Nevada Governor Signs Historic Bill to Allow Non-Profits to Humanely Manage Wild Horses Under State’s Jurisdiction

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AB264 Paves Way for Private-Public Partnerships and Fertility Control Programs

(Carson City, Nev.) June 17, 2013 – Today, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval held a signing ceremony for Assembly Bill 264 (AB264), which allows the Nevada Department of Agriculture (NDA) to resume cooperative agreements between the state and non-profit organizations to humanely oversee the wild horses in the Virginia Range outside Reno. In March, Return to Freedom, the founding organization for the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC), executed Phase 1 of a plan to protect the Virginia Range mustangs by entering into a cooperative agreement with the NDA that prevents any horses captured by the state from being sent to a slaughter auction.

AB 264 is the critical next step in efforts to protect these historic wild horses by preventing them from being captured from their homes on the range. 

“This is a huge step forward for protecting wild horses under the state's jurisdiction,” said Neda DeMayo founder and CEO of Return to Freedom. “Cooperative agreements for on-the-range management of the Virginia Range mustangs are a win-win situation for advocates, the State of Nevada and the horses. The wild horses of the Virginia Range are an important cultural and historic resource, and we look forward to working with the state to preserve them.”

AB264 also protects the horses, who are classified under state law as "feral/estray livestock,"  by creating a penalty for the illegal feeding of horses. This often lures horses into dangerous situations and can result in their capture and removal from the range. 

Assemblyman Jim Wheeler (R-District 39), with support from the bill's sponsor Assemblyman Grady (R-District 38), offered amendments to AB264 to add the word “management” to Nevada State law (NRS 569.010 and 569.031) relating to feral and estray "livestock" (which includes wild horses) to allow the NDA to resume cooperative agreements. NDA director Jim Barbee supported the amendments.

“We commend Assemblymen Wheeler and Grady, Director Barbee and Governor Sandoval for taking a pro-active approach to managing the Virginia Range horses in conjunction with the community,” said Deniz Bolbol, AWHPC spokesperson who has spearheaded the Virginia Range protection initiative working in concert with Nevada wild horse protection groups."Our program for protecting the Virginia Range wild horses will serve as a model of productive public/private partnership for the humane management of wild horses on the range where they belong."

The current cooperative agreement between Return to Freedom and the NDA allows for the purchase of captured horses directly from the state, thus bypassing the slaughter auction. To date, eight captured Virginia Range horses have been rescued under this arrangement.

The State has jurisdiction over the historic Virginia Range horses, who have roamed the northern Nevada mountain range near Reno for more than a century. Because they make their home on state, local and private land, instead of federal land, they are not protected under the federal Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act, and are classified as "estray livestock" by the NDA.

Return to Freedom is dedicated to preserving the freedom, diversity and habitat of America’s wild horses through sanctuary, education and conservation, while enriching the human spirit through direct experience with the natural world. Return to Freedom provides a safe haven to over 300 wild horses and burros at its sanctuary in Santa Barbara, California and in Nevada where the group is planning to create a larger wild horse preserve.

The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, founded in 2004 by Return to Freedom, is a coalition of more than 50 horse advocacy, public interest, and conservation organizations dedicated to preserving the American wild horse in viable, free-roaming herds for generations to come.