By Mark Robison, RGJ.com
The Bureau of Land Management was justified in removing a family of wild horses off Deer Run Road near Carson City.
Earlier this year, Leon Thomas — the BLM’s new Sierra Front field manager — ordered the removal of 11 horses near Deer Run Road. Some were sent to a Colorado ranch; eight are up for auction Saturday.
That much is agreed upon, nearly everything else is in dispute.
A Feb. 26 BLM press release stated the removal justification this way:
“These horses routinely cross the Carson River into River View City Park, where the BLM has received several complaints of people feeling threatened by the wild horses. …
“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. 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. …
“The BLM follows the Code of Federal Regulations 4720.2-1, which mandates the removal of strayed animals from private lands based on written request from landowners. The bait trapping is in response to several complaint letters the BLM has received in past months from private landowners.”
Deniz Bolbol of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign said, “The BLM has published press releases making claims, refusing to provide specifics or documentation to support their claims and then basing their actions on these unfounded claims.”
Bolbol’s first complaint regards the claim that four horses have been killed in accidents in the past two years on Deer Run Road.
The Nevada Department of Transportation, which has authority over the road, has no record of horses in the past two years being killed. In fact, in a report covering the past 19 years, NDOT reports just two “horse-involved crashes” on Deer Run Road with zero human injuries or fatalities.
Thomas said, “We did receive calls horses were struck on Deer Run Road.”
Asked for evidence, Thomas said, “It came from us having hand-written logs and information in the office where we had to go and send a specialist out there because there was now a dead horse.”
This may be true but the BLM could provide no documentation for verification.
Thomas said NDOT isn’t always informed of “horse strikes,” as horse-vehicle accidents are called, and he’s instituted new procedures to make sure it is.
Bolbol said the BLM has supplied complaints only about a troublesome stallion and colt.
She said, “These studs were picked up in or before August 2012, thereby addressing and mitigating these complaints. The BLM has provided no complaints relating to the 11 horses removed over the last few weeks.”
Thomas said the BLM is required to round up the horses if private landowners complain. Federal regulations require written requests for removal from private landowners.
Asked for complaints regarding the 11 horses in question, the BLM supplied eight redacted public complaints, with three of them merely relaying phone calls. They mentioned only the two horses who had already been removed last summer.
Thomas said this herd has been a constant source of problem horses and removing one horse here and one there doesn’t solve the long-term problem.
“I’m not the kind of person who is going to wait before someone gets hurt,” he said. “This is a public safety concern. I’m being proactive about it.”
Late in Fact Checker’s pursuit of this story, the BLM added a new removal justification:
“We issued an environmental assessment back in 2010 and said we were going to round up all these horses in (different management areas),” BLM spokeswoman Heather Jasinski said. “The Deer Run horses were going to be part of this 2010 roundup,”
There was public opposition at the time, she said, because a helicopter would’ve been used.
“So we said we won’t gather those now, we will come in and bait-trap them later. … So we’re just getting around to doing what we said we were going to do,” she said.
Recall how the press release giving justification said only: “The bait trapping is in response to several complaint letters…”
Bolbol compared the BLM to a habitual liar who keeps throwing out stories until one sticks.
Her hope is that if the concern is over horses leaving their area to visit the park, a fence with a gate can be put up. She even offered to help secure funding.
There were two Deer Run wild horses causing concerns over property damage and safety. They were removed seven months ago, and no documented complaints have occurred since.
This would seem to imply the problem was solved. But the BLM rounded up 11 other horses and cited complaints as if they — rather than the two long-gone studs — were to blame.
The BLM also claimed a highway danger that it couldn’t prove as the reason it was unable to work with wild horse advocates on solutions to keep the 11 horses on the range.
The 2010 roundup plan may have merit, but it was not given to the public as justification when the horses were rounded up so it doesn’t play a role in this verdict.
A beloved band of horses who’d lived in the Deer Run area for years was uprooted and sent off for auction. The public and the horses themselves deserved a more defensible level of justification for their removal from the BLM.
Even if the BLM is right that removing individual horses when problems arise doesn’t keep problems from ever happening again — and it is — that doesn’t justify removal of related horses who residents hadn’t complained about.
And maybe occasional problems is the price we pay for the privilege of living among wild horses.
P.S. Much responsibility for this situation should be put on those who fed horses in the park. They put the herd at risk of removal. A park sign says it’s illegal to feed them but that hasn’t worked. Perhaps a sign would work better that says the horses will be sold for auction if you teach them the habit of coming to the park for treats.