Nevada’s Wild Horses, Wildlife and Wildlands in Jeopardy

Contact: Keely Hopkins, Pacific States Assistant Manager

Highlights

  • Wild Horses and burros have long been a symbol of the American West, receiving protection from Congress in 1971 under the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act (WFRHB Act). This act specifies that wild horses and burros shall be maintained in a manner that produces a thriving ecological balance.
  • There are currently over 100,000 wild horses and burros in the United States, with over half of them residing in Nevada. This is 400% over the Appropriate Management Level (AML) that is needed to sustain the ecosystem upon which the horses (and fish and wildlife species) rely.
  • This current, extreme overpopulation is compounded by wild horse populations increasing 15-20% each year, thereby almost doubling the overall population every four years. Without Congressional action to return wild horse populations to appropriate management levels, Nevada’s public lands, wildlife, and the horses themselves are in jeopardy.

Why It Matters: Wild horse and burro management is critical to conserving public lands, vegetation, and riparian areas. Overpopulation causes severe damage to the ecosystems and habitat upon which the horses rely, along with other wildlife and fish populations. Existing water and vegetation resources cannot sustain the current wild horse population, and the increasing wild horse numbers continue to threaten all wildlife and fish species that depend on the same habitat for survival.

Nevada’s wild horses and burros have long been a symbol of the American West, receiving protection from Congress in 1971 under the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act (WFRHBA). Under this Act, wild horses and burros were to be maintained in a manner that produces a “thriving ecological balance.” Fast forward to today: there are currently over 100,000 wild horses and burros roaming the West, with more than half of them residing in Nevada. These numbers are over 400% the Appropriate Management Level (AML) that is needed to sustain their ecosystem. This extreme overpopulation has caused severe damage to vegetation and riparian systems, which in turn has negatively impacted wildlife, native fish populations, and has even imperiled the wild horses themselves.

In 2020, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) conducted three “emergency” gathers in Nevada to rescue wild horses that were dying of starvation and dehydration, and there are currently more planned for 2021. With less than 1% of Nevada’s public lands having water, these limited resources simply cannot sustain the existing wild horse populations. To make matters worse, the wild horse population doubles in size every four years, resulting in an increasing number of horses that will suffer in these deteriorating conditions.

At the same time, these limited water and vegetation resources are now becoming less available to support wildlife, such as pronghorn, bighorn sheep, elk, and deer. Critical habitat has also been destroyed from overpopulation, frustrating efforts to stabilize Greater Sage Grouse populations and subjecting the threatened Lahontan cutthroat trout to further habitat degradation from bank erosion. It is beyond time to return to the healthy equilibrium that was intended by the WFRHB Act for the health and well-being of the wild horses themselves, and to restore the delicate ecosystem that supports Nevada’s wildlife.

On April 1, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) submitted a letter as part of the National Horse & Burro Rangeland Management Coalition to urge Congress to provide sufficient funding to address this problem and remove excess horses and burros from America’s rangelands. CSF will continue to support efforts to safely, effectively, and responsibly manage wild horse and burro populations in order to promote healthy wildlife and rangelands for future generations across the West.

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