TONOPAH — Nye County commissioners voted 3-2 Tuesday to send a letter to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management protesting the overpopulation of wild horses in Little Fish Valley and North Stone Cabin Valley.
Commissioners Donna Cox and Frank Carbone voted against sending the letter, drafted by Commissioner Lorinda Wichman, who said the 552 wild horses in those valleys exceeded the appropriate management level of 364. A pair of wild horse advocates protested.
Wichman’s letter mentioned Tonopah BLM Field Office Manager Tim Coward admitted a more recent, unpublished count of 579 wild horses may be low since some horses have learned to hide from helicopter surveys.
Wichman’s letter states: “On April 9th this year I traveled the length of the valley from Highway 6 at the Five Mile Ranch to north of Dobbin Summit. I never left the main road; I never left the vehicle and never used field glasses but was able to easily count 252 horses within view of the road, including 14 foals less than five months old. Logic tells me that if I am able to count that many horses within my field of vision in an HMA (herd management area) of over 404,000 acres, the number estimated by the BLM remains understated.”
The overgrazing has affected white sage, rye and other native grasses, she said, adding, “proper management measures are required immediately to avoid the eminent threat to the resources in the valleys.”
Wichman cited the Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971, which directs the Secretary of the Interior to immediately remove excess animals from the range when overpopulation exists. She said if the county hasn’t received plans for action and a completion date of a gather by June 1, the county needs to act. Assistant County Manager Joni Eastley said the county could declare the wild horses a nuisance; she’s researching a situation in Pershing County where ranchers gathered the horses at water traps.
Animal advocate Tina Trenner, who said she has a bachelor’s degree in equine reproduction from Colorado State University, complained that BLM wild horse gathers are inhumane; she called them a fiasco.
“The management of the horses is absolutely ridiculous. Since the time of the Romans we have known how to control the population of horses through castration,” Trenner said. “This is never, ever controlled. It is allowed to go on and on and then ultimately horses pay the price with being horribly abused.”
Wichman told a few commentors she didn’t want to kill the wild horses and turned the tables on Trenner, arguing it’s inhumane to leave that many horses on the range.
“They have grossly let their numbers go to the point where they’re overrunning the resource. That’s cruel to let horses out there overrunning their resource and they don’t have what they need for water or food,” she said.
Animal advocate Priscilla Lane said, “they’re going to send them to a hell hole. You’re just signing their death sentence. Why in the world would you do that when you know the treatment?”
Wichman said she heard there was going to be a temporary holding facility for wild horses in Dyer, in Esmeralda County, where the horses would go. There’s also been talk about relocating wild horses to national parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite where the public can enjoy watching them, she said. Wichman said the Spring Mountain herd is manageable, but the situation in those two valleys she compared to being in a house overrun with feral cats or mice.
“You need to come up here and see this yourself,” Wichman told the two women. “You want animal control, this is part of it.”
Cox, in her dissent, said spotting 252 horses is a long way from the appropriate management level of 364.
“We’ve been trusting the BLM for a long time and they’ve done nothing but abuse the rights that we the people are giving them. A majority of the horses do end up in slaughter, they go to Mexico, they go to Canada. You can’t tell me if we ask them to come in and do this that they’re not going to end up dead,” Cox said. “They’ve had many, many years to do birth control but they chose the easy way to go hire these cowboys to round them up.”
Cox referred to the task force trying to get federal lands transferred to the state. Wichman said that has nothing to do with this, which is under the jurisdiction of the federal Wild Horse and Burro Act.
Carbone said he voted against the letter because of issues with the BLM.
“They’re becoming a force that’s becoming armed and going after us,” he said.
Commissioner Butch Borasky supported Wichman.
“We’re just asking them to do their damn job. If somebody would just read this, I’d be happy to read it to them,” Borasky said.