Sanctuaries and holding facilities the fate for most wild horses

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The Bureau of Land Management is given a budget to provide for the unadoptable wild horses it takes from the range, but such is not the case for Nevada's Department of Agriculture, which manages 1,100 estray animals in Storey County's Virginia Range.

Citing range conditions, the Agriculture Department removed about 180 animals from the Virginia Range this summer and, according to acting Director Don Henderson, had few adopters and limited resources.

He said the horses might have been sold at auction, but Central California rancher Slick Gardner provided sanctuary for the animals.

They will be held on his ranch for a time, but according to Henderson, no legal restraints came with this agreement.

"Gardner has been a good adopter in the past and he's a good man," Henderson said. "We sold them to him at a minimum cost of $1 a head, with his promise to keep them a year or more. At $2.50 per head, they were costing us $400 a day, just to feed."

Horses adopted through either the Bureau of Land Management or the Nevada Department of Agriculture must be held for the same amount of time.

The program's budget, about $18,000 annually, was augmented by $72,919 from the State Board of Examiners on Wednesday. That money, according to Henderson, will cover only basic expenses.

"If we keep 30 horses on a rotating basis throughout the winter at $2.75 a day plus a salary for our field manager, this is just enough to maintain existing program through fiscal year, which ends June 30," Henderson said. "If we have another disaster, we may have to go for additional emergency funding. Right now, it's running us about $100,000 minimum, just to run this program."

He said the Agriculture Department is requesting a larger budget for the next fiscal biennium, but would not disclose the amount.

Depleted ranges and drought conditions meant the removal of 6,176 Bureau of Land Management horses from Nevada's public lands this year. Nationally, the total was 11,470 and sadly, many of these animals will not be going loving homes.

Older animals that can't make the adjustment or those with minor handicaps, like a missing eye, are often considered unadoptable. These animals usually go to temporary holding facilities, equivalent to the Agriculture Department's sanctuary.

According to Lili Thomas, a wild horse and burro specialist with the Bureau of Land Management, there is no shortage of people willing to provide these facilities -- for a price.

Private land-owners submit bids to take these animals and once the horses are situated, the bureau pays a set fee.

These holding facilities must be able to handle at least 2,000 animals. That number is determined by the type of range and its ability to sustain itself, given the grazing pressure. A special panel reviews and chooses the applicants and conditions are monitored and controlled by the bureau. The contracts are renegotiated every five years. Most applicants, according to Thomas, are serious businessmen.

"The cattle business is up and down and it's not good this year. If they have these horses, they know they'll be getting a pay check," Thomas said. "We've got people that have the land and many are calling."

According to figures from the Bureau of Land Management, Nevada's wild horse population stands at about 20,000. Those numbers are included in the national totals of 39,000. The bureau adopted out about 7,746 horses this year. Only 135 of those went to Nevada homes.


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