By Pat Raia, The Horse
Wild horse advocates will get the first option to purchase horses collected from Nevada's Virginia Range by that state's Department of Agriculture under an agreement struck between the agency and Return to Freedom, Inc. (RTF), a California-based wild horse advocacy group and sponsor of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign.
Nevada Department of Agriculture (NDA) spokesman Ed Foster said that approximately 2,500 horses reside on the Virginia Range, a private rangeland surrounded by four major highways. The animals are so-called “estrays,” descended from wild horses and domestic horses turned out onto the range by their owners. The NDA, which is tasked with managing the animals, has removed some of the horses from the Virginia Range to prevent animals that wander onto the nearby highways from being killed by motorists, Foster said. The gathered horses are then sold at auction, Foster said.
“We’re following statute here which goes back to Nevada brand laws,” Foster said.
However, the sale of the horses at auction has drawn criticism from some wild horse advocates on grounds that the animals could be sold at auction to buyers who would resell the animals for slaughter at horse processing plants in Mexico and Canada.
On March 12, the NDA and RTF entered into a cooperative agreement whereby the RTF can purchase the collected horses for $100 per horse on an as-is basis, Foster said. Under the agreement, RTF will work with third parties who either adopt or purchase the horses to ensure that the animals are not released back onto the Virginia Range. Also under the agreement, RTF must provide the NDA with an annual report of all the horses resold or placed during the previous 12 months. Any horses that are offered to, but not accepted by RTF two days after the organization is notified of the animals’ availability will be subject to NDA disposition.
Foster said the agreement was a positive step in the management of the estray horses.
RTF President Neda DeMayo said that the agreement was a first step in the humane resolution of issues connected to the Virginia Range horses. She said her group will also work with Nevada agricultural authorities to develop strategies such as birth control, fencing, and diversionary feeding to eliminate the need to remove the animals from their range.
“We look forward to working with Gov. (Brian) Sandoval and the Department of Agriculture to secure the long term solution which will keep these horses wild, safe and free ranging as well as (to) prevent any possible safety issues,” DeMayo said.
Foster said that in addition to the Virginia Range, the cooperative agreement also applies to Washoe, Storey, and Lyon counties, as well as the Consolidated Municipality of Carson City.