sure don't want to lose any of that in this recession so we're watching the Feds carefully right now as we go forward," says Dr. Goicoechea.
And wild horse advocates say they're cautiously optimistic of the BLM's reform proposal as well.
"We've heard about reforms in the past and the thing that I'm concerned about as well as a lot of other advocates is that what's being projected as reforms now continue and actually goes somewhere," says Lamm.
A story that seemingly has no end - at least not for now.
Wednesday night - a town that has fought off the end through a community effort to stay alive and prosper - Ely.