Lack of food and water in the upper Virginia Range is driving Storey County's wild horse population into the valleys.
The population is beginning to show signs of dehydration as well as starvation, and officials at the Department of Agriculture and the Virginia Range Wildlife Protection Association are scrambling to deal with the problem.
"We're in a situation where the horses are in need of hay and water," said Olivia Fiamengo, spokeswoman for the association.
"Some horses are in bad shape in the Lockwood Canyon area. The State Department of Agriculture has approved feeding station, and the state will be trapping and removing horses from the area."
Eighty horses are in various stages of processing at the holding pens at Northern Nevada Correctional Center, with about 80 more earmarked for roundup. Of those, some are malnourished and dehydrated, according to Fiamengo.
"My understanding is that a trap will be moved from Virginia City to that area," she said. "The horses in the worst condition will be trapped, removed and put up for adoption."
The association works in cooperation with the Department of Agriculture and Storey County to manage the animals. Fiamengo said this is a crisis that will test the process.
"We'd love to get the information out there and get (the adoption process) going," Fiamengo said. "We need homes for a lot of horses, and hay."
Starting this month, the group has taken on the task of trucking water to watering holes. According to Fiamengo, some springs are still open and flowing but the range surrounding water holes is in bad condition. Horses must travel farther between feed and water, a stressful situation for them, according to Fiamengo.
The protection group spent $18,000 on hay supplements last year. This year's feeding started in August rather than October and the bill is expected to rise to between $45,000 to $65,000, according to Fiamengo.
Necropsies on horses euthanized in previous crises have revealed that the animals in the Virginia Range often fall prey to a shortage of selenium, a mineral transferred through normal grazing, according to Fiamengo.
Forage was found in those animal's stomachs, but when the range is depleted the animals don't get the required amount of selenium, and they begin to die. Parasites are also a problem, according to Fiamengo.
"It's survival of fittest, but no one wants to see it happen," she said. "The state is in charge and we're asking to help. We hope they will allow us to do that."
Contributions for hay as well as those interested in adopting horses can contact the Association through their website, www.vrwpa.org, or by calling them at 775-881-2288.