Plans to return 186 wild horses to the rangelands of Nevada are on hold in what two wild advocacy groups are calling a stand-off between federal authorities and a local rancher and his supporters.
The horses in question were gathered by Bureau of Land Management (BLM) contractors from the 230,000-acre Fish Creek Herd Management Area in Eureka, Nevada.
The roundup began on February 13, with 424 horses captured in the six days that followed.
Authorities treated 102 mares with a long-acting birth control agent and has plans to released them back into the area along with 84 stallions.
However, the Eureka County Commission filed a case on Friday with the Interior Board of Land Appeals on behalf of livestock rancher Kevin Borba, who has a grazing permit on the herd management area.
They want the BLM to ship all the horses to the government holding facility in Palomino Valley, Nevada.
Borba argues that the BLM has drastically cut his livestock allotments, yet is looking to exceed the appropriate management level of wild horses for the area, set at 101 and 170 animals.
The fate of the horses now awaits the outcome of the appeal.
The BLM has asked the appeals board to fast-track its review in the hope it can get a decision within days.
Wild horse advocates expressed their disappointment over the situation, describing the Fish Creek Management Plan as groundbreaking and progressive.
The plan was designed around recommendations released in 2013 by the National Academy of Sciences after a two-year study commissioned by the National BLM Program Office.
“The progressive management plan is the result of a ten-year management strategy,” said Laura Leigh, founder of Wild Horse Education.
“The plan was forged to support fiscally responsible humane and effective methods to minimize the unsustainable capture and warehousing of wild horses.”
The plan also incorporates data collection as recommended by the National Academy of Sciences findings, such as identifying genetic health, seasonal movement, impact to herd structure, and range-use patterns.
She said the herd was extremely healthy and had a diverse population of wild horses, including the largest population of rare Curlys, which make up 16 percent of their number.
The horses, she said, were now caught in the middle of the ongoing historic battle between the federal government and public land ranchers.
Leigh, who has been on site throughout the roundup and will volunteer to help with the adoption of the 232 younger horses removed from the range, said she had been documenting the Fish Creek range and its horses for years, as well as the cattle.
“We finally have a fair and sane management plan that makes sense for today. To lose ground in a standoff reminiscent of an old Western movie will be a giant step backwards.”
Neda DeMayo, the president of Return to Freedom, a wild horse conservation organization, described the management plan for Fish Creek as an inspiring step forward for all dedicated advocates, ranchers and government employees that have worked hard for years on solutions that will keep wild horses on the range.
“While proven effective and safe management methods are delayed, the real battle rages on. As America’s wild horses face their last stand, we need solutions that work for range resources, the ranchers and our wild horses — now.”
The group acknowledged the impact of drought conditions on the western rangelands, but said ranchers targeted the wild horses for removal even when they were outnumbered by livestock by an average of 35 to one.
The BLM estimates 45 million acres of Nevada’s public land is available for livestock grazing. An estimated 25,000 wild horses and burros currently exist on under 16 million acres of Nevada’s public lands, which they share with 240,000 to 480,000 head of livestock.