By Karen Woodmansee
Appeal Staff Writer
The horse wars have begun.
That's the word from wild horse advocate Willis Lamm of Stagecoach after Nevada Department of Agriculture director Tony Lesperance told the Interim Finance Committee Wednesday that the department didn't have the funds to feed the horses in the Virginia Range, and that he would come up with a plan to remove them.
Lesperance told the committee that 1,200 horses were in the range and said there wasn't enough forage to support them.
The department was seeking funds for more corrals for horses at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City, where it already has corrals for about 100 horses. The committee approved $15,934 in emergency funds for the additional corrals.
Lamm, president of Least Resistance Training Concepts, alleged state officials were manufacturing a crisis so the director can remove horses at the request of cattle ranchers in the area.
"He's manufacturing patently false assertions in order to justify taking the horses off," Lamm said. "They're not starving. There are a couple of spots where they have overgrazed and people are giving food to keep them hanging around."
He also said the LRTC had a warehouse full of hay they could use to feed the horses on the range if they were starving.
Department of Agriculture Spokesman Ed Foster denied that Lesperance was showing favoritism to cattle ranchers who want the range for their animals.
"That is absolutely not true," he said. "He is beholden to no one. He is not a member of the Nevada Livestock Association, cattleman's association, though he is a member of the Farm Bureau. His focus is on the department mission which is to protect and preserve Nevada's agriculture."
Foster said that mission included managing wild horses, though he said the Virginia Range horses were estrays, not wild.
He said the department would be within its rights to sell the horses if necessary, though he added the director had no appetite to go to sale.
Also, several auction businesses refused to sell the animals last year when the department first questioned them about it.
Earlier this year 55 Virginia Range horses were released onto the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center when the state said they could not afford to feed them.
Lamm said the horse release prevented what he called "this manufactured crisis" from coming to a head, so the Department is justifying its actions by talking about the budget.
"The department is short of funds," Lamm said. "So they appropriate a fresh $10,000 for additional corrals in order to remove more horses by doubling their holding capacity. However, there are no funds to feed the horses so they'll cry poor mouth and dump the animals at a sale, probably out of state since so far the dealers in Nevada wouldn't touch them with a 10-foot pole. What little profit is in them isn't worth the public backlash."
Lesperance could not be reached for comment.
Foster admitted that many horses around Virginia City, Dayton and Hidden Valley were in good shape, but said they only represent about 10 percent to 15 percent of the total.
"The ones on the Truckee River side are having a tough time," he said, adding that it was against state law for residents to feed the horses.
"We do not go out and enforce that law because of empathy and, generally, we want the horses to survive as well," he said. "If people are going to do that around the winter, we're OK with that. We don't have the funds to feed these horses."
He said he has been with the department for 10 years and even with the horse adoption program at the Warm Springs Correctional Center and the advocacy groups adopting out horses, the herds keep getting bigger.
"There's only so many horses you can run through the jail program," he said.
Foster said about 50 horses a year get adopted out, but they are procreating 19 percent to 25 percent a year.
"We're getting rid of 50 to 100 in a good year and they're having 400 foals a year," he said. "We have used contraception on mares, gelded the studs - we do everything we possibly can. We are maxed out at the holding facility right now. It's costing money to feed these guys."
The birth-control-and-release program ended, he said, because the manufacturer of the birth control injections have permitted it for deer, but not horses.
Foster said just leaving them alone on the range and letting nature take its course was not viable because "natural selection is not efficient enough to control the horses," and that horses will come down to find forage near highways.
Putting more horses on TRIC was one option, Foster said. He added that they would like to talk to Lance Gilman, manager of the industrial center, about it.
Lamm said next week a film crew from Austria would be in the range to film the animals.
"He's (Lesperance) saying no one cares about them yet people come all the way from Europe to take pictures of them," Lamm said.
• Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at email@example.com or 881-7351. The Associated Press contributed to this story.