In a move toward privatization of our state’s assets, Nevada’s Department of Agriculture Board voted to give title to all the wild horses living between I-80 and Highway 50 and between U.S. 395 and U.S. 95 to an undetermined nonprofit group. These horses, called Virginia Range estray and feral horses, became Nevada’s responsibility following a 1986 agreement with the BLM. They’re not federally protected like other mustangs. Jurisdiction is decided by where each horse is standing, not bloodlines or history. A horse south of U.S. 50 is federally protected – if he crosses the highway, he’s a Nevada estray.
The board said the ”intent” is to find a nonprofit group with a history of promoting animal welfare that can manage the horses in place without the state’s involvement or red tape. But the plan doesn’t forbid the removal or sale for slaughter of Nevada’s mustangs. The board confirmed that the nonprofit group would have “all rights of private ownership.” Reno Councilwoman Naomi Duerr requested a transition period of perhaps five years to evaluate the plan’s effectiveness before transfer of ownership was finalized. The board never addressed her suggestion.
Why does this appointed board get to give away our horses following one short meeting? No matter what you think of wild horses, the Department of Agriculture is doing an end run around legislative mandates and due process. Government should work for us, not despite of us. Call Governor Sandoval and your representatives in the Nevada Legislature. Call your city council and county commissioners. Local governments will be affected.
The timeline is short. The Board of Agriculture is not exploring alternatives; they are not listening. This isn’t just about horses anymore. It’s about giving away our state assets because they think they can. It’s about getting rid of inconvenient public input and chipping away at democratic process, one step at a time. Make those calls. Once these horses are deeded to a private group, no matter how responsible, we will never get them back.
Suzanne Morgan Williams is an author and speaker who lives in wild horse territory in Washoe County and winner of a Western Heritage Award from the National Western Heritage and Cowboy Museum.