December 11, 2017 -- Sparks, NV -- Tomorrow, Tuesday, Dec 12, 2017, at 8 a.m., the Nevada Board of Agriculture will consider a proposal (first item on the agenda) to give away or transfer ownership of 3,000 Virginia Range horses who fall under the state's jurisdiction.
The American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC), the organization that had two Cooperative Agreements with the Nevada Department of Agriculture (NDA) to protect and humanely manage the free-roaming Virginia Range horses, will give public comments opposing this ill-conceived proposal. AWHC will warn the Board that transferring ownership would put the horses at risk and raise 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.
“The Virginia Range horses are part of the culture and history of Northern Nevada and the public strongly supports their protection on the lands where they range in and around Reno,” said Deniz Bolbol, Director of Field Operations for the American Wild Horse Campaign. "The Board of Agriculture is an unelected body proposing a last-minute policy change that would undermine the intent of the state legislature and the Governor, who in 2013, enacted legislation that retains state jurisdiction over the Virginia Range horses and allows the state to partner with a non-profit for the protection and humane management of these cherished mustangs.”
WHAT: Nevada Board of Agriculture to consider agenda item to transfer ownership of the estimated 3,000 Virginia Range wild horses to a private entity.
WHEN: Tuesday, December 12, 2017 at 8 a.m. NOTE: Horses are the first agenda item.
WHAT: Nevada Board of Agriculture meeting. Numerous citizens are expected to offer public comments in opposition to the proposal.
WHERE: Nevada Department of Agriculture, 2300 East St. Louis Avenue, Las Vegas, Nevada 89104
Nevada Department of Agriculture (satellite conference location), 405 South 21st Street, Sparks, NV 89431
Horse advocates – including from AWHC and its local coalition partners -- will attend the public hearing tomorrow and speak out against the proposal to turn over ownership of the Virginia Range horses. The advocates believe that the proposal is both illegal and opens the door for pro-horse slaughter organizations like Protect the Harvest, which claims to be an “animal welfare” group, to take ownership of the horses. For this reason, the proposal puts the future of this historic and publicly cherished horse herd in jeopardy.
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 78% 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.
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 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 notice was delivered without warning, despite the contract’s 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.)
If the agreements are terminated, the NDA will no longer be legally required to notify humane horse organizations when Virginia Range horses have been removed from the wild and are being sent to slaughter auction. The successful humane birth control program that reduced the reproductive rate of Virginia Range horses by approximately 27 percent in 2017 will also be terminated.
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.
Since the Virginia Range horses’ habitat is decreasing in size due to expansive development in the area, the state’s decision to abruptly terminate the birth control program 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.
Termination of the contracts will also foreclose the private resources that have been brought to the table over the past four years to manage the horses. Since 2013, AWHC has spent over $400,000 on the Virginia Range horses, and AWHC’s local coalition partners have contributed thousands of volunteer hours to the program.
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.