December 12, 2017; Nevada Appeal
The Nevada Board of Agriculture voted 8–1 to hand over control of as many as 3,000 wild horses in the Virginia Range to a yet-to-be-determined nonprofit group in a year-end move that angered wild horse enthusiasts, who say it puts the horses at risk of slaughter and at the mercy of business interests.
“This is a dangerous move, it is an illegal move, and it is totally against the will of the public,” said Suzanne Roy, executive director of the American Wild Horse Campaign after an emotional public meeting.
If it feels like you have heard this one before, it is because you have. It’s the one where the nonprofit sector is asked to step in and solve a problem the public or private sector can’t quite get their hands around or the funding to solve. Proceed with caution, because results may vary.
There are currently about 67,000 wild horses and burros in the Western United States. Most of them roam free on ranges controlled by the Federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Wyoming, and Nevada. While their location may vary, the struggles for survival of these iconic symbols of the Wild West are similar.
Oddly, the very herd of horses whose fate is now up to an unnamed nonprofit is dubbed “Annie’s Herd” and are protected through federal legislation that was enacted through the hard work of a Reno woman named Velma Johnston, dubbed “Wild Horse Annie” by her admirers. Her efforts to lobby Congress led to laws that have prevented the extinction of the wild horse herds.
To the south of Nevada, there are over 500 wild horses roaming free on public lands in Arizona. A hundred of them are located near the Salt River in the Tonto National Forest, about 75 miles northeast of Phoenix. After a public tussle, they are managed by a nonprofit, the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group.
When the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced in 2015 that they would be rounding up the free-roaming Arizona horses and eliminating them from the area, there was a massive public outcry that a living tribute to the Wild West would be lost forever. However, the land on which the Salt River herd roams is controlled by the US Forest Service; as clarified by Adam Eggers, Public Affairs Expert for the Bureau, “the BLM…has no connection to the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group, nor do we electronically monitor the herd or have any connection to viewing areas.”
Wild horses have been a part of the rugged Arizona landscape for centuries. The nonprofit sprang into action, buoyed by the public outcry, and a year later Governor Doug Ducey signed legislation with the intent to codify the management and facilitate memoranda of understanding (MOUs) between the federal government, the state government, and the nonprofit.
With their status cemented into state statute, Salt River Wild Horse Management Group works tirelessly to address the needs of not only the horses, but also preserving the environment and working to electronically monitor the herds and maintain the safety of the trails and viewing areas near the herd. They take a true 360-degree view to the preservation and management of the herd. The fate of “Annie’s Herd” in Nevada is still less clear.—Carrie Collins-Fadell
Correction: Thanks to the Bureau of Land Management for their efforts to clarify their connection or lack thereof to the Salt River herd of wild horses.