RENO - Seven wild horses died in a remote northeast Nevada enclosure because of a mistake by a Bureau of Land Management employee, an agency investigation found.
In a statement released Monday, BLM officials said a worker failed to install proper gates that would have allowed the animals to leave a fenced weed treatment research area.
Instead, the seven horses were trapped inside the enclosed area and died of a lack of water in May.
BLM spokesman Chris Hanefeld in Ely declined to identify the employee. He said it was a personnel matter that has been referred to the worker's supervisor for "appropriate action."
"It was an honest mistake and a tragic mistake," Hanefeld said. "We discovered the problem and are going to correct the problem and just move on from there. We're not here to punish anyone."
Wild-horse advocacy groups were notified after the dead animals were discovered.
"I think wild horse advocates will be angry," said Bobbi Royle, president of Wild Horse Spirit based in Reno. "A lot of this mistake stuff you have to wonder about sometimes.
"They (BLM) better get a damn grip, that's what I think. They don't care a flip about the horses. I hope they learn to value the wild horses more than they do," she said.
The seven wild horses somehow entered the 2,600-acre fenced southern portion of the North Antelope Valley Cheatgrass, Halogeton and Russian Thistle Treatment Research Project, 80 miles northeast of Ely
Had the employee installed "one-way gates" as directed by supervisors, the horses might have been able to escape and get to water, BLM officials said.
Four dead horses were found inside the enclosure May 21, and the other three were found within a few days.
The research project gates then were wired open and water turned on to prevent any more deaths, officials said.
"If the right gate had been installed, they could have pushed the gate open and got out," Hanefeld said.
Nevada is home to roughly half the estimated 32,000 wild horses in the West.
Wild-horse advocates are odds with the BLM, which contends the animals are overrunning parts of the West and need annual roundups to thin the herd. Advocates say some of the millions of cattle grazing public rangeland should be removed before any more wild horses are rounded up.