Legal Action Threatened Over Virginia Range Mustang Giveaway

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Legal Action Threatened Over NV Department of Agriculture’s Plan to “Give Away” Virginia Range Mustangs

Carson City, (February 12, 2018) ... Late Friday, the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC), sent a formal demand to the Nevada Department of Agriculture (NDA) and the governor to immediately rescind its January 30, 2018 Request for Proposal (RFP) for transfer of ownership of the Virginia Range horses.  AWHC also requested that the NDA  immediately commence negotiations to resolve issues the NDA  has raised under the Cooperative Agreement regarding the humane management the free-roaming Virginia Range horses.  The demand was issued through AWHC’s legal counsel, Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker LLP (Wilson Elser).  The demand claims the NDA’s issuance of the RFP violates NRS Chapter 569 and constitutes a material breach of the Cooperative Agreements between the NDA and AWHC.

“AWHC has refrained from the commencement of immediate legal action to enforce the agreements hoping the Department would reassess its position and instead work with AWHC as provided in the agreements to resolve this issue in a productive, efficient and amicable manner,” wrote Jon Ludwig of Wilson Elser. “Since the RFP has now been issued, time is of the essence.  We therefore request a written response from the Department by February 23, 2018 advising us whether it will rescind or at minimum suspend the RFP and work with AWHC under the agreements to resolve this dispute."

Last November, the Governor’s office confirmed its position that the proper management and preservation of the wild horses was the NDA’s obligation to manage in collaboration and in partnership with organizations like AWHC.  Nonetheless, Governor Sandoval has not yet opposed, rescinded or even suspended the RFP to relieve the state of any responsibility for this Nevada treasure even though local business leaders and government officials have asked him to intercede.  If the NDA is successful in its plan, the public will be prevented from having any say in the management and protection of this cherished mustang herd, as the state will be relieved of all responsibility and the new owner will have the right to do what it wants with the horses, including sell them for slaughter.

“It’s disappointing that the Governor has not listened to the pleas of Nevada business leaders, law enforcement and even his constituents to block this illegal plan to give away the Virginia Range horses to a private owner,” said Deniz Bolbol, director of Field Operations for the American Wild Horse Campaign, “We remain hopeful that this situation will be resolved without litigation, however, we are ready to stand up for these mustangs and the public which wants them protected by filing legal action if necessary.”

“AWHC continues to stand ready to work with the Governor, NDA and other interested parties to address issues and immediately resume the humane management of the Virginia range horses to protect public safety and this treasured natural resource,” Bolbol continued.

A copy of the letter is available here.


In 2013, the Nevada Legislature passed, and Governor Brian Sandoval, signed into law AB264 to facilitate a public/private partnership for the humane management of the Virginia Range horses.

Under state law, the Nevada Department of Agriculture (NDA) is responsible for the management and control of the Virginia Range horses. In 2013 and 2015, the State entered into two Cooperative Agreements with the American Wild Horse Campaign for the management of the Virginia Range horses. The first agreement requires the state to notify AWHC when it removes Virginia Range horses from the wild and give AWHC first right to purchase the horses before they were sent to the slaughter auction. The second agreement expanded AWHC’s management role of the Virginia Range horses.  Under the second agreement AWHC worked with the NDA to address all issues related to the horses on the range, including public safety issues, range management issues and population control through a humane birth control program.  During these cooperative agreements AWHC and its local partners have expended in excess of $400,000 to assist the NDA with their management responsibilities. 

Over the past four years, AWHC has been directly involved in rescuing approximately 250 Virginia Range horses, preventing nearly 150 births in 2017 and an estimated 200 pregnancies in 2018. As a direct result of the Cooperative Agreements the population of the wild horses has been effectively managed as their habitat has been reduced as a consequence of urban development.  Since 2013 AWHC  under the cooperative agreements has humanely reduced the Virginia Range horse population by approximately 600 horses out of an estimated population of 3,000.

Since the Virginia Range horses’ habitat is decreasing in size due to human encroachment, the state’s decision to relieve itself of responsibility for the herd and thus terminate the birth control program sets the stage for the horse population to increase.  An increase in the population of the wild horses combined with the shrinking horse habitat will likely increase wild horse  movement into urban areas which will undoubtedly increase public safety problems.   

On October 25, 2017, AWHC received a 30-day termination notice from the NDA for both Cooperative Agreements. The termination notice was delivered without warning, despite the agreements’ requirement that both parties act in good faith and attempt to work out any differences that arise in private. (AWHC received the termination notice at the same time as the media.)

It is the NDA’s position that with its termination of the Cooperative Agreement that it is no longer legally required to notify humane horse organizations when Virginia Range horses have been removed from the wild and are being sent to slaughter auction. It is AWHC’s position that the NDA’s termination of the cooperative agreements is invalid.  AWHC contends the NDA must rescind the RFP and instead commence immediate negotiations with AWHC, local government official and local business leaders to address their issues with the management of the wild horses so both parties can resolve this dispute for the benefit of the horses and the residence of the Virginia Range Area.    

The AmericanWild Horse Campaign (AWHC) is dedicated to preserving American wild horses and burros in viable, free-roaming herds for generations to come, as part of our national heritage. Its grassroots mission is endorsed by a coalition of more than 60 horse advocacy, humane and public interest organizations.

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