Amid loud protests from wild horse advocates, BLM is preparing to remove up to two-thirds of the horses from the Fish Springs herd, saying the range in that area just can’t support the 78 wild horses there.
And Wild Horse and Burro specialist John Axtell says the Pine Nut Range herd outside of Dayton is also stripping the range of edible foliage.
“Because of continuous use of this area, the natural grasses are gone,” he said.
With bunch grasses like needle grass and Indian rice grass gone, Axtell said the horses have been reduced to eating cheat grass he says has far fewer nutrients. In some cases they are even eating sagebrush he said they can’t really digest.
“They’ll eat it if they’re starving but they aren’t getting anything out of it,” he said.
During a six-hour tour of two herd management areas in western Nevada, he repeatedly pointed out the absence of brush grasses and the fact even the cheat grass was eaten down to the ground.
“There’s a lack of understanding about what a horse needs to survive,” said Acting District Manager Colleen Dulin. “You look out there and see all that vegetation but it’s not what horses need.”
“If we had the right number of horses out here, the land would sustain them,” said Axtell.
He strongly objected to claims by some advocates BLM is rounding up the horses to send them to slaughter houses.
Last week, members of the Pine Nut Wild Horse Advocates and the American Wild Horse Campaign delivered around 170,000 petition signatures from people “across the world,” according the groups’ press release, to BLM State Director Michael Courtney. Two weeks ago, 300 residents packed into the Fish Springs Volunteer Fire Department to discuss the decision to round up the herd. With “no additional information or comment” to add, BLM staff didn’t attend the meeting, according to an email from the agency to the Advocates.
Dulin said there are absolute advocates who oppose removing any horses from the range. They said under the Wild and Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971 they can’t just slaughter the animals.
She said the horses that aren’t adopted go to sanctuaries in the Midwest where they’re fed and watered for the rest of their lives.
Both say BLM officials have received threatening calls and homeowners who want some horses removed because they have problems with damage to their landscaping and property have also been bullied and threatened. He said one elderly woman received several threatening phone calls.
Axtell said the Fish Springs herd needs to be reduced from 78 animals to 26 and Dulin said they have even offered to let the horse advocates pick which 26 horses remain.
Axtell said that range can’t support more than 26 horses, not only because of limited vegetation but the scarcity of water.
In addition, BLM officials say the Pine Nut herd is now 775 horses on land that can support just 179 animals.
In the Dayton area, he said some homeowners who love the horses have put out water troughs for them. While they’re not supposed to, he said that isn’t interfering because the horses need the water in the hot summer.
Both said they’re still working with local horse advocates who are willing to work with them. But Dulin said some of the national advocacy groups have changed the tone and attitude of the discussion.
She said Carson BLM has had a good, collaborative relationship with some of the local groups that, she said, “truly care about the horses.” The national groups, she said, have a different agenda, opposing removal of any animals and even opposing darting mares with the contraceptive PZP to prevent pregnancy and control herd sizes.
“Their agenda is to stop all gathers,” she said. “And they’re getting a ton of donations.”
Axtell said in the case of the PZP contraceptive, the opposition is wrong because it contains no hormones and works safely to prevent conception in horses. Without it, he said a herd will grow by 20 percent a year.
At present, plans are to remove about 50 of the Fish Springs horses this year. Axtell said they would like to bait-trap the animals and avoid using helicopters to round them up. But he said if advocates “get in the way,” they’ll have to use helicopters.
The bait-trapping in corrals could happen in August. If not, they’re planning a helicopter gathering in early November to thin the herd.
“This is Washington telling the local BLM what they have to do,” Deb Walker, president of Pine Nut Wild Horse Advocates has said previously. “They have some discretionary power. They could come to the table and they have done some compromising with us, but there is more that needs to be done.”