I.G.H.A. / HorseAid's Bureau of Land Management News
Legislative battle brews over Nevada's wild horses
MISFIT FLAT, Nev. -- The small herd of wild horses that roams across this flat, where the 1961 movie "The Misfits'' was filmed, is led by a fast, smart stallion, coal black except for a white blaze on his head.
Andy Quaill, who lives just south of Misfit Flat, has ridden his fastest horse to see if he can keep up with the wild herd. But the stallion always leaves him in the alkali dust.
The fate of the herd, along with 23,000 other wild horses that roam Nevada's open ranges, will be debated by state lawmakers who are dissatisfied with a federal wild horse program and want to change some of its policies.
Nevada's mustang problem is as divisive as the horses are shy. On one side stand ranchers and some others who live on the edges of towns, who complain the herds overgraze the range, eat gardens and stomp on sprinkler systems.
On the other side are people like Quaill, who sees the wild horse as a symbol of what's left of the untamed West.
That symbol was made famous in movies like "The Misfits'' which starred Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable. Gable portrayed a mustanger who had to face the changing West where horses were no longer caught for ranching. Cowboys instead rounded them up for sale to dog-food manufacturers.
"There's nothing more beautiful then to see a herd of mustangs out living the way God wants them to live,'' said Quaill. "My stepsons used to brag to their schoolmates about the wild mustangs in their back yard.
"I don't know of anybody who minds the mustangs. They're not harming anything. People will even put out hay when feed is scarce. It's the cattle that overgrazes the public land, not the horses.''
Jeanine Totzke, who lives with her family near Quaill, about 20 miles east of Carson City, agrees.
"I like having the wild horses out there, we enjoy watching them,'' Totzke said. "That's one of the reasons we moved out here -- in the middle of nowhere -- to see the wildlife. I don't think they should take them away. They're part of the West.''
But others argue just as passionately against allowing large herds to roam the range. They include Assemblyman John Carpenter, R-Elko, who says, "The situation is out of control in Nevada.''
"They're ruining the range. They eat the forage and mess up the water holes,'' adds Carpenter, who sits on the Assembly Natural Resources, Agriculture and Mining Committee. "South of Elko in the Diamond Mountains, where there are 1,200 head in the herds, the range is deteriorating. It looks like the devil.''
But Sen. Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, who is proposing a bill changing the penalty for killing a wild horse or burro from a misdemeanor to a felony, says science indicates otherwise.
"All the biologists and range managers say that horses do less damage than livestock,'' Titus said. "The problem is both the (Assembly and Senate) natural resources committees are dominated by rural ranchers who don't care about the wild horses, they only care about cows.''
Under the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971, Congress sought to protect the animals and place excess horses up for adoption.
The BLM was assigned the task of gathering, placing and tracking the horses for a year after adoption, but recent stories by The Associated Press have revealed that many horses have ended up in slaughterhouses instead.
Under the "adopt-a-horse'' program, the adopter keeps the horse for a year before getting a title for the animal. However, the AP found that the BLM has lost track of more than 32,000 animals placed in adoption, allowing people to neglect, abuse and sometimes sell them for slaughter.
One Nevada legislator says the BLM program, even when run properly, is flawed.
"The problem is they offer up for adoption the young, healthy horses while turning back on the range the old and crippled ones, which is inhumane in itself,'' said Assembly Natural Resources Committee Chairwoman Marcia de Braga, D-Fallon.
De Braga also said she continually hears from ranchers who complain they paid a fee to use public lands for grazing and developed wells for livestock, only to watch herds of horses come through and overgraze the area.
In 1991 there were about 33,000 wild horses in Nevada. By 1996 that number had been reduced to 23,000 and the BLM plans to get the number down to 19,500 by October, according to Maxine Shane, BLM spokeswoman in Reno.
A state law designated the Nevada Commission for the Preservation of Wild Horses as the agency assigned to protect the state herds. The commission's funding comes from invested money left in a will for that purpose by a Nevada wild horse lover.
But some lawmakers are seeking to change the provisions of the commission through legislation to be introduced this session.
One proposal would change the qualification requirements for the five-member, governor-appointed commission, mandating that one be "an owner or manager of a ranch that uses public land for grazing and upon which wild horses live.''
Another member would need to come from a county with a population of less than 40,000. That would eliminate people who live in more populous areas on the west side of the state.
The measure also requires the commission to "encourage cooperative efforts and to participate in programs for the removal and disposal of wild horses.''
Steven Fulstone, a Smith Valley rancher and vice-chairman of the Nevada wild horse panel, says the wording is certain to provoke legislative battles.
"That one I just can't agree with,'' Fulstone said. "That's against the wild horse and burro act. It's not appropriate for a commission for the preservation of horses to do that.
"There has to be a reasonable way to handle the overpopulation of wild horses. Those changes in the legislation are not the way to do it.''
Use your browser BACK button to go back