RENO - Wild horse advocates are criticizing a government roundup of mustangs north of Reno, contending it was deliberately conducted without advance public notice to avoid protests.
U.S. Bureau of Land Management officials acknowledged the gather was staged earlier this month without the standard advance notice but said that was due to an internal communication mixup.
The roundup of 217 horses and burros along the Nevada-California border ended a day before a BLM advisory board ignored advocates' request for a moratorium on such gathers. Activists say the roundups are inhumane and unnecessary.
It also began shortly after the BLM postponed a nearby roundup of thousands of wild horses in Nevada because of a lawsuit.
The latest roundup had been scheduled to take place next summer, BLM officials said, but was moved up at the last minute and conducted Nov. 30 to Dec. 6 about 120 miles north of Reno.
The lack of advance notice prevented advocates from filing an appeal with the Interior Board of Land Appeals, said Ginger Kathrens, executive director of the horse advocacy group Cloud Foundation based in Colorado Springs, Colo.
"I think this was underhanded and sneaky. They know these roundups are attracting protests," she said.
"They may have tried to get this one in under the wire. They also thought they might not be able to conduct it had they waited until next August," she added.
BLM spokesman Jeff Fontana blamed the lack of advance notice on an internal communication failure.
While public notification in the form of a news release or legal notice is not required, the BLM normally issues a news release on roundups, he said.
"It came up too quickly for me to respond with a news release," Fontana said. "It's unfortunate, but that's what happened."
BLM officials moved up the gather in the agency's Buckhorn Herd Management Area after they were unable to conduct a roundup in the Massacre Lakes HMA, he added.
"They didn't have the environmental work done for the Massacre Lakes gather, but they did have it done for Buckhorn," Fontana said. "Since they had the contracting in place, they decided to go ahead with the Buckhorn gather."
An environmental assessment on the roundup, which concluded it had no significant impact, was posted online in August, said BLM spokesman John Dearing.
Advocates also complained the BLM exposed the animals to risk by conducting the gather in cold temperatures and at elevations as high as 8,000 feet.
"Anybody with horses knows you don't run horses and get them sweaty at this time of year without expecting real physical problems, including death," Kathrens said. "They're vulnerable to respiratory impacts."
Of the 217 horses and burros removed, 26 will be returned to the Buckhorn HMA so it has at least 59 of the animals, Fontana said.
The BLM routinely removes what it considers excess horses from the range and takes them to government-funded holding facilities.