Wild horse data helps give true impact
RENO – Nevada’s wild horses have long been a subject of debate among the state’s residents. To some the mustangs are a noble reminder of the spirit of the West; to others a nuisance at best and a devourer of precious range grass at worst.
A study by a University of Nevada, Reno researcher may provide scientific facts about the affects of the horses.
Eric Beever, a doctoral candidate in biology at the university, is conducting a five-year study on the affects wild horses have on several areas in the state. Although it is difficult to provide a definitive answer on which side is right, he says he believes several of his methods could aid land managers in Nevada as they continue to develop strategies to deal with the wild horse population.
“To this point, the debate has been dominated by a certain lack of information and some mudslinging,” said the 27-year-old Beever, who is performing his research under the direction of biology Prof. Peter Brussard. “It’s surprising that there has been relatively little or no research on wild horses in terms of how they interact with the ecosystem. That’s the focus of my dissertation.”
Beever, with the help of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, has pinpointed 19 sites in nine mountain ranges for his study. The areas either have a significant concentration of wild horses or have had horses removed in the past 10 to 15 years. Half of the sites are at higher elevation and half are at lower elevation.
Using comparisons of plants, small mammals, ant mounds and soil compaction, Beever is attempting to characterize any disturbances the horses have created and summarize restoration questions.
He hopes his study leads to an expanded monitoring program for wild horses in the state.
“One of my goals has been to improve the current methods that determine if animals should be removed from an area,” Beever said. “They can be susceptible to criticism if not based on solid ecological theory,” he said.
By concentrating on methodology rather than ideology, Beever intends his study to transcend the current wild horse debate, which can at times turn heated. In years past, rural ranchers have been accused of shooting herds of wild horses.
Earlier this year, three Reno men – including two Marines on leave – were charged with shooting dozens of wild horses in Storey County near Virginia City. The horses may have been killed for entertainment.
Wild horses are known to make their homes in the foothills around Hidden Valley and other semi-rural areas in the Truckee Meadows, Virginia Range and Carson area.
“For Nevada, whatever your perspective (the shooting) was pretty grotesque,” Beever said. “But in order for these conflicts to lessen, the first thing we need is more information about wild horses and how they impact their environment.
A small band of wild horses have taken up residency in Carson City near the airport. State officials have attempted to relocate some of them since they are damaging residential plants and yards.