KBR Wild Horse and Burro News

VRWPA Contests a Planned Gather of Wild Horses
Storey County, Nevada
Story Date: July 5, 2002

The Virginia Range Wildlife Protection Association (VRWPA), an all-volunteer non-profit group organized to protect wildlife in the Virginia Highlands of Storey County, Nevada, is taking the State of Nevada to task over a proposed helicopter gather of wild horses in Storey County, NV. Their arguments include the risks to horses of helicopter gathers in the rugged Virginia Range mountains, the presence of late born foals in the herd, and a Storey County ordinance that prohibits gathering of horses using motor vehicles or aircraft.

The population of wild horses that inhabit the Virginia Range is constantly growing and is putting pressure on natural resources. The fact that a substantial number of horses need to be taken off the range is not in contention. At issue is the methodology that will be utilized. The Nevada Department of Agriculture intends to use an aerial gather approach for reasons of efficiency. Paul Iverson, the Executive Director of the Dept. of Agriculture has maintained that the gather will be conducted by a qualified pilot who has a great deal of experience gathering horses for the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The wild horse advocates would prefer to have "bait and trap" methods used.

VRWPA President Olivia Fiamengo agreed that wild horse gathers are needed but her group is concerned that an aerial gather could endanger the animals, particularly the new crop of foals.

Fiamengo told the Nevada Appeal, the region's local newspaper, "The terrain is steep and rocky and helicopter roundups have been hazardous in the past. We still feel bait trapping can be successful and humane. We'd like to see alternate methods researched and used."

The VRWPA's position is echoed by the Storey County Commission. In 1978 they enacted an ordinance that prohibits the use of aircraft or any mechanical vehicle for gathering wild horses. They directed Deputy District Attorney Sharon Claassen to pursue enforcement of the ordinance. Ms. Claassen explained to a gathering of parties at the County courthouse that the ordinance was passed because the area is rugged and dangerous, posing a hazard to the animals.

The VRWPA issued a statement that read, "The Association opposes helicopter roundups due to bad experiences in the past. The potential for injury to animals is very high, due to the treacherous terrain in Storey County, This time of year can be particularly difficult, due to the foaling season. The many foals on the range this time of year require additional consideration during a roundup."

Dr. David Thain, the state veterinarian, expressed the opinion that the ongoing need to control the size of the herd justified the risk. "These horses aren't in distress yet. There's enough feed out there right now, but we don't want to delay removing these animals until we see that distress," said Thain.

To complicate matters further the affected horses do not just inhabit Storey County. The herd ranges into Lyon County where there is no ordinance that addresses how wild horses are gathered. As a result, the position of the Department of Agriculture is that the proposed gather is a state, not a local or county matter, and as such the county ordinance cannot supersede State authority.

The parties showed up at the Storey County courthouse on July 5th to have Carson City District Court Judge Bill Maddox rule on the issue. He agreed with Senior Deputy Attorney General Gina Session who argued that state law permits use of "reasonable methods" by officials of the Nevada Department of Agriculture.

Observers theorize that the only legal argument that remains is the issue of whether the use of a helicopter in the rugged Virginia Range constitutes a reasonable method. VRWPA contends that more reasonable alternatives exist.

Representatives of the VRWPA have indicated on various occasions that they are willing to assist the state in conducting safer "bait and trap" operations, and according to VRWPA spokespersons they have approached the State on several occasions offering to cooperate and contribute to safer gathers. The association spent $25,000 raised through fund-raisers to feed and water the horses last winter and have an established record of conducting successful projects on the wild horse range.

"There are so many other ways this could be done," said Fiamengo to an Appeal reporter. "Feeding and baiting the horses can be very successful, but someone has to be there 24 hours a day. We've offered to help with manpower, but they refused our help." A number of advocates who have asked to be observers during the roundup have been turned down, further adding to concerns and suspicions on the part of some observers.

Regarding Judge Maddox' decision, VRWPA Vice President Jeanne Gribbin told the crowd, "Naturally, we’re very disappointed. The state won this battle but the war isn’t over. We’re going to continue doing what we can to ensure the safety of these horses and to prevent them from being at risk." She did not reveal whether the association's next step would be to pursue legal or political avenues.

In the meanwhile the State's plans have hit a few snags of their own. The BLM's pilots are backlogged with federal wild horse gathers this year. Iverson told the Reno Gazette-Journal, "I really don’t know when we’ll be able to get to the Virginia Range horses. If we have to wait until September, we will."

Naturally that statement prompted a quick response from wild horse advocates that if the State would collaborate with VRWPA volunteers they could likely gather the needed horses before the winter snows using safer techniques and saving taxpayer dollars in the process.

Typical geography
A typical Virginia Range family
Mare, stallion and newborn foal
Drinking from an emergency trough
Mare and foal on steep hillside
Emergency feeding operations
Horses showing up for hay
For a collage of photos of Virginia Range horses
please check out the feature,
Virginia Range Seasons.
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