VIRGINIA CITY -- A helicopter roundup of wild horses will go forward unencumbered by a Storey County ordinance.
District Judge Bill Maddox ruled Friday the state is not subject to the Storey County law banning helicopter roundups as too dangerous to horses.
Maddox, ruling that the state is technically not a "person" and so isn't subject to the law, said the county does not have the ability to regulate issues controlled by state law.
"Even if it were a person, it exceeds Storey County's authority to pass ordinances," he said. "The right to control is the right to prohibit. If it were up to the counties to decide, then Clark County could pass an ordinance against collecting horses when it was over 100 degrees. Douglas County could say you couldn't round up horses in the forest. It would frustrate the purpose of the Legislature."
Maddox denied a petition for an injunction and restraining order against the state to prevent the roundup planned for Lyon and Storey counties. State officials have not set a specific date.
Deputy District Attorney Sharon Claassen argued Storey County's case, saying the state made itself a person when it passed a law declaring its ownership of the horses.
"In the estray animal ordinance, the state is standing in the position of a person," she said. "They can't be both."
Director of Agriculture Paul Iverson, who was silent during the hearing, said later the horse gather will take place after a Bureau of Land Management pilot doing roundups in Southern Nevada is finished there.
"We may only get 50 or 60 horses. We only have two days to round up horses," he said.
Iverson said the latest count had 1,165 horses on a range that will support only 500 or 600.
"They couldn't count all the horses, so you know there are well over 1,200 horses out there," he said. "We're dealing with years of the idea of conservation as preservation. Well, we can't keep conserving and conserving without taking into account other factors."
About two-dozen wild horse advocates packed the Storey County courtroom where Maddox heard the case.
One television crew taped Maddox's ruling.
During arguments, Deputy Attorney General Gina Session pointed out state law on cruelty to animals exempts established practices of animal husbandry, which she said includes using a helicopter to round up horses.