A visit to the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge, located in a remote and rugged corner of northwestern Nevada, gives one a good idea of what our public landscape could look like in the absence of livestock grazing. Lush and beautiful, the Sheldon ecosystem is healthy and robust and forage is plentiful. The wild horses and burros who live on the refuge are healthy and strong. Their ancestors were America's War Horses, having fought in our battles as cavalry remounts and artillery draft horses through World War I. The presence of these horses on these lands predates the creation of the refuge by at least a half-century.
Despite the historic and cultural significance of the wild herds to the area, in September 2012, the refuge adopted a "Comprehensive Conservation Plan" calling for eradication of all wild horses and burros from refuge lands within five years. The following year, Sheldon announced that it was fast-tracking the eradication plan, aiming to remove all of the Refuge's estimated 200 burros and 800 horses in just two years.
On September 14, 2013 the Interior Department's Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) implemented Phase I of its ill-conceived plan by rounding up approximately 415 wild horses via helicopter stampede.
The Sheldon Refuge has a history of laundering wild horses through so-called adoption contractors to slaughterhouses. In 2013, they again contracted with Stan Palmer of J&S Associates in Mississippi to take 252 wild horses captured in the September roundup. During a previous internal investigation of Palmer, the FWS was unable to verify the whereabouts of as many as 202 of 262 Sheldon horses sent to Palmer between 2010 and 2012. Nevertheless, the FWS again contracted with Palmer to take horses in 2013.
On June 11, 2014, the Sheldon Refuge announced that it would round up the final estimated 70 burros and 420 wild horses in July and August 2014. Also in June, under intense pressure from Congress and the public, the Refuge informed the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that it had cancelled the contract with Stan Palmer to place Sheldon wild horses. The FWS is expected to announce which adoption contractors it will work with in 2014 sometime in early July.
This is a developing situation. Check back for updates.
Powerpoint Presentation on the Sheldon Wildlife Refuge Updated: July 1, 2014
Sheldon Refuge Announces Burro & Horse Roundups & Removals Herald & News, 2014
Horse Preservation Group Alleges Pelahatchie Man Remains 'Slaughterhouse Middleman' Clarion Ledger, 2013
Hearing on U.S. Wild Horse Fight to Go Ahead Despite Shutdown, Associated Press, 2013
1st Amendment Cited in Nevada Wild Horse Court Fight Associated Press, 2013
Anger Over Plan to Remove All Horses from Refuge Horsetalk.co.nz, 2013
Wildlife Refuge in NV to Remove All Wild Horses, Associated Press, 2012
Advocates Condemn Mustang Roundup at Sheldon Refuge, Reno Gazette Journal, 2010