Battles over water have plagued the west since the arrival of the first settlers. A modern day water war could possibly descend upon Nevada's wild horses and burros. A draft letter presented to the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners in Reno on saturday calls for federal agencies to remove all wild horses and burros making illegal use of Nevada water. The newly formed Feral Horse Committee presents the argument that they are not deemed to be wildlife by either the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or the state of Nevada. Therefore, by Nevada law, the animals have no “ beneficial use designation” for water rights within the state.
The five page letter outlines the committee’s legal reasoning and requests Nevada’s Division of Water Resources to:
- Notify each federal agency that is harboring free and wild roaming horses and burros that the continued use of water for which there is no designated beneficial use is in violation of Nevada Law
- Notify each federal agency that the known incidents of FWRHB causing degraded water quality, often complete loss of spring or seep discharge, and interference with the use of that water by Nevada wildlife is in violation of Nevada Law.
- Instruct the federal agencies to immediately remove any FWRHB that are making unlawful use of Nevada waters.
Water rights and the use of public lands form a complicated issue dating back to the Taylor Grazing Act signed into law by President Roosevelt in 1934. The Free Roaming Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971 added equines to the mix. Various Public Land acts, both state and federal, also have their say and Nevada Revised Statutes come into play with this particular issue. If these are not confusing enough, add to it all the layers of Nevada government. The Feral Horse Committee is a subcommittee of the Nevada Wildlife Board of Commissioners, a commission within the Nevada Department of Wildlife. It’s no wonder that John Q. Public hasn’t a clue as to what all this means. With Nevada range lands being home to the vast majority of Americas wild horses and burros, the implications are manifold. Whether estray, feral or just plain mustangs and burros, they must have water to survive.
Because of a possible error in procedural rules of order pointed out by wild horse advocates, the Board of Commissioners voted to take no action until their next meeting which is scheduled to take place in Las Vegas February 5th & 6th of next year.
Discussion amongst commissioners prior to the vote appeared to be in favor of approval. Mike Stremler, committee chairman, stated on several occasions that water was BLM’s “Achilles heel”. Commissioner Michael McBeath voiced his disapproval of too many horses on public lands. Commissioner Hank Vogler, also a member of the Feral Horse committee, suggested the Department of Wildlife bring suit against the BLM requiring wild horse populations be kept at appropriate management level, a tactic used successfully by the state of Wyoming.
There has been no public statement defining the purpose of the Feral Horse Committee. Though chairman of the Governors Wildlife Commission, Scott Raine, is reported to have described committee members as “the foremost experts on the issue of feral horses”, their qualifications as such have not been made known.
It should be pointed out that some committee members are proponents of returning to the days of mustanging. Feral horse committee member, George Parman, recently wrote in Scott Raine’s blog site,
“Now, what we need to do, is to let the ranchers and the mustangers take care of the problem, just as they did in the old days...The best of the horses were put on the market for people to use and enjoy [after mustangers rounded them up]. The remainders of the older and less undesirable animals were euthanized via a facility that made good use of the end product.”
There is no doubt the subject of wild horses is a volatile one. From all appearances, America will have to wait at least until February to learn the outcome of yet another attack on their existence.