Wild horses and burros will be removed from their ranges in northwestern Nevada under a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) conservation plan for the wildlife refuge on which they currently reside. The plan is slated to become effective after Sept. 24, said Jason D. Holm, assistant regional director of external affairs for the FWS Pacific Region.
Approximately 800 horses and 180 burros currently reside on the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge (SNWR), Holmes said. The refuge is also home to approximately 2,500 pronghorn antelope and 150 bighorn sheep, as well as greater sage grouse, mule deer, and other wildlife species, he said.
The horses and burros will be removed from the refuge under a final Comprehensive Conservation Plan intended to rid the sanctuary of non-native and invasive species, Holm said. Officials would conduct gathers with the goal of removing all the horses and burros within five years, he said.
"Horses and burros are damaging native habitats for refuge wildlife," Holm said. "Controlling feral animals takes away from wildlife and public use management priorities and efforts, and is costly."
American Wild Horse Campaign Director Suzanne Roy opposes removal on grounds that horses and burros have resided on the area since the 1800s.
"These are U.S. Cavalry horses and burros used in the California gold rush," Roy said. "They've been there (on SNWR lands) long before the refuge was created in the 1930s."
Anne Novak, executive director of the wild horse advocacy group Protect Mustangs said the FWS assessment of the equids’ environmental impact is flawed.
"They want to get rid of all the horses without understanding the positive impact they have on the thriving natural ecological balance," Novak said. "Wild horses heal the land and their grazing prevents wildfires."
Roy said that wild horse advocates had recommended FWS officials use fertility control to phase out the horse and burro population over a 15-year period. The agency rejected the option, she said. Now she and others are exploring legal options that could block the total removal.
"Right now, we don't know what we can do, but we're looking into it," she said.
Horses and burros removed from the refuge will be available for adoption, Holm said.
About the Author
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.