Anger and regret in removal of Douglas County wild horses

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CARSON VALLEY, Nev. (KOLO) -- The Fish Springs area in the Pine Nut Mountains east of Carson Valley is home to several bands of wild horses.

But unlike other populations elsewhere in Nevada, these horses are closely, even intimately monitored and supported by a dedicated group of advocates who watch over them and, in their own way, help manage them including their own efforts to control their population through birth control.

It's a stewardship with a big following. These horses have tens of thousands of followers on social media. They have names, histories, family structures followed on line by people thousands of miles away.

Each year some make their way to Douglas County and hire local wildlife photographer John Humphrey to take them on a tour to see them in the flesh.

"They know them by name and once these people get up close, they're in tears. They love these horses."

The horses are free to range and can, on occasion wander into rural neighborhoods.

When they do the Pine Nut Wild Horse Advocates say they're ready to help. An offer the post on rural mail boxes.

"Call us first before you call the federal government," says group member Mary Cioffi. "There's no reason to get them involved in an issue that locals can resolve."

But that didn't happen when DeVere Henderson saw a half dozen of them in his yard recently. He says he was aware of plans to remove a certain number of horses from the area and there they were. So, he called the BLM. His life hasn't been the same since.

"My phone started ringing at 6:30 in the morning. "Why are you doing this? You don't understand. You should be ashamed of yourself."

Angry messages came from as far away as Australia.

It was even worse closer to home. Henderson was a member of the county planning commission and was up for reappointment.

He was not reappointed.

He now says he wasn't fully aware of the offer by the advocate group to help residents with any problems and might have done things differently. But what he set in motion apparently can't be undone.

Twenty one horses in all were removed. Among them a striking roan stallion. The subject of many of Humphrey's photos, instantly recognizable by thousands of followers, he had a name--Samson.

At the BLM corrals he's merely horse 5056. But even here there he and the others aren't treated the same.

All the rest of the hundreds of horses there are available for adoption any day, but though their advocates say they have adoptive homes for all of them. the Pine Nut horses are being held for special treatment.

Their adoption will be subject to an online auction next month. The reason? Ironically it's their very popularity.

A BLM spokesperson admits they might bring a higher price than the standard adoption fee, but she insisted that wasn't the reason. Instead, she said, it's a matter of fairness.

Apparently a fan of the Pine Nut horses in say Virginia or Ohio should have an equal chance to adopt one.

That may be the final disappointment for Cioffi's group.

"We have asked the BLM not to put them on the online auction. We don't want them to go to the highest bidder. We want them to go to the best home."

Wherever they end up the greatest impact of their removal will be on the future of the Pine Nut Wild Horse population.

"When you reduce the population you want to do it intelligently. You want to remove a few horses from each family. When you remove whole families, you contribute to inbreeding."

In any case, those genes are already lost. Samson and the other stallions have already been gelded.

So, no one walks away from this a winner, except perhaps the bureaucratic policies which are being upheld and strictly followed.

What's ahead for the horses themselves is anyone's guess. Their advocates would at least like to know they are going to owners who appreciate what they are and know how to handle them.

It's not easy to gentle an adult mustang who knows nothing of life in a pasture.

And after a year a successful adopter owns the formerly wild horse. If little can be done with them, there's nothing to stop them from being sold to slaughter as some have been.