Wild Horses: No Where to Run

Nevada’s Wild Horses

A KLAS Channel 8, Las Vegas, Nevada Report
by GEORGE KNAPP, Investigative Reporter
Fund for Horses Archives

(Feb. 5, 2004) — President Bush has proposed adding $12 million to the National Wild Horse Program. In a way, it’s an admission that the program isn’t working. Nevada has more than half of the nation’s wild horses, but our state gets only a fraction of the funds set aside for the program. Now, the program is at a crossroads. Adoptions have been suspended, and there is no money for more roundups. Investigative Reporter George Knapp is here with some ideas on how to fix the wild horse quagmire.

The Bureau of Land Management thinks Nevada rangelands can support about 14,000 head of wild horses. There are close to 20,000 out there now, plus thousands more being held in storage facilities. The Wild Horse Adoption Program is suspended and there is no money to start it back up. Are taxpayers just dumping millions down the drain? And what if anything can be done to fix it?

The wild mustangs that still gallop through Nevada’s rugged rangelands persevere as symbols of freedom and the old west, but to many, they are also a symbol of waste and mismanagement. The Wild Horse Adoption Program cost close to $40 million last year, yet BLM is getting further away from its management goals every day.

There are too many horses for the range to support, something that’s led to mass starvations in the past. Thousands of wild horses are stashed in government pens, the adoption program is in suspension and there are rumblings about pending lawsuits by ranchers and even the State of Nevada.

Only 6,000 horses were adopted out in 2003 in the whole country. With so many horse lovers out there, what’s the hang-up?

Billie Young with the National Wild Horse Association said, “There are too many going into the system. The marketing isn’t the best. Customer service isn’t there. The government isn’t in the customer service business.”

Wild horse advocate Billie Young isn’t bashing the BLM, merely stating the obvious. The feds are efficient at gathering vast numbers of horses, and at storing them in holding facilities. But lack the marketing expertise needed to connect wild horses to those who might want to adopt them. Add to this the fact that the Nevada BLM is charged with managing more than half of the nations wild horses even though 85% of the program budget gets spent elsewhere — is a formula for trouble.

Bob Abbey, Nevada BLM director said, “The key for us is to do a better job marketing, to get information to the public. I don’t think we do a good job there.” Nevada BLM boss Bob Abbey concedes that, with no money for roundups or adoptions, the wild horse program is going backward. He does not agree with some in Washington that it would be cheaper to simply warehouse the horses in perpetuity.

Bob Abbey; “We have close to 14,000 horses in long term holding facilities. It’s costing the American public $1.22 a day to feed those horses — $1.22 per horse, per day, for the 30 year life span of an animal isn’t a way to save money,” he says. So what will get the job done?

Horse advocate Jerry Reynoldson didn’t need much persuading to adopt 9-month-old Big Red. But he thinks it will take marketing expertise to make the adoption program work on a larger scale. The wild horse program should be based in Nevada, where the horses are, instead of in Virginia, and he proposes bringing in private marketing experts. Jerry Reynoldson says to start a pilot program here in Nevada with a private contractor. “Take the horses we have standing around off the government dole and go out and do a successful auction.”

In addition, Reynoldson and others propose a permanent facility be built near the Ely prison, close to where the horses roam free, where prison inmates could gentle the animals so they are adoptable. It would be good for the horses, for the prisoners, and for struggling economy of White Pine County.

Paul Johnson with the White Pine County Commission said, “There have been other programs similar to this that have been successful using honor camp labor to do the gentling of horses. Since we have the prison facility, it could be a model one of these programs.”

One other component of a revised program is ongoing education. On a crisp winter day, a city slicker journalist joined horse advocates for a ride through Oliver Ranch in Red Rock to see 20 or so wild horses now ready to be adopted out. Billie Young envisions a permanent educational facility here, where school kids could learn about horses and where the public could get involved with adoptions. Billie Young; “Let’s put money into the program where it best works.”

Even though the adoption program is in limbo right now, horses will be up for adoption this Saturday at Oliver Ranch. That’s because volunteers are handling the whole thing, not spending any BLM money.

A good question is what does the BLM say about a pilot program or privatizing the adoptions? George Knapp says the BLM is very receptive to the idea, both at the Nevada and national levels. Jerry Reynoldson has had some talks with BLM about his idea and was given good feedback.

BLM wants the program to work for the benefit of the horses and all other users of public land so why not try something new. The Eyewitness News I-Team will keep you updated on how it turns out.

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All content © Copyright 2000 – 2004 WorldNow and KLAS, Channel 8, Las Vegas, Nevada. All Rights Reserved

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