RENO — Federal land managers say the drought is prompting plans to remove an unspecified number of wild horses from a large swath of the range in northeastern Nevada — two years after they removed some 1,400 mustangs from the same area.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management this month released the final environmental assessment for its plans to cull the herd around the Triple B, Maverick-Medicine and Antelope Valley herd management areas in Elko and White Pine counties.
While they haven’t said how many horses they plan to remove, BLM officials said the 1.8-million acre area they’re targeting is home to roughly 1,500 wild horses, but it can only sustain from 548 to 1,015 mustangs.
The plan is based on limited water and forage to support the current horse population, BLM spokeswoman Lesli Ellis said, and on adverse impacts to the range caused by horses concentrating around springs.
“Our goal is just to leave the appropriate amount of horses on the range that can be sustained,” she told The Associated Press.
Horse advocates criticized the agency’s plan, saying the animals should remain on the range because the number of wild horses in government holding facilities has reached an all-time high at a growing cost to taxpayers.
According to a recent BLM report, 49,369 wild horses and 1,348 wild burros are currently housed in short- and long-term government corrals and pastures. By contrast, 31,500 wild horses and 5,800 burros remain free in the wild.
“The BLM is forcing a crisis by stockpiling over 50,000 wild horses in holding facilities while pursuing the same failed management strategies,” Neda DeMayo, founder of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, said in a statement. “The tragedy is that humane and cost-effective solutions like birth control exist to keep wild horses wild, but the BLM is not utilizing them.”
DeMayo’s group is collecting signatures for an open letter to new Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, asking her to end the BLM’s policy of removing wild horses from the range. It costs American taxpayers more than $120,000 per day to keep captured mustangs in government holding facilities, according to her group.
Jewell has said she won’t act until after a National Academy of Science report on the issue comes out in June.
Ellis said the northeastern Nevada gather will take place in various spots within the targeted area beginning after June 13 based on need. But specific dates have not been determined due to budget constraints and other higher priority gathers, she added.