A Nevada wildlife committee has suggested mustangs and burros are not legally entitled to quench their thirst from water rights allocated to federal agencies to support wildlife.
The Feral Horse Committee of the Nevada Wildlife Commission has drafted a letter to the state engineer, contending the federally protected horses are not wildlife under state law, and the animals' drinking of water does not constitute "beneficial use" as required for a water rights permit.
Among other things, the committee wants the state engineer to instruct federal agencies to immediately remove any wild horses or burros "that are making unlawful use of Nevada waters," according to the letter obtained Friday by The Associated Press.
"The Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners would strenuously object to any attempt to assign a form of beneficial use of Nevada water for these federally owned animals," the draft letter states.
The committee meets Tuesday in Eureka, a small town 240 miles east of Reno on U.S. 50. Along with the letter, it will consider an overall policy statement on the wild horse issue, according to a posted agenda.
Jason King, state engineer, said the federal government holds about 28 water permits in Nevada, mostly on land administered by the Bureau of Land Management, for wildlife benefit.
"I only issue permits for what I can lawfully do," he said.
State law prevents the issuance of stockwater permits to the federal government, because the government doesn't own livestock.
The letter argues that because of that restriction, the federal government erroneously applies for water rights for wildlife.
Neither the Nevada Depart-ment of Wildlife nor the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service "claim that these animals are wildlife and under their jurisdiction," the letter said.
The wildlife commission, a nine-member body of political appointees chosen by the governor, sets broad wildlife policy. The Nevada Depart-ment of Wildlife is the state agency responsible for day-to-day wildlife management.
Clashes between some commissioners and the department over the commission's emphasis on predator control - killing mountain lions and coyotes - resulted in the abrupt firing of state wildlife Director Ken Mayer in late November by Gov. Jim Gibbons a month before he left office. Gibbons appointed all current commission members.
Mayer was rehired as acting director by Gov. Brian Sandoval on Jan. 4, the day after Sandoval's inauguration. The terms of four commissioners expire this year.