RENO -- The Nevada Department of Wildlife is siding with federal land managers against a lawsuit that seeks to block the Dec. 28 removal of 2,500 horses from the range north of Reno.
The state agency on Thursday filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit on behalf of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The wildlife department's filing says its assessment of habitat in the Calico Mountain Complex showed horses have "severely degraded" the range and continue to adversely affect wildlife.
In Defense of Animals, based in San Rafael, Calif., and wildlife biologist Craig Downer of Nevada filed the lawsuit last month to halt the roundup.
Equine advocates contend the Bureau of Land Management is grossly inflating horse numbers to justify their removal from the range.
Ken Mayer, director of the Nevada Department of Wildlife, said more horses than deer are spotted in some aerial surveys.
The lawsuit says wild horses are an integral part of the natural ecosystem and should remain on rangeland throughout the West rather than be herded into long-term holding pens.
U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman heard arguments in the case on Wednesday and has said he would issue a ruling before Christmas.
The BLM estimates about half of the 36,600 horses in the wild live in Nevada. It wants to reduce the overall population to 26,600.