Helicopter roundup could be illegal in Storey County

A proposed wild horse roundup using helicopters in the Virginia Range is being called illegal by members of the Virginia Range Wildlife Protection Association. They could be right.

Enacted in 1978, Storey County Ordinance 6.12 prohibits the use of aircraft or any mechanical vehicle for a roundup.

Deputy District Attorney Sharon Claassen said the ordinance was passed because the area is rugged and dangerous, posing a hazard to the animals. The roundup is supposed to involve only Lyon County, but wild-horse advocates say it will be difficult not to cross into Storey County.

"The Association opposes helicopter roundups due to bad experiences in the past. The potential for injury to animals is very high, due to the treacherous terrain in Storey County," a statement from the group reads. "This time of year can be particularly difficult, due to the foaling season. The many foals on the range this time of year require additional consideration during a roundup."

The roundup was scheduled by the Nevada Department of Agriculture. State Veterinarian Dr. David Thain said the state is exempt from any county ordinances, according to an opinion from the Attorney General's Office.

"In the past, the Storey County District Attorney's Office has agreed with that assessment and we feel we're on pretty solid ground," he said.

The Virginia Range supports just over 1,100 horses, but that's too many for the range's dwindling resources, according to Agriculture Executive Director Paul Iverson. He said maintaining a healthy range and a healthy horse population in balance with other wildlife is a priority.

Range health is the one issue supported by experts, cattlemen and most organizations dedicated to the protection of the animals. Without it, deer, horses and those that prey on them couldn't survive.

"Everyone agrees that there are too many horses," said Deputy District Attorney Sharon Claassen. "The issue revolves around the method. This ordinance was passed because of the potential for harm to the animals given the terrain, which is extremely rugged."

"There are so many other ways this could be done," said Association spokeswoman Olivia Fiamengo. "Feeding and baiting the horses can be very successful, but someone has to be there 24 hours a day. We've offered to help with manpower, but they (the Department of Agriculture) refused our help."

County Commissioner Greg "Bum" Hess said he has received a number of phone calls from people expressing concerns over the roundup. He said alternatives are being sought with Fiamengo's help.

"We feel our ordinance is sufficient and should be enforced, but we've been told the state supersedes any county law," Hess said. "Everyone knows we have to get the numbers down to about 400 horses on the range and Olivia Fiamengo said she would work with officials to remove them. I think we could get volunteers to do that."

The issue is to be addressed at a Storey County commissioners meeting Tuesday.

What: Storey County Commissioners will discuss helicopter roundups of wild horses in the Virginia Range

When: Tuesday

Where: Storey County Courthouse, B Street in Virginia City


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