RENO - Federal officials have approved a final management plan for the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge in northwestern Nevada that calls for the removal of all wild horses and burros from it within five years.
The move is being made because the refuge was created for pronghorn antelope and other native wildlife, and horses and burros have a negative effect on habitat, said Joan Jewett, spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Portland, Ore.
Horse advocacy groups sharply criticized the refuge's comprehensive conservation plan, which will guide its management over the next 15 years. It was publicly released late last month.
They say horses and burros lived in the area long before the refuge was created in 1931, and the animals actually heal the land and help prevent wildfires through grazing.
An aerial survey in July showed the 575,000-acre refuge along the Oregon border is home to at least 2,508 antelope, 973 wild horses and 182 wild burros, said Aaron Collins, a park ranger at Sheldon.
The final plan will be signed sometime after Sept. 24 by the regional director of the Fish and Wildlife Agency, Collins said.