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Spring Mountain horse gathers proposed

Major reductions in wild horse and burro numbers in the Spring Mountains could begin with gathers starting as early as October 2014, depending on space in holding facilities, to reduce numbers down to what the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service consider appropriate management levels, in a 10-year management plan under consideration.

It would be the first revised herd management plan for the Spring Mountains since a record of decision in 2005.

A public hearing will be held on the plan from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.Tuesday at the Bob Ruud Community Center.

Scientists estimate there are 335 to 402 wild horses in the Spring Mountains/Wheeler Pass joint management area range, from 10 aerial surveys conducted since 2005; the plan calls for reducing that to a range of 47 to 66 horses. The estimated 109 to 165 burros will be reduced to 20 to 35 burros.

For the Johnnie management area, scientists hope to reduce the estimated 95 to 114 horses down to 14 to 34 horses and the 166 to 248 estimated burros down to a range of 54 to 108. The Johnnie plan would replace a 2005 decision calling for no horses and 108 burros.

In the Red Rock management area, 70 to 84 horses counted in aerial surveys would be reduced to a range of 16 to 27 horses and 55 to 88 burros counted by air would be reduced to 29 to 49 burros.

The plan states: “The purpose of the proposed population control is to remove the excess animals in order to achieve a thriving natural ecological balance between wild horse and burro populations, wildlife, vegetation and water resources. It is to protect rangelands and associated habitats from further deterioration associated with overpopulation of wild horses and burros.”

The BLM and forest service say there is a need to manage the Spring Mountain complex to allow wild horses and burros year round access to essential habitat components like forage, water, cover and space, as well as unimpeded natural movement within the herd management area and minimize travel outside the area.

The plan states populations that exceed appropriate management levels cause more frequent movement of wild horses and burros outside the joint management areas and into high value habitats and high use recreation areas on Mount Charleston. They also cause a nuisance near communities like Pahrump, Blue Diamond and Cold Creek.

“Wild horse and burro populations have caused resource challenges on both NFS (National Forest Service) lands and public lands, such as degraded vegetation within winter habitats for elk and mule deer. In addition wild horses and burros have substantially degraded springs and riparian areas, contributing to soil compaction, soil erosion and reduced water quality,” the plan states.

Of particular concern is habitat degradation within habitat of the Mount Charleston blue butterfly, recently proposed for listing as an endangered species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Scientists calculate the grazing levels in the Spring Mountain/Wheeler Pass management area were heavy to severe during the past four years and more than three times the 30 percent utilization standard. An analysis of the fecal matter showed wild horses were utilizing more than 90 percent of the forage grazed in key areas.

Helicopter gathers would be conducted in the winter to avoid the summer heat in the Mojave Desert, assisted by ground crews on horseback. Small gathers may be needed over several years to reach the target populations.

An emphasis would be placed on gathers in the Mount Charleston Wilderness, Lee Canyon, Kyle Canyon and Deer Creek. They would take place outside the La Madre Mountain, Rainbow Mountain and Mount Charleston wilderness areas, but include portions of the Mount Stirling Wilderness Study Area.

A gather in 2007 removed 289 wild horses and 571 wild burros from the Spring Mountain complex. A nuisance gather to prevent property damage and public safety on Highway 159 in Blue Diamond collected 27 wild burros in the Red Rock herd management area in 2012.

Excess animals would be shipped to holding facilities for adoption. Herding of wild horses using helicopters would be prohibited during the March 1 to June 30 foaling period. Hair samples will be gathered to monitor the genetic diversity of the herd, if that diversity is threatened, wild horses and burros may be relocated from other joint management areas.

The plan calls for fertility control using Percine zona pellucidae (PZP) vaccine to inhibit reproduction on adult mares that are captured and released back for at least one breeding season.

Scientists hope to have a wild horse sex ratio of 60 stallions to 40 mares.

The agencies also could decide not to implement the plan.

The Spring Mountain complex is located within Clark and Nye counties and includes 784,325 acres of federally managed land, 79 percent by the BLM and 21 percent by the U.S. Forest Service.

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