BLM puts Fish Springs wild horse roundup on hold

An Appaloosa stallion keeps a wary eye on BLM officials and a reporter.

An Appaloosa stallion keeps a wary eye on BLM officials and a reporter.

A proposal to round up about 70 horses in the Fish Springs herd is on hold while local advocates work out a plan with the Bureau of Land Management.

Advocates for the Fish Springs herd said Friday they’ve been in contact with the Department of Interior about an impending round-up.

“We talked to the Department of the Interior, and they understand this is a local issue about a specific group of horses,” said Sheila Schwadel of the Pine Nut Wild Horse Advocates.

Schwadel said that the advocates have been told the planned roundup won’t happen.

“After coordination with Department of the Interior leadership and the BLM we have been notified that the previously planned roundup will not occur,” said Schwadel. “As a community we are pleased with the progress of the Administration and are optimistic for the future of our horses.”

Advocates’ social media director Mary Cioffi said the group is seeking solutions that work for the herd and the community.

“We are looking forward to working with Secretary Zinke and the BLM to find solutions that put the herd and our community first,” Cioffi said. “The Administration has listened to us, understood us, and acted.”

Advocates board member Deniz Bolbol said the group is actively managing the horses.

“The BLM has recognized that our efforts go well-beyond admiring these horses,” Bolbol said. “We are actively engaged in their care and management and will continue to do so collaboratively with the BLM. This is how good neighbors work together.”

Lisa Ross, public affairs specialist for the BLM said late Friday, “Due to community concerns and the need to investigate physical threats against BLM employees, the BLM will suspend a wild horse gather operation in the Fish Springs area near Gardnerville, Nevada. The BLM appreciates the commitment of all local area residents to work cooperatively toward positive outcomes. The BLM looks forward to continuing its long-standing relationship with the Fish Springs community as we work together to find community-based management solutions that are in the best interests of both the area residents and the wild horses.”

Two weeks ago, 300 residents packed into the Fish Springs Volunteer Fire Department to discuss the decision to round up the herd.

BLM officials conducted a six-hour tour of two herd management areas in Western Nevadan for reporters, where Wild Horse and Burro specialist John Axtell 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.”

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. “If we had the right number of horses out here, the land would sustain them.”

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.” to BLM State Director Michael Courtney.

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.

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 oppose removal of any animals and even darting mares with the contraceptive PZP to control herd sizes.

Axtell said the PZP contraceptive contains no hormones. Without it, he said a herd will grow by 20 percent a year.


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