By John M. Glionna, The Los Angeles Times
LAS VEGAS -- Federal officials say they have finished rounding up 11 “problem” wild mustangs in northern Nevada and that the horses will now be offered for adoption.
The last of a band that once numbered 50 mustangs were enticed into a trap last week, as concerned residents of the Carson City neighborhood watched in dismay, questioning why the Bureau of Land Management insisted on removing animals that had peacefully coexisted with surrounding homeowners for years.
In a news release Friday, the day the last horse was lured into a trap with offerings of alfalfa and barley, the BLM repeated past claims that people had complained about the animals crossing busy roadways and damaging property to graze in a small public park.
The horses had routinely crossed the Carson River into River View City Park, and officials have received several complaints from people feeling threatened by the wild horses, according to a BLM statement.
“We have successfully gathered the horses, and hope the community will feel safe knowing there’s not a potential of hitting them on the road, or confronting them in public areas,” said Leon Thomas, a BLM manager in Carson City. “We know the community loves and appreciates these horses, so we hope some of the residents will be able to give them a home in the area they're accustomed to.”
Activists say the animals were gentle and often allowed visitors to pet them.
The debate over wild horses has raged across 11 Western states. BLM officials say the horses overgraze and damage public lands. Animal advocates and others say BLM officials are intent on removing as many wild horses as possible without considering such alternatives as birth control.
A committee of 24 residents worked for months hoping to reach a compromise with federal officials, offering to provide fencing and additional road signs at their own expense. But the residents said their suggestions were brushed aside by BLM officials.
Last week, advocates and residents were warned not to intervene with the collection, which involved BLM wranglers walking slowly in front of the free-range horses with a bag of grain, leading them into a hastily constructed traps. The gate was slammed shut once the animals were inside.
Residents have questioned the timing of the roundup, claiming that the last complaint against the animals was years ago.
The BLM has not responded to requests for a response to the criticism.
“What those horses meant to people is just impossible to describe,” said Sally Summers, the founder of Horse Power, a Nevada nonprofit that free-range mustang and burros. Their campaign includes a license plate that shows a mustange and burro with the words: “Wild and Free.”
“I got an email this week from a person in Mexico who used to live near the park,” Summers said. “They’ve lived there for 45 years, all the time watching those horses. They were just sick that the mustangs were gone. Everyone asking the same question: 'Why?' ”
A video of the roundup by mustang advocate Laura Leigh, founder of the nonprofit Wild Horse Education, included comments from neighbors who watched as one by one the last half-dozen horses were captured.
“I’ve been in Nevada for close to 20 years and one of the things that drew me to Reno and kept me here was the fact that I could go out and shoot photos of wild horses within a five-minute walk from where I lived,” said Shane Carlson, a photographer.
In its release, the BLM acknowledged the community’s concern for the animals.
“The BLM recognizes that these horses have been part of the community for many years; however, it is responsible for keeping wild horses from creating a safety hazard or threatening the well-being of the community and its animals,” the agency said. “In the past two years, four horses have been struck and killed by vehicles, and community complaints submitted to the BLM have ranged from concern for the safety of residents’ children, to stallions fighting with domestic horses through fences. In all complaints, there were safety concerns and property damage."
The agency said 11 horses gathered in the roundup will be offered for adoption at a public event March 23 at Silver Saddle Ranch in Carson City.
Horse advocates say the problems that led to complaints had been mitigated and that traffic had slowed on the road near the park.
The say the horses, now that they have been captured, are in greater danger: The BLM acknowledges that a federal probe is investigating whether hundreds of captured mustangs that could not find adopters were sold to a middleman who took the animals to Mexico, where they were presumably slaughtered.
The federal government also says that it might allow the opening of a domestic horse slaughterhouse in New Mexico, six years after all domestic kill factories were closed.
“There’s nothing they’ve been able to provide in terms of information for the community of why they're chasing this particular herd at this particular time,” Carlson said of the Carson City roundup. “It doesn’t make any sense to anybody.”