Protest Planned At BLM Meeting By Horse Advocates

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Wild horse advocates opposed to increased roundups on Nevada range lands plan to demonstrate outside a U.S. Bureau of Land Management hearing next month.

Bonnie Matton, president of the Wild Horse Preservation League, said her group believes discussion on rangeland management should include limits on cattle - not just horse removals.

"Wild horses and burros have the legal right to be on public lands; for private livestock, it is a paid privilege," the preservation league said in a statement. "If the open range environment is to be protected, shouldn't there be a reduction of livestock as well as wild horses and burros?"

The group, which has been holding weekly demonstrations since February outside the governor's office in Carson City, will protest plans to remove thousands of horses from Nevada lands during BLM's annual hearing June 8 on the use of helicopters in roundups.

Federal law requires such hearings be conducted annually.

"Every state that has a gather has to do this," BLM spokeswoman Maxine Shane said.

Nevada is home to roughly half the estimated 40,000 wild horses and burros in the West.

So far this year, the BLM has removed about 1,400 wild horses and burros from public lands in Nevada, Shane said. It had planned to remove 5,500 but ran out of money.

A similar number is targeted for removal next year, Shane said, if money is available.

State and local officials have pressed the federal government to finance more roundups. Backers say the animals steal precious fodder from other wildlife and domestic livestock in an arid state in which range land is stressed by drought and wildfires.

Last year, the Nevada Commission of Wildlife urged Gov. Kenny Guinn to sue the federal agency. Guinn rejected the recommendation after meeting with Interior Secretary Gale Norton in February, saying he was convinced Norton would take steps to thin Nevada's herds.

In April, Elko County commissioners in eastern Nevada, threatened to take the lead in the case and urged Guinn to reconsider a lawsuit.

"We have a lot of ranchers in the area and we have the responsibility to step up to the plate," Commissioner Charlie Myers at the time. "This really has a dramatic impact."

Shane said a request by the Interior Department for permission to shuffle millions of dollars from other programs to finance more wild horse roundups is pending.

"We're able to reprogram some money, but we're talking about reprograming about $10 million this fiscal year, which requires us to go to Congress for approval," Shane said.