ELKO - You can lead a federally protected horse to water, but if you let it drink you could be in violation of Nevada law.
That's if a proposal to the state's water engineer by the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners is adopted.
The draft letter will be reviewed by the commission's Feral Horse Committee when it meets at 1 p.m. Monday at the University of Nevada, Reno Cooperative Extension Office annex in Eureka.
In the letter addressed to Jason King, state engineer with the Division of Water Resources, the wildlife commission asks King to notify of each federal agency that is responsible for overseeing feral horses and burros that continued use of water "of which there is no designated beneficial use" is in violation of state law.
Furthermore, the letter asks King to request that the federal agencies - in this case the Bureau of Land Management - that it needs to remove from the range all feral horses and burros covered under the Wild Horse and Burro Act from areas where they are "making unlawful use of Nevada waters."
Under Nevada law, waters on public lands must be utilized by livestock or wildlife. The commission argues that feral horses and burros are not livestock or wildlife under federal guidelines, therefore the horses are consuming water resources illegally.
According to King, the BLM holds about 28 water permits in Nevada for wildlife use on public lands.
The commission states in the letter that it supports working with water rights owners, but to have vested water rights the resource must have been put to beneficial use of livestock before 1905, according to state law. For claims after 1905, the individual has to justify beneficial use, and file a claim with the state engineer. The commission goes on to list several legal definitions of "livestock" and "wildlife," concluding that feral horses and burros are neither.
The letter pinpoints "neither the Nevada Department of Wildlife, nor the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service claim these animals are wildlife and under their jurisdiction. The waters within most of the Nevada rangeland wildlife habitats that are grazed by domestic animals are owned by the rancher and shared by law and cooperation with Nevada wildlife. The federal government has no law that supersedes the State of Nevada's water law (in accordance with the 10th Amendment)."
The commission cites the federal government's mismanagement of a herd of feral horses that roamed the Nellis Air Force Bombing and Gunnery Range in 1991 in which it is alleged the horses overgrazed nearly 500,000 acres, leading to death by starvation of "hundreds of horses." The commission cites an essay by Cliff Gardner titled "A look at the history of mismanagement of the Nevada mustang" written Feb. 5, 2010. Gardner also describes 13 other cases of supposed mismanagement.
The committee at Monday's meeting will also:
• Discuss possible uses of BLM money generated from grazing fees for wildlife enhancement and conservation projects.
• Discuss a letter to be addressed to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar regarding the establishment of a feral horse sanctuary in Elko County. This agenda was established prior to BLM Director Bob Abbey proclaiming the proposed site in southern Elko County to be unfit for a sanctuary.