Wild horses released near Pyramid Lake

BLM workers free a batch of wild horses in an area west Pyramid Lake Wednesday afternoon.  photo by Rick Gunn

BLM workers free a batch of wild horses in an area west Pyramid Lake Wednesday afternoon. photo by Rick Gunn

About 15 huge horses shuddered and snorted in their trailers like thoroughbreds at a starting gate, and when the doors opened they bolted into the first freedom they had known in three years.

Fat, sleek and dark, their coats flashed in the sun, manes flying, as they disappeared over a small knoll and into a canyon just north of Pyramid Lake on Wednesday.

For them, this range was home until a fire ravaged the area in October 1999. Fearing they would starve, Bureau of Land Management officials gathered the horses and boarded them in a private pasture in White Pine County for three years.

It's been a long and expensive battle. The boarding fees alone cost about $129,000. Following the release, Jim Gianola, wild horse and burro specialist for the Bureau of Land Management, beamed like a new dad.

"There are three springs nearby, up the canyon," he said. "The fire rejuvenated the area and the range, which was reseeded with native species, hasn't looked better for 25 years."

He said bureau officials will check on the animals in the next couple of days, the most critical for this type of transition. Herd numbers are below the recommended numbers for this area and he shouldn't have to thin them for another three to four years. Local ranchers don't mind having the animals there if the numbers are kept in check and local ranch hand Jimmy Lee concurred.

"This country is in real good shape," he said. "We lost some brush, like bitterbrush, but that was replaced when they seeded."

Descended from draft animals used on a nearby ranch, the animals released Wednesday are big-boned and tall, standing about 16 hands high with thick necks.

Nevada's wild horses are descended from a number of lines, including the U.S. Calvary and Pony Express. The animals are unique in different range management areas across the state and preserving those lines is just one aspect of range management, according to Glade Anderson, Palomino Valley facility manager.

"We have curly haired horses near Battle Mountain and Ely and the horses from Owyhee are bigger, about 17 hands," Anderson said.

He spoke from his office at the Palomino Valley Wild Horse and Burro Center, where the tone was more somber. Almost 2,200 animals wait in holding pens and will never return to the range.

Droughts in the Great Basin have necessitated the removal of many of animals this summer. Most are sent to points east in an effort to find homes, their removal just part of a delicate balancing act.

Types of forage, competing species, livestock and the type of horse, together with input from wildlife agencies and other public entities, all are taken into consideration.

"For example, mule deer are browsers and don't directly compete with horses for feed, but elk are grazers, so an area with a high number of elk could take fewer horses," he said. "But the elk numbers are also held in check."

He called the recent Callahan gather near Austin and Rock Creek gather north of Elko, were borderline emergencies, brought on by drought and range conditions.

"We wanted to be proactive and get the horses before they were in bad condition, when it's hard to get them back into shape," he said. "Every gather this summer has been drought-related and it's not over. We're still having water problems in Utah and serious problems in Caliente." Before that crisis, Anderson has a pen of year-old colts and fillies he'd like adopt out before winter.

"We left the mares for breeding stock and put them on grain," he said "These horses are best for families because they're young and it's easy to gain trust. There's a special bond with a wild vs. a domestic animal. These horses often develop a special bond. It's a special thing for most families."


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