Chief Investigative Reporter George Knapp and Chief Photojournalist Matt Adams
Posted: Sep 02, 2010 5:54 PM CDT
LAS VEGAS — Government contractors have fired up their helicopters for yet another roundup of Nevada wild horses. The latest gather targets a remote area north of Ely, Nevada.
Four more roundup operations are on the schedule in our state this year. They will not only thin the herds, but wipe them out altogether.
2010 already ranks as one of the most aggressive in the history of Bureau of Land Management horse roundups, with a lot more to come. Operations which proved deadly for the herds have already scooped up thousands of mustangs from public ranges, but with no commensurate reduction in the number of private cattle allowed to stay.
The next round seems are designed to wipe out the horses altogether.
The Moriah Herd area near Ely will result in the removal of every one of the 72 horses living on thousands of acres. Two other Nevada herd management areas will be completely zeroed out of horses, and two others will see more than 90-percent of the mustangs taken away, even though federal law set aside those ranges as places where horses could roam forever.
Critics of the program say it looks as if BLM is in a race to grab every horse it can get before the program gets shut down, which is exactly what is needed according to a letter sent to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and signed by 54 members of Congress, including Nevadans Shelley Berkley and Dina Titus.
The letter harshly criticizes the roundups, calls for an immediate moratorium, and seeks an outside study of the science behind the gathers, or lack thereof, by the National Academy of Sciences.
BLM says it will cooperate with such a study, but Director Bob Abbey told Congress he has no intention of stopping the roundups.
“We signed the letter because we need to stop the roundups and the slaughter so we can study the policy. It hasn’t worked and they know it, we know it, the horses know it. We asked that they allow for a study but they won’t stop and I worry because these studies can take years,” said Rep. Titus.
Titus worries that by the time the study is complete, more herd areas could be wiped out by BLM. The roundups themselves can be deadly to horses.
“You see these pictures of them running to death and the colts and it breaks your heart,” she said.
A separate review of the horse program is already underway. The inspector general of the Interior Department is actively soliciting information from the public, including horse advocates, about all that’s wrong with its implementation — a review that can’t be seen as good news within BLM.
On another front, philanthropist Madeleine Pickens is hoping to move forward with her plans to build a sprawling horse sanctuary in northern Nevada. Pickens has already put millions of her own money into buying a large ranch near Elko and now has an agreement to buy a second property as well.
She will need the cooperation of BLM if she wants to put captured mustangs on the land so she can open an eco-tourism attraction, although BLM has said in the past it does not wants the horses to remain in Nevada, even in a sanctuary.
Director Abbey has agreed to meet with Pickens this month to talk about her plan but has made no promises.
Titus says she has already introduced legislation to force BLM to use options other than roundups, such as more adoptions, birth control, and a program to encourage ranchers to allow horses to graze on private range. But BLM continues to use roundups as the primary focus of the program.
Here’s a list of recent gathers:
|Herd Area||# of Horses||# Removed|
|Silver King||600 545|