The Bureau of Land Management has issued a draft evaluation of the Pine Nut Mountains Herd Management Area that says the health of both the upland and wetland habitat areas are degrading.
And the report blames the horses living in the Pine Nuts.
The answer, according to the draft report: “Actions to restore the ecological balance include gathering and removing excess wild horses to the low AML (Appropriate Management Levels) of the HMA (Herd Management Area) and applying population control treatments to slow the growth of the wild horse population.”
BLM estimates the herd size in the Pine Nuts at 336 horses. That is nearly double the maximum 179 animals the agency says are appropriate for the Pine Nut herd.
It also points out livestock can’t be blamed for the deterioration of the range in the Pine Nuts: “With the exception of the Churchill Canyon and Sunrise allotments, virtually no livestock use has occurred within the HMA since 1995.”
But wild horse advocates say the draft management plan is the same old song by BLM.
“The plan is always removal,” said Dorothy Nylen, director of the Wild Horse Preservation League. “It should be to manage the horses on the range.”
Advocates already won one small battle after Deniz Bolboi of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign wrote to BLM officials objecting to the September 22 deadline to respond to the 80-page management.
“In order for members of the public and AWHPC to provide meaningful comments on “vegetation condition, utilization levels, riparian condition and wild horse condition” more than two weeks notice is needed,” the letter stated.
The groups now have until Oct. 22 to comment.
Sheila Schwadel of Pine Nut Wild Horse Advocates said several groups are working together to send a team of “qualified specialists” out into the Pine Nuts over the next couple of weeks to collect information to compare with what’s in the draft report.
She said one of her concerns is the report seems to blame the horses for the declining sage grouse population.
“We’re not sure how that can be attributed solely to horses,” she said. “Horses have been out in the Pine Nuts since probably the 1870s so they’ve coexisted together. We’re hoping BLM does not just focus on horses because there are a lot of human activities.”
The Pine Nut Range is located along the eastern side of Carson City, Douglas and Lyon counties and consists of public, private and Indian trust lands. The Herd Management Area includes 90,900 acres of public land and 14,692 acres of private property.
Since 2000, 408 horses have been captured and removed from the Pine Nut Range in 12 separate gathers, but the BLM’s estimated 2014 herd population is 336 — seven horses more than the population reported in 2000.
Nylen said removal isn’t the answer and pointed out the league supports birth control, which can be done by darting the horses.
Birth control by darting, she said, would be relatively cheap and easy to do in the herd management area since the horses are so dependent on the few small springs for water there.
BLM managers say grazing should not exceed 30-40 percent of the available grasses in ranges in poor condition or during drought but in portions of the Pine Nuts, wild horse use of the grasses was above 80 percent.
The result, they say is increasing damage to the range, rendering it even less able to support the existing herd.
“Palatable perennial grasses (needlegrass and ricegrass) are continuing to decline within the HMA,” the BLM draft report concludes. “If wild horse use continues to be high or increases, the downward vegetative trend is expected to accelerate.”