Protesters greet wild horse roundup

SILVER SPRINGS - More than half of the mustangs that roamed the hills near Lahontan Reservoir just two days ago are now awaiting adoption at a holding facility near Sparks.

With a handful of protesters grouped along U.S. Highway 95 near Silver Springs, the Bureau of Land Management continued its most ambitious Lahontan horse gather ever.

The BLM is set to remove more than 90 percent of the area's wild horses by this weekend. The last time the bureau conducted a Lahontan gather, in 1996, it removed little more than 30 percent of the herd. At that time, however, only 90 mustangs called Lahontan home. Since then, the herd has ballooned to about 260.

"If we'd had the funding to do some roundups since then, we wouldn't have to gather so many now," said BLM spokesman Mark Struble.

This year's roundup comes as the Nevada Division of State Parks gears up to build a fence along the boundary between Lahontan State Park and federal land.

With the Lahontan Herd Management Area bordering the state park, horses in search of water scuttle through the park to the reservoir. With the reservoir receding after several years of drought, it no longer reaches BLM land at all, and horses now mostly roam on state land.

"The state doesn't mind (the horses), they just mind 250 head of them," said Dan Jacquet, the BLM official in charge of the gather.

The fence between BLM land where the horses do much of their foraging, and state land where they do much of their drinking, will have an access point so horses can get to the reservoir. But there won't be enough access for 200 or 300 , Struble said.

The Nevada Division of State Parks could not be reached for comment on the fence's purpose Friday.

The BLM's initial goal was to thin the herd from 261 to between seven and 10, the number of horses biologists surmised could thrive in the herd area without causing undue harm to the land. Jacquet, however, said he plans leaving at least twice the bureau's Appropriate Management Level.

"We got a lot of really nice horses out of here, so we're going to leave 15 or 20," Jacquet said.

The wildly-colored Lahontan horses appear "fat and happy," according to one Silver Springs resident witnessing Thursday's roundup - the same observation that led many to wonder why the horses needed to be removed from the area.

But the horses had gotten fat on state land, Struble countered, where they are considered nuisance estrays rather than federally protected treasures.

The BLM gathered 92 mustangs on Thursday, nearly 60 by noon Friday, and plans to finish the roundup today. Jacquet said only a few head will hold enough genetic diversity to carry on the herd's vast array of colors, and once a generation the BLM introduces another horse to increase the gene pool.

"This is how these horses were managed before we managed them," Jacquet said.

The gather is the bureau's second of the year and possibly the last, with federal funding becoming ever more scarce.

BLM officials fear without more gathers, the state's horse population will boom and put their goal of reducing the Nevada mustang count to 14,500 by 2005 out of reach.

"I'd really like to see us continue (the roundups). If we have just a couple more years, we can get to the Appropriate Management Level and then roundups won't be nearly as frequent," Jacquet said.

If the BLM fails to meet its 2005 goal, it could face lawsuits from the state of Nevada.

The state of Wyoming threatened a similar lawsuit last year, forcing the BLM to conduct massive horse gathers and spend much of the money that would have gone toward Nevada roundups.


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