Wild horse advocates take a local, practical approach
A number of bands of wild horses roam the Pine Nut Mountains on the east side of Carson Valley. In the Fish Springs area we see four or five groups of several horses. Mary Cioffi seems to know them all--by name.
"We know every horse and for the most part who their sire is, who their dam is and what band they're with today and which one they were with the last time."
It's true. As we watch, she identifies individuals in each band, describing the personalities, the family dynamics, who's in. who's out and who is ready to mate.
She first came out to photograph them. Soon hooked with concern for their welfare, she joined the Pine Nut Wild Horse Advocates.
There are any number of wild horse groups around, many dedicated on the big policy battles. They seek success by focusing on the horses they know, intimately finding what works.
"It's a pretty pragmatic group," she says."We see a problem and we try to take care of it."
Those not on the extremes of this issue will tell you the goal is a stable population on a healthy environment and the key is controlling the birth rate.
That sounds like a pipe dream, but experts we talked with say it may be attainable down at this level, a knowledgeable local group, with community support and application of the right science.
In this case, it's birth control administered by a dart shot from an air gun. Mary has been trained and certified to do this and she's a pretty fair shot. Today she's after one particular horse.
"I want the dark mare who's standing by herself. Her name is 'Old Mama."
The horses know her and they know what she's up to. So, it isn't easy. And she's careful about how she goes about it. She wants no injuries caused by a startled horse.
Unfortunately the right moment just doesn't appear. With the wind picking up, she gives it up.
We learned later as we left, Mary got in her truck. Old Mama got close enough. Mary was able to shoot from the cab and stick her with the dart.
Old Mama will mother no foal this season and that brings this group's effort one horse closer to their goal.
"The goal is for it to reach attrition where the death rate and the birth rate is approximately the same."
They have some advantages. There's no battle with ranchers here. The holder of grazing rights keeps his cattle off this range and has financially supported the group which is privately funded.
And there's support. Driving up into the foothills you'll pass signs on fences stating "We support our wild horses." A few years ago more than 300 showed up to protest a plan to remove the horses.
Reaching that goal will take time and there's always the possibility of a setback. A few years ago, a lawsuit by a New York-based animal rights group brought everything to a halt and the population jumped.
But things are once again moving in the right direction here. It may be that part of that elusive solution will lie in small victories like this.
Mary Cioffi has heard the doubters before.
"I say what if you had an old lady with a rifle like me in every community?"
The group relies on support from that community. Saturday, June 1, they will be holding a concert and fundraiser at the Valley View Ranch, 1000 East Valley Road, Gardnerville.