RENO — Wild horse advocates are seeking to halt federal land managers’ plans to remove all the animals from a large swath of eastern Nevada, saying the animals deserve protection under federal law.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has started removing 350 horses southwest of Ely and plans to begin removing 270 more in October near Caliente. The roundups affect all wild horses in an area around Ely covering 1.4 million acres or more than 2,000 square miles.
Horse defender Christine Jubic of Albany, N.Y., filed a petition last week for an emergency order to halt the roundup with the Interior Board of Land Appeals until it can rule on her appeal challenging the roundup.
The roundup began Wednesday, five days after the BLM’s Ely district released an environmental study that concluded it had no significant impact.
“They’re trying to do it quietly under the radar,” Jubic said. “These animals are supposed to enjoy federal protections, and the BLM is out to eradicate them off of our public lands altogether.”
Jeffrey Weeks, manager of a BLM Ely-area field office, said all horses are being removed in some areas because studies found insufficient forage and water to maintain healthy wild horses and rangelands.
The agency still plans to manage 810 to 1,695 horses on 3.7 million other acres in the Ely area, a region that encompasses some 12 million acres, or 18,750 square miles, he said.
“(Jubic’s appeal) is an individual right and I respect that,” Weeks said. “But it’s primarily desert out there. We look at resources and what they can sustain.”
Craig Downer of Minden, a wildlife ecologist who holds a master of science degree at the University of Nevada, Reno, said he found plenty of forage and water to support the horses on a recent trip to eastern Nevada. He said ranchers view the horses as competition for forage, and the BLM is removing them to appease ranchers.
Robert S. More, director of the Interior Office of Hearings and Appeals, declined to comment on Jubic’s appeal. But he said any petition for a stay must be decided within 45 days by the Board of Land Appeals.
Jubic complained that the initial roundup could be over by the time the board rules on her request.
Advocates said the roundups will exacerbate a problem that has led to nearly as many horses being kept in long-term corrals as on the range.
The problem has become so great that BLM officials last year considered for the first time euthanizing some horses to reduce the population.