Dispute over Virginia Range wild horses reignites

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Lawmakers were told on Thursday the cooperative agreement with the American Wild Horse Campaign to manage the Virginia Range herd was canceled because AWHC only wanted to handle the birth control program.

Assemblyman Jim Wheeler, R-Gardnerville, asked the question pointing out he has never been told exactly why the program was ended. He said he has been told the birth control program was actually reducing the number of births in the herd.

“What were they supposed to be doing that they weren’t doing and why did we cancel a promising program like that,” he asked.

“The only aspect that they wanted to follow was the birth control portion,” said Animal Industry Administrator Doug Farris of the Agriculture Department.

He said the organization didn’t want to deal with traffic control, removing horses, diversionary feed and other aspects of the cooperative agreement.

“All those aspects they informed us they didn’t want any portion of that,” he said.

Farris said the AWHC also lowered its insurance policy that was in the cooperative agreement.

AWHC Executive Director Suzanne Roy said what Farris told the subcommittee is “patently false.”

“We had an agreement with his predecessor that AWHC would focus on the birth control program because the department had decided to work outside the (cooperative) agreement on those other issues.”

She said that made for problems for AWHC because those other entities doing diversionary feeding and other activities weren’t following the procedures that required fertility control along with feeding and moving the horses.

She said AWHC had an agreement with former Agriculture Director Jim Barbee it would focus on birth control but the department didn’t act on the revised agreement and, “sat on it for 14 months,” then abruptly cancelled the agreement.

She also denied Farris’s claim AWHC reduced its liability insurance.

“There was never any reduction of the million dollar policy,” she said. “I have no idea where that came from.”

That program uses a contraceptive called PZP to reduce pregnancy in the horses. PZP is administered using darts fired from a tranquilizer gun. The goal is to control the size of the herd and reduce the need for roundups.

Roy said even if AWHC just wanted to handle the birth control, “why wouldn’t they just allow the fertility program to continue instead of canceling the program and leaving the herd unmanaged for a year?” She said the organization has contributed more than $400,000 in direct costs and thousands of volunteer hours to help manage the horses.

She said her trained volunteers are ready to go and now is the perfect time to restart the program so they control the 2020 breeding season.

Roy said she would send the subcommittee a letter to correct the record.

There are an estimated 3,000 horses in the Virginia Range herd occupying an area experts say can only support about 600 horses. Technically, those animals are listed as “estray” and not protected by the Wild Horse and Burro Act.


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