Wild horse advocates are angry over a five-year plan to remove all wild horses and burros from a Nevada wildlife refuge to help the local pronghorn antelope population and other native wildlife.
The approved plan for the Sheldon Wildlife Refuge in the northwest of the state will see all 800 wild horses and 90 burros removed.
A survey of the 575,000-acre refuge shows it is home to at least 2500 antelope.
The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC), a national coalition of wild horse advocacy organizations, said the plan to zero out the horse and burro populations over the next five years was to proceed despite strong public opposition.
The final conservation plan released on Friday by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the federal reserve, calls for the fast-track removal of the horses.
The AWHPC says the animals will be put up for adoption. However, those not adopted can be sold at auction for slaughter, it says.
“We are extremely disappointed that the federal government has chosen to eradicate wild horses and burros from the lands where their ancestors have lived for more than a century and a half,” AWHPC director Suzanne Roy said.
She said the horses had biological, historic and cultural significance to the Sheldon Refuge and the entire Great Basin area.
The wild horses in the Sheldon refuge are descendants of cavalry stock and breeds that helped develop the area in the 1800s prior to the land being sold to the federal government.
The presence of wild horses and burros on the land pre-dates the 1931 creation of the Sheldon Refuge by over a half century.
The Sheldon horses are part of a larger wild horse population in the tri-state area (California-Oregon-Nevada), which is known as “mustang country”.
The area includes the Bureau of Land Management’s Calico and High Rock Complexes.
The AWHPC noted that the final management plan rejected a more humane alternative to phase out wild horses and burros over 15 years using fertility control, an option that would allow the older, unadoptable animals to remain wild and live out their lives on the lands of their birth.
Although the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act protects mustangs and burros living only on Bureau of Land Management and US Forest Service lands, the AWHPC said the US Fish and Wildlife Service could seek special permission to protect wild horses and burros on the Sheldon Refuge in recognition of their historic and cultural significance to the area.
“We have had conversations with Sheldon Refuge directors over the past 10 years regarding instituting a fertility control program utilizing native PZP on the refuge,” said Neda DeMayo, President of Return to Freedom American Wild Horse Sanctuary and a founding member of the AWHPC coalition.
“If a fertility control program had been instituted a decade ago, Sheldon would be experiencing a measurable reduction in reproduction.
“It’s not too late to implement this fertility control program that would place the refuge in a position to benefit from an eco-tourism program to engage the public while gradually arriving at a fair management level for each of the four distinct wild horse herds and the burros that live on the Sheldon Refuge.”
The AWHPC is urging the public to contact Sheldon Refuge managers to object to the plan to zero out the herd in five years, and ask them to adopt a policy that manages wild horses and burros on the refuge in recognition of their historical and cultural significance in the area.
“Tell them that, at minimum, they should phase out the populations over time, allowing older and unadoptable horses to live and die on the lands of their birth,” the AWHPC said.