By Kevin O'Neil, Reno Gazette Journal
This past June, Gov. Brian Sandoval signed a number of new bills into law that elevate animal welfare throughout Nevada. Among those was Assembly Bill 264, which will greatly improve management of wild horses under the state’s jurisdiction — namely, the Virginia Range horses.
This summer has been a trying one for horse advocates in Nevada. The unseasonably hot weather that settled over Reno earlier this summer prompted the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and many other advocates to call on the Bureau of Land Management to provide shade for the horses penned up at the Palomino Valley facility. The recent roundup and auction of wild horses in Fallon earlier this month was heart breaking.
But on Tuesday, AB264 took effect, ushering in a new and innovative approach to managing Nevada’s wild horses. Specifically, AB264 authorizes the state to enter into cooperative agreements with nonprofit entities for the active management of wild horse herds.
This new law is extremely important to the enhancement of ongoing efforts to preserve Nevada’s wild horses. Last December, the ASPCA was proud to work with the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign to coordinate a meeting with the Department of Agriculture and forge a constructive relationship for the benefit of the horses.
The result of that meeting was a cooperative agreement that better protects trapped wild horses from falling into the clutches of kill buyers at auction and meeting a horrific end at a slaughterhouse. Throughout the process, it became clear that current law limited the scope of cooperative agreements and did not allow nonprofits to work with the state to actively manage wild horses.
AB264 fixes that legal flaw, allowing the state to tap the resources of willing nonprofits to better manage the horses. Active management can range from installing water guzzlers and erecting fences to keep horses from entering suburban areas, to fertilization control programs aimed at maintaining a healthy herd size.
Another aspect of AB264, increased penalties for feeding horses, is extremely important for the cooperatives to be effective. It may seem harmless to feed horses that wander into neighborhoods, but the reality is that it greatly increases conflicts by attracting more horses into the suburbs.
We have seen incidents involving horses and cars. The more horses are attracted to neighborhoods because of free food, the more these incidents will occur on a regular basis.
AB264 enforces the idea that the wild horses are better off remaining wild in their own environment, away from suburban conflict. It is too early to tell whether the changes afforded by AB264 will be successful, but many of us in wild horse advocacy are hoping that it will become a model that the BLM might adapt for wild horses under their jurisdiction.
Kevin O’Neill is senior state director of ASPCA government relations for the Western region.