Groups back roundup of wild horses

RENO -- Two environmental groups are joining ranchers in an unusual coalition supporting the government's contentious removal of about 2,500 wild horses from the range north of Reno.

The Sierra Club and Friends of Nevada Wilderness, which have been at odds with ranchers on past issues, agree with the need for the ongoing roundup of wild horses in the Calico Mountain Complex.

The organizations, in a joint news release with the sportsmen groups Safari Club International and Coalition for Nevada's Wildlife, said an overpopulation of wild horses is harming native wildlife and the range itself.

Sierra Club spokeswoman Tina Nappe of Reno said a wild horse can consume up to 26 pounds of forage a day and arid rangelands can't produce enough food for them.

Wild horses have been observed chasing and harassing pronghorn antelope near water sources, the organizations said, and have been identified as a risk factor for critical sage grouse habitat. The bird has been petitioned for protection as an endangered species. Bighorn sheep and mule deer also compete for food and water with wild horses, the groups said, and their populations are down.

Jeremy Drew, president of the Safari Club's Northern Nevada chapter, criticized various celebrities for suggesting the roundup is threatening the Calico herd with extinction. He noted at least 572 horses will be left in the herd.

Sheryl Crow, Willie Nelson, Bill Maher, Lily Tomlin and Ed Harris are among celebrities who have come out against the roundup.

"Much of the hysteria has been based on manipulated or false information," Drew said, adding the groups agree wild horses have a place on public lands in proper numbers.

Wildlife ecologist Craig Downer of Nevada, who unsuccessfully sued to stop the roundup along with California-based In Defense of Animals, disputed the groups' statements.

He said wild horses don't harm the range because they graze over a wider area, and their scat fertilizes the soil.

"Wild horses are being used as scapegoats and targets because they don't suit the interests of those who want to make it (the Calico complex) a hunter's paradise," he said.