Panel To Pursue Lawsuit Over Wild Horse Program

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Nevada's Wildlife Commission has voted to recommend filing a lawsuit accusing the Bureau of Land Management of mismanaging the state's 18,000 wild horses and burros.

The nine-member commission on Friday voted unanimously to request the state Attorney General's office file a lawsuit that claims failures with the BLM's program have led to the degradation of Nevada's ranges.

The commission's recommendation must be approved by Attorney General Brian Sandoval and Gov. Kenny Guinn, whom his spokesman said is not inclined to sue the BLM.

"The governor has no interest in filing a lawsuit. The governor feels he's making progress," said Greg Bortolin, Guinn's spokesman.

In a Nov. 12 letter, Guinn urged Interior Secretary Gale Norton to implement six recommendations, including taking "immediate and decisive actions to ensure that the 6,000 or more horses in excess ... are removed from Nevada's rangelands by July 2004."

"Delay will mean lasting damage to Nevada's natural resources and place the herd itself in jeopardy. At the same time the population will increase, exacerbating an already critical condition," Guinn wrote.

Both he and Norton were scheduled to meet this weekend in Las Vegas to discuss wild horse issues and other matters.

National Wild Horse Association President Billie Young estimated there are about 4,000 more horses and burros than Nevada's ranges can sustain.

"It will be devastating not only to the horses but to the lands if we cannot do gathers and adoptions," Young said, adding it's crucial to the health of the horses and the rangelands to establish and enforce appropriate management levels for horses and burros.

Young said the state's herds are growing at a rate of 20 percent to 25 percent per year.

Wildlife commissioners on Friday noted Nevada's herd size, which was most recently estimated at 18,000, represents roughly 50 percent of the 37,000 wild horses and burros in the nation. Yet Nevada's share of funds to manage the population through gathers and adoptions is only about 15 percent of funding nationwide.

BLM spokeswoman Maxine Shane said the bureau has no additional money to round up wild horses and burros in this fiscal year, which runs through September.

Last year, the BLM allocated $3.8 million for the wild horse and burro program in Nevada but ended up spending $5.2 million after adjustments and reprogramming of funds. This year, the BLM started with $4.2 million for the state's program, Shane said.

Her figures show that last year, Nevada's program received 12 percent of the $30 million spent nationally on the wild horse and burro management. This year, Nevada's slice is 13 percent of $29 million.