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The longest war in the West
by John "Nevada" Smith
Aug 21, 2010 | 882 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
It’s become one of the longest-running wars in the West. Not the battle over water, but the fight over the fate of thousands of wild horses on public rangeland.

The Bureau of Land Management is stuck with the task of listening to the concerns of ranchers, who consider the animals little more than pests competing for parched cattle-grazing land, and horse lovers, who want the beautiful beasts protected at all costs.

These days the BLM is busy conducting horse roundups even as it schedules public hearings to discuss the controversial subject. Friends of the roundup would call such meetings a sign the government is willing to keep an open mind and listen to critics and new ideas; those critics counter that the BLM’s mindset and methodology are substantially flawed.

Meetings or no meetings, in the coming weeks the BLM hopes to round up 2,000 horses to thin herds in the Twin Peaks Horse Management Area about 120 miles northwest of Reno. One foal was found dead from a gunshot in the Twin Peaks area.

Taking an accurate census is just one of the problems faced by the horse bureaucrats. If the horses are indeed damaging fragile rangeland, then it would make sense to count them accurately. The BLM has approximately 38,000 horses in holding facilities with as many more roaming free.

Horse advocacy groups continue to attempt to slow or halt the roundups through media pressure, the courts and the political system. The mustang lovers suffered a setback recently when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals failed to agree with the Defense of Animals group to postpone the BLM’s roundup program. On July 30, 52 members of Congress signed a letter imploring Secretary of the Interior Kenneth Salazar to discontinue the horse and burro roundups until improvements in the process can be made. The letter was signed by Nevada Reps. Shelley Berkley and Dina Titus, both Democrats from Clark County.

The letter was published following the news that 34 wild horses died during a round up of nearly 1,300 horses near Tuscarora.

“To address these and other flaws, we recommend an independent analysis of the National Wild Horse and Burro program, conducted by the National Academy of Sciences,” they wrote. “This analysis will provide a clear determination of the most accurate, science-based methodologies to estimate wild horse and burro populations, provide an assessment of Appropriate Management Levels based on the goal of maintaining sustainable herds and provide an assessment of practical, effective, non-lethal and publicly acceptable management alternatives to current BLM policies.

“We strongly urge you to refrain from any further action until a clear plan is in place to sustainably manage and protect our wild herds. Only then can we move forward with a more informed, open and deliberate process, based on input from all who are concerned with the health, well being, and conservation of this animal which embodies the spirit of our American West.”

After reading that letter, you can almost see the wild horse in silhouette crossing the desert with a Panavision and Technicolor sunset as a backdrop. It’s a powerful image, one the horse lovers and politicians aren’t shy about conjuring.

After a temporary delay, the horse roundup continued. With the mid-term elections approaching and political survival, the economy, and the unemployment picture on the minds of most members of Congress, it’s hard to imagine much definitive action being taken on the horse issue in the coming months.

The roundups will continue. And that means some of the horses will be injured or killed in the process.

The members of Congress wrote, “We are concerned about the inability of your agency to acknowledge these disturbing outcomes, change what seems to be deeply flawed policy, and better manage the gathers so as to prevent the unnecessary suffering and death of these federally protected animals.”

The suffering will continue. The roundups will continue.

The war goes on unabated.

John L. Smith writes a weekly column on rural Nevada. He also writes a daily column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at jsmith@reviewjournal.com or at (702) 383-0295.
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The longest war in the West by John "Nevada" Smith


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