Debate rages over solution to wild horse issue
For years, Dayton resident Gale Thomssen has been watching wild horses from her doorstep.
Now, as Northern Nevada’s drought continues and the horses migrate from the mountains into the valleys looking for food and water, she worries about how best to solve their dilemma.
She said regulated feeding during critical periods, far from areas that would put the animals at risk, would do much to keep them healthy.
Thomssen sought to strike a deal with the Bureau of Land Management. She and a group of volunteers would to feed the horses in her area, just through the crisis months. They turned her down, saying they preferred a non-interference policy.
“It would be a public-private partnership,” she said. “I proposed this a year ago. I’ve watched the horses for more than seven years and in drought conditions, they are hurting.”
She said the solution makes sense, both economically and for the horses.
“The Bureau’s only alternative is to collect the horses, and it’s so traumatic for them, the way they’re herded in and chased by helicopters for miles in a weakened condition,” she said. “In times like these, when they’re hungry, feeding is important and a lot less expensive. It wouldn’t cost the BLM a penny except to oversee the volunteers.”
Thomssen said the grasses will be back and removal is an extreme solution. She recalled witnessing one removal, an experience she called traumatic.
“They were forced to run too fast and too hard, for too long,” said Thomssen, who is project director for Carson Advocates for Cancer Care. “We were crying, we were so angry and upset.”
But BLM horse specialist Jim Gianola said feeding the animals never works. The animals lose their fear of people, become dependent on the feed and then become a nuisance.
Thomssen does not agree.
“I’ve watched them for a long time on a daily basis,” she said. “They might come by, but they don’t lose their instincts. They still graze on the range all day long. If they’re wandering in and around the house that’s different, but we have a fence that separates our community.”
Left to their own devices, the animals are resourceful and starve to death only on rare occasions, according to Gianola.
“They’re supposed to be wild and function as wild animals,” he said. “If you feed them, you take that away. Even in circumstances like these, if you leave the horses alone they will go into hills and find something to eat. If there is a crisis situation and horses are dying, we will catch and remove them.”
Gianola said drought conditions dictated the removal of about 500 horses near Owyhee and another 400 near Ely this year, before the situation escalated into a crisis.
In those areas, ranchers hauled water to the horses, working in conjunction with the BLM to get the problem solved, according to Gianola.
“The horses were in good shape, but if we’d waited another month they would have been in poor condition,” he said.
Local equine veterinarian Dr. Amy Mason is incensed by the individuals who feed the horses near roads and residential areas, thereby putting the animals in harms’ way. A resident of Carson City’s Pinon Hills area, she said the horses there are fat, sleek and healthy.
“It’s like giving wild bears junk food,” she said. “They don’t need the supplementation and they’re being desensitized to the road. Two horses were killed in the area last year, one a mare with foal and the other a pregnant mare. People don’t know what they’re doing and it’s extremely devastating to the horses.”
Mason said she loves the wild horses, but made her yard horse-proof to protect the animals, which must be removed by the BLM after one complaint.
“Some of my neighbors feel it’s the BLM’s problem to keep the horses out of their yard,” she said. “It’s horrible to see what happens to a herd we all enjoy watching.”
On their own, the horses work their way up the mountain, displaying normal grazing habits. The horses are hurt because of the ignorance of people, according to Mason.
“People shouldn’t move here, if they don’t appreciate the surroundings,” Thomssen said. “The horses are magnificent and I love them.”
A woman who did not give her name was feeding a herd of a dozen horses near Deer Run Road on Wednesday.
“I’m just giving them a little treat,” she said.