Agriculture Department asks money for Virginia Range horses |

Agriculture Department asks money for Virginia Range horses

Geoff Dornan, Appeal Capitol Bureau

The state Agriculture Department plans to ask today for nearly $73,000 in emergency funds to help wild horses in the Virginia Range and along Highway 50 make it through the winter.

“Lack of forage and water combined with a continued increase in horse population has exacerbated already insufficient range resources,” the department report to the Board of Examiners says.

The horses are “estrays” — horses that aren’t federally regulated wild horses, but are running free, unclaimed, on state or private property. The state is responsible for those animals.

After several years of drought conditions, the horses have practically stripped huge areas of the Virginia Range between Carson City and Virginia City bare of forage. Agriculture officials say the range is so damaged that other species including deer and chukker are disappearing from the Virginia Range.

But because of public affection and support for the free-roaming horses, Agriculture Director Paul Iverson has said that politically the state can’t round them up and sell them.

“If we try to save these horses by picking them up and adopting them out, then people say we’re sending them to slaughter,” he said in arguing for a similar financial appropriation earlier this year.

There are an estimated 1,100 horses in the area, about double the number range experts say that territory can support.

As a result, the request for funding argues the horse population in Storey and Lyon counties is “at risk of starvation and dehydration” this winter.

To compound the problem, agriculture officials say the economy is down and costs of boarding the horses are helping to reduce the number of people interested in adopting one of the horses.

They asked for $72,919 to remove and manage the horses. The other options, agriculture officials say, are to sell the horses at weekly livestock auctions or “do nothing and let nature take its course.”