University of Nevada, Reno officials promise an investigation and public report on the deaths of 344 sheep that were caught in rising floodwaters and drowned in a pasture where 37 cows were killed in a 1986 flood.
College of Agriculture officials had moved the flock last
Saturday to a pasture where they thought they'd be safe.
"We are collecting all the information, in detail, and will put
a report together including what we can learn about 1997 and 1986
floods," said Joe Crowley, acting UNR president.
"We will have a full report ... a public document, warts and
Crowley said the report will be used to develop better animal
evacuation plans and flood procedures for UNR's Main Station Farm
in east Reno.
On Saturday, Steamboat Creek overflowed, breached a field levee
and trapped the sheep in a pasture where hours later they drowned
in 5 feet of water. UNR officials said the sheep could have walked
to higher ground and failed to do so.
Pictures taken by a nearby resident, however, show the route to
higher ground was cut off by 3 p.m. and that rising floodwaters
were coming from the direction where other animals were corralled,
the Reno Gazette-Journal reported Friday.
Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, who last year sponsored a
bill that would have allowed local agencies to do health and safety
inspections of UNR farms, said several College of Agriculture
administrators had experienced previous floods and should have
known the area was unsafe. Leslie's bill passed the Assembly but
died in the Senate.
"Instead of blaming the sheep for their own demise, the
university agriculture staff should accept responsibility for not
learning from their own historical mistakes," Leslie said.
"I expect UNR officials to hold the college and its staff
accountable," she said.
Crowley said the sheep were led to the pasture sometime Saturday
morning and UNR workers last saw them on dry ground about 2:30 p.m.
He said when the workers returned to the area about 5 p.m. after
taking other animals to safety, the sheep were trapped by deep
Lisa Taylor of Hidden Valley took pictures of the pasture at 3
p.m. The photos show the sheep were surrounded by water, but about
two-thirds of the field was dry. She said she called the College of
Agriculture and left a message on voice mail, then called the
Humane Society, Reno Animal Control and local news media. She said
no one could help.
"The field was slowly filling up, with most of the water on the
east side, between the hill and the sheep," she said.
She said she saw a cattle truck parked near the farm around 4:30
that afternoon and tried to drive to it to warn UNR workers about
the sheep, but the roads were blocked by police barricades.
Taylor said she last saw the animals at dusk, when "the sheep
were huddled together like an island that kept getting smaller as
the water got higher."
By Sunday morning, the sheep were gone and the field was a lake,
"UNR made it sound like no one could have done anything, like
it was a flash flood, but it took hours for the field to be covered
in water," she told the newspaper.
Crowley said workers thought the field was a safe haven.
"The employees thought they were doing the best thing," said
Crowley, who noted that about 10 workers saved 1,500 other animals
during the flood.
"They did the best they could with the information they had."