Despite opposition, roundup of 2,500 Nevada mustangs OKd by Bureau of Land Management
CARSON CITY, Nev. — The Bureau of Land Management approved the removal of 2,500 wild horses from the range near Reno on Monday amid growing opposition to what would be one of the largest mustang roundups in Nevada in recent years.
A federal judge in Washington is to hear arguments Wednesday in a lawsuit filed to block the roundup planned for this month.
The roundup is part of the BLM's overall strategy to remove thousands of mustangs from public lands around the West and ship them to greener pastures in the East. The BLM estimates about half of the 36,600 wild mustangs live in Nevada. It wants to reduce the overall population to what it considers an "appropriate management level" of 26,600.
In its decision involving the 2,500 Nevada horses, the BLM said removal of the mustangs is needed to bring population numbers down in the Calico Mountains Complex to prevent habitat deterioration.
The agency estimates that more than 3,000 mustangs roam the five herd-management areas near the Black Rock Desert that make up the complex. It wants to reduce the population to about 570 by removing horses and treating others with birth control.
BLM spokeswoman JoLynn Worley said the agency in 2000 set what it deemed to be appropriate horse populations for areas in Nevada and has been working since to achieve those goals. In 2002, about 2,200 horses were taken each from the Calico area and another area near Elko. Smaller gathers have been ongoing.
Horses taken from the range would be placed for adoption or sent to long-term holding corrals, which now hold about as many wild horses as left in the wild.
Mustang advocates say the planned gather using helicopters is illegal because some of the animals are traumatized, injured or killed.
U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman in Washington is scheduled to hear arguments Wednesday on a motion to stop the gather. The suit was filed in November by California-based In Defense of Animals and wildlife biologist Craig Downer. Terri Farley, a Nevada author whose books about wild horses target young readers, joined the lawsuit Monday.
"If we allow the BLM to continue to ignore the will of Congress and the American people, then soon there will be no horses left to preserve," Farley said in a written statement.
Horse advocates said the roundup violates the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act, which Congress passed in 1971 to protect wild horses and burros as "living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West."
In 2008, the BLM said it would have to consider euthanizing wild horses because of escalating numbers and the cost of caring for them in long-term holding facilities. But this year, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the agency instead would pursue shipping horses to pastures and holding corrals in the Midwest and East.
Horse advocates call that proposal unnecessary and inhumane. During a hearing last week, they urged the BLM's National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board to press for a moratorium on roundups until an independent audit of mustang numbers can be conducted.
-- Associated Press
Photo: Wild horses are seen near Carson River in Nevada in 2006. Credit: Chad Lundquist / Associated Press