I-Team: Nevada wild horses face uncertain future after roundups

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Vanessa Murphy, Las Vegas Now

November 19, 2018

LAS VEGAS - Emergency after emergency after emergency, the Bureau of Land Management frequently announces emergency roundups of wild horses.

But are these really emergencies? And what happens to the horses once they are captured?

Video footage shows wild horses being captured in Nevada.

"Families get separated. Foals get left behind," said Grace Kuhn, American Wild Horse Campaign.

Operations like these are organized by the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM.

"They're running horses through really diverse and jagged landscapes where accidents happen," Kuhn said.

In 2018, the BLM reports that during 11 roundups in the Silver State there were 153 related wild horse deaths. Eleven of them were acute meaning they were caused by the round up and eight of them were shot on a wild horse sanctuary owned by billionaire Madeline Pickens without her permission. And of the nearly 6,000 horses captured, more than 900 were foals.

"They're separating the mares from babies and the stallions and then they're shipped off to government holding facilities where they spend the remainder of their lives," Kuhn said.

She is the communications director for Washington-based American Wild Horse Campaign.

"We work to keep wild horses wild on our public lands in the West," Kuhn said.

When the BLM prepares for the roundup, the agency is required to provide notice, so the public can weigh in but not when an "emergency roundup" is declared.

Take for example the roundup at the Nevada Test and Training range, 8 News Now received notification the day before.

The I-Team examined timing for all the emergencies, the most advanced warning was just four days.
And the press releases look quite similar often using the same justifications.

So far this year, the BLM has declared six out of 11 roundups as emergencies.

"Unfortunately, we believe that the BLM has been misusing the emergency roundup protocol as a way to remove large quantities of wild horses and burros from public lands and also as a way to legally bypass their requirements for the analysis and public input," Kuhn said.

According to the BLM, emergencies are declared when unexpected events threaten the health and welfare of a wild horse and burro population and or their habitat and the amount of forage and water is considered, for the health of the land and the animals.

But the National Academy of Sciences released a BLM commissioned study in 2013 saying the BLM should stop the roundups and pursue fertility control instead.

"People think leave all the horses out there, great I would love that just as much as anybody else. But you can't and the reason why you can't is the range land isn't just for horses," said Brian Smith, Funny Farm Mustangs. 

The I-Team's repeated requests for an interview with the BLM were denied, but Smith who often works with the BLM agreed to talk with us.

He and his wife run Funny Farm Mustangs.

A Las Vegas based not-for-profit which fosters animals in need and gentles wild horses for people who adopt them.

"There's a lot of great things that BLM does," Smith said. "There's some things that I absolutely don't agree with. So, I'm not like this ra-ra government guy." 

While Smith believes the roundups are needed, he says the BLM does a terrible job of getting the word out about adoptions.

"When's the last time you saw a billboard or an advertisement sign, posted or on the news or in the RJ or anywhere that says adopt one of your country's wild horses or burros?"

As of Oct. 2018, more than 4,400 wild horses and burros were in Nevada's holding facilities.

"The fallacy is in thinking we're gonna get all these guys adopted all the time," Smith said. "Well it's impossible if you're not, if we're not getting the information out. And that's how it snowballs."

The cost to adopt an animal is $125.

Find out how to adopt a wild horse or burro.

But to groups like the American Wild Horse Campaign that's not the answer since Kuhn says none of this should be happening in the first place.

"Then ultimately they're separated from their bands which are super important to wild horses is their family. That's all they have is their family and their freedom and they lose both of those at roundups."

A roundup is planned for next week on public lands near Ely.

Originally posted by Las Vegas Now