Hooves thundered and dust flew today as 166 wild horses were returned to their home range in Nevada.
The horses were among the 432 captured in February by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from the 230,000-acre Fish Creek Herd Management Area in Eureka.
Authorities had intended to treat 102 mares with a long-acting birth control agent and release them back into the area along with 84 stallions.
However, before the horses could be released, Eureka County commissioners and local ranchers filed a legal challenge with the Interior Board of Land Appeals to stop their return.
They asserted that the federal government had no authority to release the horses, and demanded even more removals.
Two wild horse advocacy groups, Return to Freedom and Wild Horse Education, were granted status to intervene on behalf of the BLM’s management plan.
The board has now ruled against the county’s request to hold the wild horses in the facility until the underlying claim is decided. The authority of the BLM to return the wild horses has now been affirmed. Arguments in the case continue on the underlying claims.
Today, trucks and trailers rolled on to the range and the 166 wild horses ran free once more.
The advocacy groups said 183 horses had originally been trucked to holding facilities costing $US6335 a week in holding fees, which now total more than $US25,000. They said five mares died in holding and 12 gave birth. The mares and foals will be released at a later date.
Return to Freedom, which runs a national wild horse conservation and advocacy organization, operates a large sanctuary in Lompoc, California with nearly 400 formerly wild horses.
Its president, Neda DeMayo, said the method of fertility control employed at Fish Creek had been used by the sanctuary for more than 15 years.
She said she was thrilled over the return of the Fish Creek horses to their home range. “This is a good day!”
She continued: “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.
“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.”
Wild Horse Education president Laura Leigh witnessed the entire roundup, saw the horses in holding, and was present at the release.
“I cannot even begin to describe the feeling of relief,” she said.
“The real work begins as this plan moves forward to create sound management over the next decade. The first step toward changing outdated habits can be the hardest. Today was one heck of a ‘leap’ toward kicking those bad habits into the past where they belong.”
Leigh, who monitors wild horses roundups across the west, has documented these particular wild horses for years, including their capture and captivity.
A special stallion named Sarge was one of the stallions released back to the range. More than 5000 people signed a letter to use in the fight to return Sarge and the other Fish Creek horses.
“I saw Sarge in the pen at the facility and promised him we would get him free,” said a tearful Leigh.
“Today we fulfilled that promise. I know there is a lot of work ahead but I am going to let myself celebrate tonight. I will never forget this true return to freedom.”