State of Nevada prepares for BLM action against Indian sisters

RENO, Nev. (AP) -- Nevada is asking horse organizations around the West for help in preparing for an influx of animals expected from a federal roundup of livestock owned by two Western Shoshone sisters.

The plans being made by the state Department of Agriculture and the nonprofit horse groups are the latest signs that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management intends to again confiscate livestock owned by Mary and Carrie Dann in remote Crescent Valley.

"The BLM has been coordinating with us and told us they plan to do this gather," said Don Henderson, acting state agriculture director.

While the state agency is not directly involved in the decades-old treaty and grazing dispute between the Danns and the federal government, it does have jurisdiction over "estray" horses -- those without a brand or apparent owner.

Hundreds of such horses are expected to be captured if the BLM impounds the livestock.

"Our job is to take care of the horses, not interfere with the dispute over land," said Jerry Finch of Habitat for Horses. The horse rescue organization in Hitchcock, Texas, is one of more than two dozen contacted by the state.

Julie Fishel, an attorney with the Western Shoshone Defense Project, said many of the Danns' horses are without brands.

"How much taxpayer money is the BLM willing to spend to come out here and terrorize these women when it could use that money to try to negotiate a resolution?" Fishel said. "Instead they're ripping the livelihood from two grandmothers."

The Danns have feuded with the federal agency for decades over use of the land they claim belongs to the Western Shoshone tribe under a 140-year-old treaty. In 1993, an international group recognized the Danns for their "courage and perseverance in asserting the rights of indigenous peoples to the land." They were presented with the "Right Livelihood Award" in Stockholm, Sweden, an award sometimes referred to as the "alternative Nobel" prize.

The federal government maintains the land issue was decided by the courts years ago and claims the Danns' livestock are overgrazing land to which other ranchers are entitled.

In September the BLM confiscated 227 cattle from the Danns and sold them at auction. Late last month, the agency instructed them to remove any remaining livestock within five days or risk further impoundment.

"We told them when we impounded the cattle in September that if they did not remove the horses, we'd be coming back to remove them," BLM spokeswoman Jo Simpson said.

On Monday, the BLM conducted an aerial survey of the region, counting about 800 horses and 80 cattle, Simpson said.

"We expect that a large number of those horses are going to be unbranded," Simpson said. "If that's the case, the disposition of those horses are under the purview of the state of Nevada."

Federally protected wild mustangs would be placed in the BLM's adoption program.

The state sent letters to 28 nonprofit horse rescue organizations in eight Western states and as far away as Maryland, asking for their assistance.

"The Department of Agriculture expects a significant number of estray horses to come into our possession in the near future," Henderson wrote in the Dec. 31 letter. "We are soliciting legitimate ... organizations to take permanent and legal possession of as many of these horses as possible."

The department is offering the horses at $50 a head if a group agrees to take two or more. Organizations were told to respond before Jan. 17.

"Anything we can't place beforehand will be picked up by a livestock buyer," Henderson said.

Henderson said all the horses will be held through a five-day period required by law to give anyone time to claim an animal and verify ownership.

Those that have been reserved by horse groups will be separated and held at an undisclosed location, Henderson said. The others will be shipped out of state to be sold, most likely for slaughter.


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