Tonopah wild horse roundup criticized |

Tonopah wild horse roundup criticized

Associated Press Writer

RENO – Activists are criticizing federal land managers’ plans to remove most wild horses from a large swath of the range near Tonopah, saying the action is being taken to accommodate livestock grazing and geothermal projects.

U.S. Bureau of Land Management officials said they plan to remove about 123 mustangs and 61 wild burros from the Montezuma Peak and Paymaster herd management areas because the desert area is too arid to support the animals.

About 78 horses and 61 wild burros will be removed from around Montezuma Peak to achieve an appropriate management level of three mustangs and 10 burros, BLM officials said. In the Paymaster, 45 horses will be removed to reach a level of 23 mustangs.

Laura Leigh of the horse advocacy group Cloud Foundation based in Colorado Springs, Colo., maintained that the BLM is reducing the Montezuma Peak herd to just three mustangs because geothermal projects will drain underground aquifers and likely leave little water for horses.

The combined herd areas cover nearly 280 square miles and have sustained wild horses for centuries, she added.

“Any first grader knows a herd of just three wild horses is not a herd with a future,” Leigh said. “This roundup is an extraordinary example of BLM’s absurd designation of herd sizes.”

Tom Seley, manager of the BLM’s Tonopah field office, said no geothermal plants are located within the herd management areas, but geothermal exploration is taking place in the south end of the Paymaster to determine the feasibility of building a power plant. Other exploration activity is taking place to the west of the Paymaster.

But at this point, Seley said he does not believe there would be an impact on water within either of the herd areas from any geothermal project.

“Geothermal comes from a much deeper resource in the area. It’s usually a completely different water level than springs or seeps that horses depend on,” he said.

While livestock grazing allotments are located within both areas, the horses and burros are not being removed to accommodate ranchers, Seley added.

The gathers are only being conducted because the area at the northern edge of the Mojave Desert is extremely dry with scarce vegetation and water sources, he said.

“It’s just not suitable habitat for horses,” Seley said.

The BLM plans to begin the roundup Monday and hold a public observation day Tuesday or Wednesday.