A difference of opinion over numbers

  • Horses on Nevada Range near Reno

    Bureau of Land Management photo
 

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story.

People have been bickering about how many wild horses live in Nevada ever since 1992, when horse lover Michael Blake, author of Dances With Wolves, conducted a census there. His observers found only 8,324 -- less than one quarter of the BLM figure.

Agency officials maintained that Blake's crews were inexperienced, and that the fixed-wing aircraft they flew were inferior to the BLM's helicopters.

Government counts currently show that about 22,800 wild horses now live in Nevada -- more than in all the other Western states combined. Moreover, Betsy Macfarlan, executive director of the Nevada Cattlemen's Association, says that horse numbers here are "consistently underestimated" by the BLM.

Dawn Lappin, Wild Horse Annie's successor at Reno-based WHOA! (Wild Horse Organized Assistance), is less ready to fault BLM's counts than some other horse advocates.

"I feel that there's probably a lot more animals out there than people would like to believe," she says.

The Silver State is not an ideal environment for wild horses. Parts of it get as little as five inches of precipitation a year, and the area has also been plagued by droughts. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, hundreds of Nevada's wild horses died of starvation and dehydration. Mud around drying springs fatally trapped colts and choked adult horses trying to drink.

In 1996, the range here was once again so parched that BLM conducted emergency gathers of wild horses. "It was done to save their lives," says Cathy Barcomb of the state's Wild Horse Preservation Commission. In the past five years, Nevada's herds have shrunk by over a third.

Nobody really knows what impact horses are having on wildlife in Nevada. But Rose Strickland, public-lands committee chairwoman of the Sierra Club's Toiyabe Chapter, believes that when measured against the damage done by cattle, "There's just no comparison."

Lappin says some of Nevada's wild horses are so out-competed by cows that they're getting less than 10 percent of the grass in their own herd areas. But removing the cattle is no answer, she says. Without the water sources stockmen have developed for their own animals, she points out, wild horse herds would not survive.

High Country News Classifieds
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING www.westernlaw.org/about-us/clinic-interns-careers The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) is a nonprofit public interest environmental law firm with a 25-year legacy of success...
  • PLANNING & BUILDING DIRECTOR
    Searching for candidates with a Bachelor's Degree in Planning, Community Development, or a related field with 7 years' experience in land use planning forums, including...
  • LAND CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    Manage, develop and implement all stewardship and land management plans and activities on both private and public lands. Guide and direct comprehensive planning efforts, provide...
  • NEWS DIRECTOR
    Based in the state capitol, Boise State Public Radio is the premier NPR affiliate in Idaho. With 18 transmitters and translators, it reaches 2/3rds of...
  • INTERNET-BASED BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Dream of owning your own business, being your own boss, working from home ... this is the one.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FOR MOJAVE DESERT LAND TRUST
    Organization Background: The Mojave Desert Land Trust (MDLT) is a non-profit 501(3)(c) organization, founded in 2006. Our mission is to protect the ecosystems of the...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    If you are deeply committed to public service and would like to become part of our high performing, passionate and diverse team, NCAT is looking...
  • TRIPLEX .8 ACRE KANAB, UT
    Create a base in the center of Southern Utah's Grand Circle of National Parks. Multiple residential property with three established rental units and zoning latitude...
  • FORGE & FAB SHOP
    with home on one beautiful acre in Pocatello, ID. Blackrock Forge - retiring after 43 years! Fully equipped 5,500 sf shop including office, gallery and...
  • SMALL FARM AT THE BASE OF MOUNT SHASTA
    Certified organic fruit/berry/veggie/flower farm. Home, barns, garage, separate apt, more. Just under 2 ac, edge of town. Famously pure air and water. Skiing, mountaineering, bike,...
  • FOREST STEWARDSHIP PROJECT DIRECTOR
    Become a force for nature and a healthy planet by joining the Arizona Chapter as Forest Stewardship Project Director. You will play a key role...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Ranchers Stewardship Alliance is accepting applications for an Executive Director. This position will provide leadership to RSA, develop a fund raising plan, and effectively communicate...
  • EQUITY IN THE OUTDOORS COORDINATOR
    The Equity in the Outdoors Coordinator will lead community engagement, program implementation and development, and data collection for the Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement (EVOM). EVOM...
  • COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT ASSISTANT
    The Idaho Conservation League is seeking a personable individual who is passionate about conservation to join our Sandpoint Field Office. The Community Engagement Assistant will...
  • LIGHTWEIGHT FLY ROD CASES
    4 standard or custom lengths. Rugged protection for backpacking. Affordable pricing.
  • EXPERIENTIAL EDUCATION INTERN/ASSISTANT
    Actively introduce students to Experiential Education, Outdoor Recreation, and Sustainability while engaging and challenging them to learn and participate in these diverse opportunities. Room, board,...
  • ENVIRONMENTAL INVESTIGATIVE MEDIA SERVICES
    In-depth investigations of polluters, lobbyists, regulators, elected officials and others focused on environmentally damaging projects in the U.S. and internationally. We specialize in mining projects,...
  • UNDEVELOPED 40 ACRES - SOUTHWEST COLORADO
    in beautiful Montezuma County.
  • TRUCK DRIVER
    Class A & B drivers, pass all DOT requirements and clean driving record
  • MARIA'S BOOKSHOP FOR SALE
    - Thriving Indie bookstore in the heart of Durango, Colorado. General bookstore with 34-year history as a community hub for Southwest region of CO. 1800...