Helicopter rounds up Fish Springs wild horses

GARDNERVILLE - Though wild horse lovers in Fish Springs hoped it would never happen again, 42 mustangs were rounded up by Bureau of Land Management wranglers in response to five complaints.

By law, the BLM must respond to any complaint regarding wild horses or burros as directed by the 1971 Wild Horse and Burro Act.

BLM Deputy for Renewable Resources Steep Weiss said the agency starting getting complaints three months ago coinciding with the horses' natural tendency to move to lower elevations during the winter.

The roundup upset Fish Springs resident Sylvia Arnett, who saw a helicopter descend Thursday morning on a group of nearby horses.

"I was just having my morning cup of coffee around 8:30 a.m. and noticed one group of horses sleeping outside," said Arnett. "I heard the helicopter and saw it come toward the seven or eight horses that were in that band, and they drove them up over the hill and into the trap. There's nothing more dramatic than 60 horses galloping at full speed a few hundred feet from you."

Weiss said as much as BLM officials would like to see local ideas in controlling wild horses around private lands, the law governs their actions.

"We can't evaluate whether the complaint is valid," he said. "We know it's a polarizing issue with so much emotion, and it's hard to find a way to make everybody happy.

"We'd like to manage things from a logical perspective but with wild horses it's hard to get people to a consensus because of the emotional factor. The main thing is we are driven by the Wild Horse and Burro Act."

Even though the horses gathered Thursday didn't account for all that are out there, Weiss said there aren't immediate plans to return for more.

Jim Gianola, wild horse and burro specialist, said BLM horse and burro specialists don't just run out and get the horse trailer and fire up the helicopter every time there's a complaint from a property owner.

The complaints that led to Thursday's roundup were the average annoyances he hears every time a property owner calls to ask the bureau to do something about the horses in a back yard, he said.

"It's always the same - 'They ate my grass, they ate my daffodils,'" he said. "The first thing I tell everybody is to run the horses off and throw rocks at them but if you feed them and water them, they're going to stay around. The truth is, this is their home range and these horses will come down here regardless. They have a natural tendency to gravitate toward free food and water."

Mark Struble, public affairs officer for the BLM, said a much larger gathering - 400 horses - was completed about a month ago outside of Fallon.

"This one (Fish Springs) was considerably less than that one," he said. "If we get enough complaints, though, because of the act we are required to take them off the land."

Gianola, who's been on horse roundups since 1979, said the roundup went well.

"No horses were hurt, not even a scratch, and we had no problems whatsoever," he said. "We caught a couple-days-old colt - caught him separate from the rest and hand-carried him to the trailer. We got him back with his mother right away."

The young buckskin foal was named "Sunshine" by the wranglers, Weiss said.

Statewide, up to 8,000 horses are gathered every year, Gianola said.

"And even at 7,000 to 8,000 head, we're not even keeping up with the birthrate," he said. "There are 25,000 to 28,000 horses out there, and we should have it around 14,000 to 17,000. And our adoption system is pretty good - we've had 160,000 to 170,000 horses adopted out."

Gianola said the 42 Fish Springs horses, including Sunshine and his mom, were taken to the Palomino Valley Adoption Center. There, they will be kept together and then sorted by age, with horses under 5 years old kept for adoption and those older than 5 released back into the wild. If Sunshine's mother is over 5, they will be released in the wild together.

"We'll probably let them go on the other side of the mountains away from where they are now," Gianola said.

Arnett, who moved to Fish Springs six years ago, said she wishes other transplants would "leave their city life behind."

"It seemed like everybody we knew was being careful not to put out food and water this time," she said. "The people I'm upset with are the ones who move here and don't want to leave their city life behind. They want the quiet, and they're the first ones to disrupt it and drive so fast on our roads out here. If the horses and wild animals bother them, they could go back to town."

Anyone wanting to adopt any of these horses can specify the Fish Springs/Pine Nut group. The adoption center can be reached at 475-2222.


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