Willie Nelson joins effort to preserve horse herd | NevadaAppeal.com

Willie Nelson joins effort to preserve horse herd

BRENDAN RILEY
Associated Press Writer

Country singer Willie Nelson has joined in a fight to preserve a wild horse herd roaming mountains near the old Nevada mining town of Virginia City ” and Gov. Jim Gibbons is getting a lot of calls as a result.

Gibbons press secretary Ben Kieckhefer, asked about a message Wednesday from Nelson aired on his XM radio show, “Willie’s Place,” urging calls to the governor, said dozens of people concerned about the horses phoned Thursday from around the country.

Singer-songwriter Lacy J. Dalton, who lives near Virginia City, asked Nelson to help stop what she and other wild horse advocates saw as a move by the Nevada Agriculture Department to round up a herd of about 1,200 horses for eventual livestock sales ” where they could be sold for slaughter.

“That’s exactly what they intend to do,” Dalton said. “It’s probably fueled by old-paradigm thinking about the horses, not seeing that they can be the most tremendous asset to tourism here in Northern Nevada.”

“Over my dead body will they take those horses,” said Dalton, who toured with Nelson, also a wild-horse advocate, in the 1980s. “It’s wrong, it’s stupid and shortsighted.”

Kieckhefer said Tony Lesperance, head of the Agriculture Department, is working on a management plan for the horses in the Virginia Range, but added it will be several months before anything happens ” and public concerns will be incorporated into that plan.

“That range can’t support the number of horses there in the long term,” Kieckhefer said. “But there’s enough foliage to support the herd for the time being. There are no plans in place to remove animals. Everything is status quo.”

Debate over the horses has been ongoing, but racheted up last week when Lesperance told a legislative panel that the state, faced with the prospect of a $900 million-plus revenue shortfall, couldn’t afford to buy hay to feed the animals even though some may be starving.

Lesperance also said that while people refer to about the horses in the Virginia Range as wild, they’re mainly strays ” horses set free by their owners ” and he would come up with a plan to rapidly remove many of them.

A 1997 law gave the Agriculture Department responsibility for managing the horses wandering the Virginia Range, mountains that run from near Dayton past Virginia City and the south edge of Reno. The stray horses run on state or private land. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management oversees wild horses on federal lands.

Whether on state, private or federal lands, the wild and stray horses in Nevada total more than 20,000. That’s the largest number of such animals for any state.