About two dozen protesters from several wild horse advocacy groups gathered outside the Nevada Capitol on Wednesday to call on Gov. Brian Sandoval to overrule his Agriculture Department and protect the Virginia Range horses.
Ag department Director Jim Barbee and the board are planning to turn the more than 2,700 horses in the Virginia Range over to a private non-profit group. Louise Martin of the American Wild Horse Campaign said the concern is the horses will be handed to Protect the Harvest, a group Martin says favors slaughtering and selling the horses, not protecting them.
The protests started more than a month ago when the Agriculture Department terminated a cooperative agreement with AWHC to control the size of the herd with birth control methods. Martin said Barbee has refused to give a clear explanation why that contract, which she described as successful, was canceled.
"He's going to tell you they broke the rules but they didn't," she said.
Martin said birth control darts reduced the number of foals by 27 percent in just the first year and was the largest and most successful program of its type in the country.
"This was a left hand turn that shocked everybody," she said.
She said Agriculture and the board are dominated by cattle ranchers who make up all but one member of the board. The remaining member, she said, is from the petroleum industry.
Dorothy Nylen of the Wild Horse Preservation League said the birth control program was canceled.
Wild and free roaming horses are protected by federal law. But the Virginia Range herd between Reno and Carson City has been designated as feral animals not protected by that law. Instead, she said they come under control of state authorities.
She said those animals are no less deserving of protection.
Nylen said AWHC and other groups have scrupulously followed the rules in darting the horses with contraceptive drugs, including recovering the darts.
Properly used, she said the darts deliver their birth control medicine to the horse and then drop out of the animal's behind and are picked up by the darting team. The contraceptives are good for a full year.
Peggy Deal of the Wild Horse Preservation League said Agriculture has no right to give those horses to a private party that "can do whatever they want to with them."
She said Sandoval should simply block Agriculture's plans to dispose of the horses.
Martin said the public is overwhelmingly in favor of protecting the horses and individuals gave the Agriculture Board more than two hours of testimony objecting to the plan at its meeting in Las Vegas.