By Ginger Casey, Reno Gazette-Journal
My first job in television news was in Reno. The searing sun and blistering temperatures could be relentless. We routinely warned people to be careful in high heat and to take precautions for both themselves and their pets.
Twenty miles north of Reno is the federal government’s Palomino Valley National Adoption Center, where nearly 2,000 wild horses and burros are warehoused in large, open pens under blazing sun. True, horses and burros are acclimated to the desert sun in the wild, where they can find relief from the heat by heading to higher ground or by finding shade under bushes or trees. But at the Palomino Valley facility, there is no shelter of any kind for the horses and burros, no relief from triple-digit temperatures. The horses and their foals stand around on bare dirt under scorching sun with no shade of any kind. The irony is that in order to adopt one of the animals, you have to prove you have shelter from the elements available for them.
Several weeks ago, when temperatures began to top 100 degrees in Nevada, horse advocates nationwide began petitioning the Bureau of Land Management to do something about the conditions at Palomino Valley. Lester Friedlander, a former USDA veterinarian, was concerned enough to write on behalf of the horses and burros, saying conditions at the Palomino Valley facility were calling for “emergency action” to ensure the safety of the animals. He wrote that if the horses and burros were not properly protected from the heat and sun, “countless numbers will be lost to disease, infections and heat-related deaths.”
The BLM has taken a lot of flak for its handling of its wild horse and burro program. But on this one at least, the BLM seems to be getting it right. Citing the temperatures and the public’s concern, the agency announced late last month it was going to start installing sprinklers for the horses at the Palomino Valley facility. Hopefully, it is not a publicity ploy to deflect mounting public ire.
Half of the nation’s wild horses and burros live in Nevada. Despite being protected by the Wild and Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, the issues surrounding their management are complex and further complicated by politics and priorities. But rather than list what the BLM is doing wrong, I want to thank them for doing what is right by recognizing that once they take horses and burros out of their native habitat, they are no longer wild animals, but warehoused ones, and as such need to be cared for responsibly and humanely.
Sprinklers are a start, but not a full solution. The animals desperately need shade as well, and hopefully, it will follow. I hope this action is also the start of an overdue dialog between the BLM and the public on the best way to manage America’s wild horses and burros. Love them or hate them, our stewardship over these iconic animals calls us to be both compassionate and merciful.
Ginger Casey is an Emmy-award winning journalist and writer who began her 23-year television career at KTVN in Reno.