Another 68 horses removed from range
Helicopters gathered another 62 wild horses from Storey County’s Virginia Range on Wednesday, bringing the total for the past two days to 140.
About 1,000 animals inhabit the area, too many for the resources at hand, according to Department of Agriculture officials who say the removal is necessary to maintain a viable herd and range.
No animals were injured Wednesday and another gather is scheduled for Thursday, about nine miles outside of Silver Springs.
“The pilot thinks he can get two or three small bands,” said Paul Iverson, executive director for the Nevada Department of Agriculture. “Then he stops, the trap comes down and we’re done.”
Dawn Lappin, veteran horsewoman and spokeswoman for Wild Horse Organized Assistance Inc., lauded the expertise of the pilot, Cliff Haeverne. She said helicopter gathers are traumatic for people concerned about the horses, but better for the animals in the long run.
“I’ve watched horses come into Lagomarcino Canyon for the last four to five years,” she said. “They were starving and no one seemed to care. The helicopter gather will give these animals a chance, through prison training, adoption, or sanctuary, rather than starving to death.”
Officials are trying to manage the population based on what the animals need to survive and, according to Lappin, that requires education.
She said deer are starting to disappear, and the cheat grass replacing depleted native grasses offers limited nutrition when dry. Around 500 horses in the Virginia Range will need homes before winter. The horses are healthy now, but the forage hasn’t dried out.
“Most of the people who called me this morning were in a panic, because they didn’t understand the situation,” she said. “Once an animal is starving, liver damage sets in and they can never recover. Horses have a starvation point, which they usually reach when winter ends. If they’re in poor condition in the fall, they’ll never make it through. I don’t want to see them bring the horses off when they’re starving.”
Lappin prefers bait traps, which use corrals baited with food or water to entice the horses. Used for a number of years, the method requires someone to watch the trap and close the gate and has met with limited success. Not enough animals have been removed and both range and horses continue to suffer.
She prefers cooler weather for these types of gathers and believes the gather could have been more effective if conducted in the spring.
One mare died Tuesday when she tried to jump a fence, a tragedy Lappin attributed to people milling around the area, more than the helicopters.
“It all depends on control on the ground. What people nearby are doing impacts the horses,” she said. “Wild horses are prey animals and people are predators. Horses are born to flee, and if they can see between the panels, they’ll go for it.”
According to Lappin, gathers conducted about 18 years ago had mortality rates as high as 15 percent, but improved techniques have cut that rate to around 1 percent.
Her organization, Wild Horse Organized Assistance, can adopt out two to three animals per month, but time and cooperation between horse groups and the Department of Agriculture will improve those numbers.
“We’ve addressed the issue of excess horses instead of looking at total programs and developing from there,” Lappin said. “Now, the Department of Agriculture is trying to get a new trainer on board and build access into program. I think Paul Iverson, above anyone I’ve met, wants this to be a great program. They’re new at it and they need experience, to find out what works.”