RENO, Nev. (AP) — Despite the protests of a rural county and rancher, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has returned some 160 wild horses to the range in central Nevada.
The agency returned the horses to the Fish Creek Herd Management Area near Eureka on Tuesday after being cleared to do so by the Interior Board of Land Appeals.
The BLM originally had planned to return some 100 mares treated with a fertility control vaccine and 80 studs to the HMA on Feb. 20. They were among 424 horses removed from the HMA during a roundup that ended earlier in February.
The bureau routinely thins what it calls overpopulated herds on public land across the West, sending horses that aren't adopted by the public to pastures in the Midwest for the rest of their lives.
The agency also routinely releases mares treated with fertility control drugs back to the range after being rounded up. Varying numbers of studs also are released back to the range to help maintain the genetic viability of herds.
Eureka County commissioners and rancher Kevin Borba filed an appeal with the Interior Board of Land Appeals to block the return of any of the 424 horses to the range and to challenge the BLM's assessment of how many horses the HMA can support.
But the board affirmed the BLM's authority to return 162 of the horses to the range. Arguments in the case continue on the underlying claims.
Borba has said the BLM has drastically reduced his livestock allotments in the HMA while allowing well over twice as many horses in it as it can support. He and Eureka commissioners seek the removal of more horses.
Horse advocates praised the BLM's return of the horses to the range, saying it's in line with recommendations released in 2013 by a National Academy of Sciences panel calling for increased emphasis on fertility control to keep horse numbers down.
"Now is the time to move forward with innovative management that makes sense, keeping wild horses on their range and saving millions of tax dollars in the long term," Neda DeMayo, president of Return to Freedom, said in a statement. "It is time for a new direction instead of wasting time and money obstructing positive solutions that will benefit the horses, wildlife, ranchers and the range."
But not all horse advocacy groups support the use of fertility control drugs on mares.
"We want to see drug-free holistic management used for native wild horses," said Anne Novak, executive director of Protect Mustangs. "(The fertility control vaccine) PZP sterilizes after multiple use and we're concerned that will ruin survival of the fittest."
Borba has said he thinks the fertility control vaccine is far less effective than the BLM and horse advocates claim, and horse numbers will further explode as a result. Ranchers view wild horses as competition for scare forage in the arid West.
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