Nevada Mustang Status Bill Fails

A Nevada bill that would have stripped Bureau of Land Management (BLM) wild horses and burros of their wildlife status, possibly threatening the animals' access to water resources in that state, has died in committee.

The bill, AB 329, would have amended current law pertaining to the appropriation, use, and regulation of water resources in Nevada to specifically exclude wild horses and burros from the state's definition of wildlife. Currently state law mandates the provision of water resources to recognized wildlife. The bill would have defined wildlife "to mean all wild mammals, wild birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians, mollusks, or other crustaceans other than wild horses and burros."

BLM Spokesperson Heather Emmons Jasinski said the agency does not typically apply for water rights for wild horses and burros in Nevada because, under the state's current definition of wildlife, the animals are covered under state law pertaining to the adjudication of vested water rights and the allocation of public waters. That law requires all permit holders for springs or seeps to allow access to wildlife that customarily use it.

The agency only applies for a water right if it wants to put in a trough or well, or when a water right is necessary to protect a water source or riparian habitat due to development, she said.

Because all water rights within the state of Nevada are managed through the state's Department of Water Resources under the direction of the Nevada State Engineer, the BLM must apply for water rights through that department, Emmons Jasinski said. The water source must be located within a BLM Herd Management Area to be considered for a permit, she said.

Currently, the BLM Nevada holds approximately 28 water rights for wildlife use identifying wild horses and burros as the wildlife utilizing the water, Emmons Jasinski said.

Paul Mouritsen, manager of the Nevada Legislature's constituent services unit research division, said the Nevada Assembly passed AB 329 on April 15. The measure was then referred to the Nevada State Senate's Natural Resources Committee for consideration.

Mouritsen said Natural Resources Committee members discussed the bill on May 20, but declined to advance it to the full Senate for consideration.

However, the issue contained in the bill may still be pending, Mouritsen said.

"Chairman Mark Manendo said he would draft a letter to the Senate's Public Lands Committee asking them to study the question," Mouritsen said.

That committee could consider the bill during the legislature interim session beginning in September, he said.

Bill sponsor Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea was unavailable to comment on the bill's failure.

Wild horse advocate Suzanne Roy, campaign director of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, was pleased with the Natural Resources Committee's action.

"Cutting wild horses off from water would have provided a cruel mechanism for removing more wild horses from our public lands," Roy said. "So far, the people and the mustangs have won out."

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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