By Dylan Woolf Harris, Elko Daily Free Press
ELKO — County leaders agreed Thursday to help pay up to $10,000 for a lawsuit filed against the federal government’s management of wild horses.
The Nevada Association of Counties and the Nevada Farm Bureau Federation, who filed the complaint with a federal court in Reno, argue that although wild horses and burros have long been a part of Nevada’s landscape and heritage, their populations have grossly exceeded appropriate management levels.
Jeff Fontaine, NACO president, said via email as of Thursday NACO spent about $56,000 on the suit and estimated the cost to reach about $90,000 by the time it gets resolved. NACO funds will not be used in the lawsuit, however.
“So far we have received financial support from a variety of groups, including nongovernment organizations and counties,” Fontaine said.
The county commission voted to give NACO $5,000 immediately for the lawsuit, and approved to give an additional $5,000, if it is needed.
NACO released a statement that explained counties are concerned about wild horse population numbers for a variety of reasons.
“Wild horse overpopulation creates serious environmental concerns for horses, wildlife, and ecology of rangelands, and creates both direct and indirect economic impacts,” it states. “Loss of use of public lands as well as the cost of services associated with the health and safety impacts created by the overpopulation of wild horses and burros decreases tax revenues and yet increases the costs that counties must bear.”
According to NACO, after attempts to reach out to the U.S. Department of the Interior to discuss the problem failed to yield results, it decided to file suit.
NACO is asking the court to require the DOI to gather all excess animals on public lands, conduct regular counts, cease interfering with water rights, follow multiple-use principals, and remove horses from long-term holding facilities to instead “auction, sell and otherwise properly dispose of such animals in accordance with the (Wild Horse and Burro) Act.”
Meanwhile, wild horse advocates, who are also critical of the BLM’s management practices, are vehemently opposed to the lawsuit.
Suzanne Roy, director of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, said in an email the lawsuit represents the opinions of a few ranchers “who are dead set on slaughtering America’s wild horses over the objections of the American public,” because they compete with cattle for food.
Roy said polls indicate a majority of Americans favor the protection of wild horses, and said the lawsuit “hinges on the scientifically disproven claim that there are more wild horses on BLM land than the range can sustain.”
Roy said Congress bars the BLM from selling horses for slaughter and it reinstated a ban on horse slaughter in this country.
“As we all know, the number of wild horses pales in comparison to the hundreds of thousands of cattle and sheep who are permitted to graze on our public lands,” she said. “This lawsuit is an attempt to scapegoat wild horses and divert attention away from the destruction of our public lands by livestock grazing.”