By Dylan Woolf Harris, Elko Daily Free Press
ELKO — A federal agency’s advisory board agreed last week to encourage the Bureau of Land Management to gather and sell excess wild horses, as an emergency response to drought.
The recommendation was passed by BLM Nevada’s three resource advisory councils, which meet as a large board once a year to vote on recommendations and management advice. This year, the meeting was held in Elko.
Debbie Lassiter, chair of the Sierra Front Great Basin Northeast RAC, read the proposed resolution, according to a meeting transcript, which asked that “due to drought and the increasing number of wild horses, lack of long term holding, and for the preservation of the range and humanitarian treatment of the horses, the BLM explore all options, including supporting gathers and the unconditional sale of wild horses to promote the goal of the sustainable wild horse population.”
On public land overpopulated by wild horses, BLM practice has been to take a number of those horses and auction them off to the public. Horses repeatedly passed over at auction have been sent to ranches for long-term holding. As the long-term facilities reach capacity, however, the BLM has slowed down horse-gathering operations.
“It’s time to think outside of the box,” Lassiter said at the meeting. “… Gathers do need to happen and this is not the end all solution, but (it’s) an immediate solution, an immediate action.”
Horse advocates believe the BLM’s wild horse roundups, in which horses are herded by a helicopter into a pen, are harmful to the animals, and have characterized long-term holding as warehousing.
The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign said “unconditional sale” is a euphemistic way of asking the BLM sell horses for slaughter.
“Instead of focusing on slaughter, why don’t we work together on a fertility control program, to humanely manage horses on the range and stop the mass roundup and removal of these iconic animals from our public lands?” Deniz Bolbol, AWHPC spokeswomen, asked in a statement.
Erica Szlosek, BLM’s state communications chief, said the RAC’s vote does not change BLM policy and emphasized that agency policy bars the sale of horses to buyers who intend to slaughter them.
“It’s a recommendation and we will submit it (to the Department of the Interior), but it’s not a BLM proposal,” she said.
The BLM is bound by law handed down from Congress.
“Congress could change the Act to do something differently,” Szlosek said. “… We’re always open to hearing new solutions.”
The Nevada Association of Counties filed suit in December against the federal government, on grounds that its wild horse management practices were detrimental to the land, land users and horses. The lawsuit argues an amendment to the Wild Horse and Burro Act already authorizes the BLM to sell horses for slaughter.
The BLM is always in need of RAC members, Szlosek added. Representatives from industry, recreation, conservation, elected officials and the public at large can serve on the boards. Two RAC boards come from Northern Nevada and one from Southern Nevada.
Those interested in serving on one of the state’s three 15-person panels can contact the state office at 775-861-4480. Each RAC meets quarterly and the Tri-RAC meets annually.