weather icon Clear

Critics attack plan to round up wild horses in Nevada

WASHINGTON — A federal helicopter roundup of wild horses in eastern Nevada that will begin Monday is one of many that have drawn criticism in recent years by lawmakers who advocate for other means to reduce the number of the iconic animals on public lands in the West.

That bipartisan opposition could increase in the new Congress when Democrats take control of the House next year and challenge Trump administration proposals on the wild horse program.

The roundup in Nevada will be conducted by the Bureau of Land Management Ely District on sagebrush plateaus south of Ely and northwest of Caliente.

It is expected to last up to 21 days and is meant to reduce the population of wild horses in the Silver King Herd Management Area from 1,244 to 244. The reduction is needed to maintain wildlife and livestock habitat and reduce wildlife degradation of public lands, according to a BLM advisory.

Recent roundups by the BLM and the federal process to reduce wild horse herds have drawn opposition from Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., and other critics, who charge that the federal government is wasting money rounding up and holding the horses instead of using more effective birth control programs.

The federal government spends about $81 million each year on the wild horse program. In a Jan. 4 letter to the BLM, Titus urged a reassessment of fiscal priorities, noting that only 1 percent of the money was spent on fertility programs, while 67 percent was spent on roundups and removals.

Slaughter rules

In a Sept. 18 letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Titus also questioned whether the Trump administration was making it easier for buyers of the horses to violate a prohibition on resale of the animals to slaughterhouses.

She cited an Inspector General’s report that found that one buyer purchased 1,794 horses from the BLM between 2008 and 2012 and sold them to slaughterhouses in Mexico, despite the prohibition.

The BLM concluded that it had no recourse because of the ineffectual language of its contract with the buyer, according to the report.

“The public deserves to know what is happening to these icons of our Western heritage,” Titus told Zinke in her September letter. “We urge you to uphold your obligation to ensure their humane treatment.”

In its last two fiscal budgets, the Trump administration has sought to remove prohibitions on horse slaughter. Congress rejected the proposal for fiscal 2019, which began Oct. 1.

Zinke told the House Appropriations Committee in April that despite the BLM’s spending $81 million a year, nothing has been done to address the problem of growing herds.

He also said holding wild horses in captivity is inhumane, and he favors birth control, but he blamed Congress for the annual tug-of-war over the slaughter issue.

Zinke told the panel he remains an advocate of the roundups to reduce the herds, as well as neutering and spaying programs.

Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, called the birth control inoculations ineffective, and he urged more permanent spaying and neutering.

Livestock groups have urged the Trump administration to soften the ban on horse slaughter. But a bipartisan group of lawmakers has placed riders in spending bills to prevent the BLM from using tax money to kill unadopted horses. And BLM officials said they are prohibited from doing so by law.

Trump administration changes to the law could make it easier for buyers to resell the animals for commercial slaughter, according to the Humane Society and other animal rights groups.

The animals are protected under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, which authorizes the BLM to manage the herds.

Roundup open to public

The horse roundup Monday is being conducted under that law and is open to public inspection or view. The BLM said the public is welcome to view the operation, and it will escort those interested to observation sites.

Horses removed from the Silver King area will be transported to the Indian Lakes Off-Range Wild Horse and Burro Corrals in Fallon, where they will be checked by a veterinarian and readied for the adoption program, according to the BLM Ely District.

A roundup of wild horses this year in the Fish Springs region of the Pine Nut Mountain Herd Area drew complaints from thousands of citizens who opposed the removal and advocated the use of a birth control vaccine provided by private resources.

Titus told Zinke then that the alternative would humanely maintain the herd population, “support the ecotourism of the industry and protect the welfare of these iconic denizens of the range.”

With Democrats taking control of the House, Congress may place more scrutiny on the wild horse program and the BLM’s handling of the herds in Southwest states.

Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., is expected to chair the House Natural Resources Committee, which has oversight over federal lands, the Interior Department and its agencies.

Grijalva pressed Zinke in September about a change in policy that allowed a buyer to purchase 24 horses passed over for adoption without special permission, a waiting period or justification.

Previous BLM policy limited a single buyer’s purchases to no more than four wild horses or burros every six months.

Grijalva said Zinke’s policy changes “raise concerns about the department’s commitment to this long-standing prohibition.”

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

Follow @RJpolitics on Twitter for the latest political news in Nevada.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
Bernie Sanders Unveils Affordable Housing Plan - Video
Bernie Sanders sits down with the Las Vegas Review-Journal to talk about his new affordable housing plan he unveiled at Plumbers & Pipefitters.
Jim Marchant talks gun control and Dreamers - Video
Republican Candidate for District 4 Jim Marchant talks about gun control and immigration policies. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Hurricanes, Gender, and Science in the Press
Imagine if the mainstream media’s current hurricane-sized obsession with scientific accuracy applied to gender.
Cory Booker on college tuition and minimum wage
Cory Booker talks on the RJ Politics podcast about college debt, informing workers about their rights and livable wages.
Nevada Politics Today: Teacher raises - VIDEO
Jason Goudie, the chief financial officer for the Clark County School District, talks about teacher pay and raises. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Media's Double Standard On Incitement And Trump - Video
Over the weekend, an Elizabeth Warren-supporting socialist who opposed gun violence used a rifle to commit a mass murder in Dayton, Ohio. The media has downplayed that aspect of the tragedy.
Project Our Care Tour Kicks Off In Las Vegas
U.S. Rep. Dina Titus joined health care advocates and local residents as part of Protect Our Care’s nationwide bus tour kick off in Las Vegas on Monday, August 5, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders talks about guns, response to El Paso shooting
Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke about his response and continued policy ideas about guns and gun control to the Review-Journal after a panel of other topics. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pete Buttigieg On Gun Control And Climate Change - Video
Pete Buttigieg talks about his campaign for the 2020 election and how Nevada is a vision of what the future can be.
Beto O'Rourke speaks in Las Vegas
Presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke spoke to supporters at the East Las Vegas Community Center in Las Vegas, Thursday, Aug. 2, 2019. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former Nevada Senate leader Kelvin Atkinson sentenced to prison
Former Nevada Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson, who pleaded guilty to misusing campaign funds, was sentenced to 27 months in prison on Thursday, July 18, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trumps Strength is also a Weakness - Video
One of Donald Trump’s greatest strengths — his ability to shape national narratives — is also a great weakness.
Tax the Rich Bus Tour makes a stop in Las Vegas - Video
The Tax the Rich Bus has stopped in Las Vegas as part of its summer tour. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno hosts BBQ - Video
Assembly Woman Daniele Monroe-Moreno hosts BBQ to bring the community together to hear about the candidates up for election and for people to gather and have fun.
Democrat Virtual Caucus - Video
Elizabeth Warren visits Las Vegas
Senator Elizabeth Warren made a campaign stop at the East Las Vegas Community Center on Tuesday July 2, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Aaron Ford Speaks About Bill AB431
AB431 is a bill sponsored by Nevada Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson to restore the right to vote for formerly incarcerated individuals. Attorney General Aaron Ford spoke at the AM&E Church in North Las Vegas about the bill, on Monday, July 1, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)