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Wild-horse roundups kick up questions about handling herds

August 10, 2019
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FILE - In this Jan. 13, 2010, file photo, two young wild horses play while grazing in Reno, Nev. Wild horses throughout Nevada are being rounded up during the summer of 2019 by federal land managers who say they're preserving land and protecting herds while water and food sources become scarce. But some wild horse advocates want to do away with roundups, saying they waste resources and harm the horses. (Andy Barron/The Reno Gazette-Journal via AP, File)
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FILE - In this Jan. 13, 2010, file photo, two young wild horses play while grazing in Reno, Nev. Wild horses throughout Nevada are being rounded up during the summer of 2019 by federal land managers who say they're preserving land and protecting herds while water and food sources become scarce. But some wild horse advocates want to do away with roundups, saying they waste resources and harm the horses. (Andy Barron/The Reno Gazette-Journal via AP, File)

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Wild horses are being rounded up throughout Nevada by federal land managers who say they are preserving land and protecting herds while water and food sources become scarce.

“It’s horrifying to see animals starving on the range,” U.S. Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Jenny Lesieutre told the Las Vegas Sun. “The logical and humane thing to do is to manage the population.”

But some wild horse advocates want to do away with roundups, saying they rely on faulty figures, waste resources and harm horses. They say the bureau already has 46,000 captured horses in taxpayer-funded corrals.

“The BLM’s ambiguous claims are simply wrong and are manipulative because they do not give pertinent data and put it in context,” said Deniz Bolbol of Pine Nut Wild Horse Advocates in Gardnerville.

The Sun reports the number of mustangs and mares in captivity nearly equals the estimated 48,300 on the range in Nevada, a state with more than half the U.S. wild horse and burro population.

The Bureau of Land Management says the range is well beyond its “Appropriate Management Level” capacity of just under 13,000.

Captured horses are placed in an adoptions and sales program that, since 1971, has handled more than 240,000 horses, according to the bureau. Those not placed for adoption are vaccinated against fertility for about a year and released. Others are sold or held in off-range corrals.

In fiscal 2017, the bureau spent almost 60% of its $81 million budget on the care of animals removed from public lands, and a 2018 bureau report to Congress put the cost of caring for one unadopted horse for its lifetime at nearly $48,000.

“The cost of caring for the 46,000 unadopted and unsold animals currently in holding will top $1 billion over their lifetimes,” the report said.

One 2013 study by the National Research Council called placing captured horses in long-term holding facilities economically unsustainable.

The Bureau of Land Management says that without emergency action like an operation that began July 29 to remove 225 horses from land west of Las Vegas, horses in the wild could die within weeks.

The Red Rock Herd Management Area — about 253 square miles (655 square kilometers) some 20 miles (32 kilometers) west of Las Vegas — can only handle 16 to 27 wild horses, the bureau says. Removal was being done with a bait-and-trap method, using water and food to lure horses into pens.

Advocates accuse land managers of ignoring the effect that ranch cattle have on public lands, exaggerating wild horse population figures and rigging management level numbers against horses.

Bolbol derides bureau capacity goals for horses and burros as “Artificial Management Levels” that are significantly lower than for domestic cattle.

Lesieutre, who owns five horses, said it would be irresponsible to keep more than she can handle. She said horses on open range eventually overgraze themselves into starvation.

“When they completely demolish a plant, 99% of the time its invasive weeds that come back, which have no protein,” she said. “So they fill their bellies with something that’s giving them zero nutritional value.”

The question of how to manage horse and burro populations and preserve rangelands prompted Congress to pass the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act in 1971.

The law requires the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and other agencies to survey and protect horse and burro populations.

It also allows agents to use helicopters to capture wild horses and burros — a practice that opponents call inhumane. They say it incites panic among horse bands, separates mares from foals and runs some horses to death.

Neda DeMayo, founder and president of the Return to Freedom horse advocacy group, has been pushing for birth control as a feasible population control solution for more than a decade.

Last spring, the group joined with rangeland stakeholders, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society Legislative Fund to ask Congress to pass a measure calling for humane, non-lethal horse population management.

DeMayo said the proposal accepts that roundups will occur, but proposes that land managers implement controls to slow population growth. It would also prohibit euthanizing healthy horses and burros.

Bolbol wants roundups stopped and population management through fertility control alone.

Lesieutre said the bureau has to follow what Congress says.

“We do the best we possibly can,” she said. “At the end of the day, it’s in Congress’ hands.”

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Information from: Las Vegas Sun, http://www.lasvegassun.com

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