Sandoval Administration Sets Stage to Eliminate Virginia Range Horses

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December 8, 2017 -- Reno, NV -- Today the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC), the organization that had Cooperative Agreements with the Nevada Department of Agriculture (NDA) to protect and humanely manage the free-roaming Virginia Range horses, is calling on Governor Brian Sandoval to stop a newly-revealed State-supported proposal that would transfer ownership of all 3,000 Virginia Range horses to a private non-profit organization. AWHC warns that transference of ownership of the horses would put the horses at risk and raises a host of legal issues, including the fact that current state laws do not appear to provide for the broad transfer of thousands of horses to a private owner.

On Tuesday, December 12, 2017 at 8 a.m. PT, the members of the Nevada Board of Agriculture, all appointees of Governor Brian Sandoval, will vote on a proposal to direct the NDA to transfer ownership of all Virginia Range horses to a "non-profit animal advocate organization through a request for proposal process." No definition, legal or otherwise, is provided for an "animal advocate organization" opening the door for nonprofit organizations that may be pro-horse slaughter, such as Protect the Harvest, to take ownership of these cherished and historic "wild" horses. Virginia Range horses are legally defined by Nevada Revised Statue (NRS) as "feral/estray livestock" although for all intents and purposes they are wild, free-roaming horses that are not provided federal protections.

"The transfer of ownership of 3,000 Virginia Range horses jeopardizes this historic and locally cherished mustang population and does not reflect the values of the majority of Nevadans who want wild horses protected," said Suzanne Roy, executive director for the AWHC. "This transfer endangers the future and well being of these cherished and historic animals. We call on the Governor and the Board of Agriculture to kill this proposal and initiate discussions to revise and resume the Cooperative Agreements that have effectively reduced the number of horses on the range by at least 500 over the past four years."

Currently the State of Nevada, through the NDA, is responsible for the management and control of the Virginia Range horses. The horses’ habitat is decreasing in size due to development. The state’s decision to abruptly terminate the birth control program, which was implemented under AWHC's Cooperative Agreement, sets the stage for the horse population to continue to grow. This growing horse population combined with the shrinking horse habitat indicates that horses will more likely move into urban areas potentially increasing concerns about public safety. 

AWHC had entered into two Cooperative Agreements with the State for the management of the Virginia Range horses. The first required the state to notify AWHC when it removed 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 related to management of the Virginia Range horses on the range, including the birth control program.

On October 25, 2017, AWHC received a termination notice from the NDA for both Cooperative Agreements. The termination means that NDA no longer is 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 also halted a successful humane birth control program that reduced the reproductive rate of Virginia Range horses by approximately 27 percent in 2017.

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. The number of horses removed from the range since the Cooperative Agreements have been in effect have reduced year after year - with more than 116 horses removed in 2014; 44 horses removed in 2015; 35 horses in 2016 and even fewer this year.

The AWHC Cooperative Agreements have since 2013 effectively reduced the Virginia Range horse population by approximately 600 horses out of an estimated population of 3,000.

Although the Nevada Board of Agriculture approved the cooperative agreements with AWHC, many of its members have previously discussed ways to bring horse slaughter back to the state of Nevada and discussed making Virginia Range horses available for slaughter. Polling shows that 71% of Nevadans oppose slaughtering wild horses and 63% of voters are less likely to vote for a candidate who supports killing the state’s iconic mustangs.

The American Wild 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.