Helicopter gather slated for wild horses in Virginia Range

Between 200 and 300 Virginia Range wild horses will be rounded up by Nevada's Department of Agriculture using a helicopter, despite objections from groups like Wild Horse Spirit.

"Nevada is doing the same thing as the Bureau of Land Management. The horses don't have a chance," said Spirit spokeswoman Bobbie Royal. "Gathering used to coincide with our ability to adopt these animals out. Now, they'll have the same problems as the bureau, pulling these animals off the range and letting them languish somewhere. The thrust is the same thing, get rid of them.

"The bureau has herd areas that have so few horses, the genetic viability is shot," she said.

State agriculture officials say the roundup could start as early as Monday. Poor range conditions brought on by several years of drought have reduced available water and forage for these herds, a population that increases between 18 and 25 percent annually.

State officials will use helicopters to chase horses into holding areas.

"These horses aren't in distress yet. There's enough feed out there right now, but we don't want to delay removing these animals until we see that distress," said Dr. David Thain, state veterinarian.

He said the range is in better shape than it was last year. Those animals not adopted are transported to one of two preserves: one in South Dakota and the other in California.

The effort was helped along by a $9,000 federal grant.

"We only have enough money for a couple of days of gathering," Thain said. "Ideally, we'd like to move between 200 and 300 horses from the range but realistically, we will probably get between 100 and 200."

He said an aerial count June 12 found more than 1,100 horses on the range and, ideally, he would like to see that number cut in half.

"Until we get numbers down, we won't actually know the carrying capacity," he said. "I think we all agree that we now have too many. When we get the numbers down to the 400-600 range, we'll have a better idea of the carrying capacity. After three wet years, the range might be able to handle 500-600, but after three years of drought, it might be tough."

Olivia Fiamengo of the Virginia Range Wildlife Protection Association agreed there are too many horses in the Virginia Range, but she believes this type of gather could endanger the animals.

"The terrain is steep and rocky and helicopter roundups have been hazardous in the past," she said. "We still feel bait trapping can be successful and humane. We'd like to see alternate methods researched and used."

Thain said a helicopter roundup can be dangerous if not done properly and they are cooperating with the BLM for this effort, using one of their experienced pilots.

"They have people looking over their shoulder all the time," he said.

"The greatest care will be taken during the gather to minimize adverse effects on the horses and personnel involved," said Paul Iverson, executive director of the Department of Agriculture.


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