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Nevada Association of Counties, farm bureau sue feds over wild horse management

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ELKO — Two Nevada groups launched a lawsuit against the federal government, alleging mismanagement of wild horses has led to excessive damage on the land and to animals.

The Nevada Association of Counties and the Nevada Farm Bureau Federation filed suit regarding wild horse management Dec. 30, naming as defendants the U.S. Department of Interior, the Bureau of Land Management, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, BLM Director Neil Kornze, BLM Assistant Director of Renewable Resources and Planning and BLM State Director Amy Leuders.

The plaintiffs accuse the feds of failing to comply with the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971, which requires the BLM to “protect the natural ecological balance of all wildlife species which inhabit such lands, and to maintain a current inventory of wild free-roaming horses and burros on given areas of the public lands, and to remove excess animals,” the complaint states.

The BLM agrees that wild horses are exceeding the designated appropriate management levels. On its website, the BLM indicates there were more than 20,000 wild horses and burros in the state last fiscal year, but the maximum management level is set at about 12,700.

The BLM conducts horse gathers, in which wild horses are round up and sold for adoption. Horses repeatedly passed over for adoption are sent to ranches to live out their lives. But those long-term facilities are near capacity.

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The plaintiffs argue the BLM should “destroy” horses that are deemed unadoptable.

The BLM maintains it will not sell wild horses or burros for slaughter.

In addition to damaging public land and tapping into private water rights, the BLM management practice is “first and foremost” detrimental to horses, according to the lawsuit.

“Free-roaming horse and burro herds in Nevada are frequently observed to be in malnourished condition, with the ribs and skeletal features of individual animals woefully on view and other signs of ill-health readily observable,” court documents state.

The plaintiffs use the word “wild” but clarifies their use of the word, explaining that it’s only for the purpose of being consistent with the law’s verbiage.

“(It) is not intended to indicate or agree that said animals are ‘wild animals’ in the technical or legal sense as they are not wild animals for such purposes, but are feral animals within the meaning of Nevada law and the law of most, if not all, states, particularly in Nevada water law or wild animal regulations,” the complaint states.

In 2011, the BLM was sued by horse advocates who argued the agency was in violation of the federal act because it needed to prove wild horses were a threat to “thriving natural ecological balance” before rounding up horses on the range, according to the Associated Press.

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