Are roundups the solution to wild horse overpopulation?
RENO, Nevada (KGO) -- The population of wild horses is exploding. Their history traces back to the Spanish explorers who first settled the west. The country's largest herd roams 800,000 acres along the California/Nevada border north of Reno. And although the government says their numbers need to be controlled, others are fighting to allow them to roam free.
Across the country, 10,000 animals a year are chased into pens by the Bureau of Land Management. The bureau estimates there are 33,000 burros, mules and horses roaming 10 western states, most in Nevada -- 1 to 5 percent will die during the roundup.
However, the government says if they don't round up the horses, the population would explode, doubling every four years.
"The west was really built on these horses backs," says Deniz Bolbol with the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign. She believes the horses are mistreated, mishandled, and rounded up so that the bureau can lease more land to cattle ranchers. "What we have here is a competition," she says. "It's competition between the livestock industry and other commercial interests."
Jeff Fontana, with the Bureau of Land Management, says the roundup is not just about the land, but about keeping the animals from starving and destroying the habitat of other species.
"We work to maintain sustainable thriving wild populations, but we have to control populations so that they don't overuse the rangeland resource which is very limited," says Fontanta. "Water is very limited in this country and so is forage."
A recent independent review by the Interior Department found the roundups are "&necessary and justified& to maintain the natural ecological balance... of the land."
At the Twin Peaks Corral in Litchfield, the horses are cared for in large pens. Government officials estimate the death rate there is 6 percent, but left in the wild it can go is as high as 20 percent.
"So we bring them in, we'll give them their first round of inoculations, all their different vaccines and then we place them in the pens," says facility manager Doug Satica.
The bureau admits there are risks associated with rounding up horses and putting them into pens. For example, in 2010, they rounded up 1,900 horses in the Calico Mountains in Nevada. At least 115 died or were euthanized and at least 40 pregnant mares lost their colts. The bureau says most of the deaths were because the animals simply couldn't tolerate the change in food.
In video uploaded to uReport by animal activists at a facility in Utah last month, they found horses in a mix of mud and feces so deep, that it prevented the animals from lying down and made it difficult for them to stand up. The bureau maintains the horses were not abused, but did move more than a hundred from the facility after the video was made public.
Wild horse adopter Sandy Jansen grew up in the area. She doesn't want to the see the horses go, but believes the populations needs to be controlled.
"I definitely believe in maintaining a herd, not letting it overrun the place, because then they start looking really scroungy and thin and they don't have enough water or feed," says Jansen who came to the Litchfield Corral to adopt one of the horses -- it will be her second.
Napa ranch owners Nancy and Mike Kerson are advocates of wild horse adoptions. They have three wild horses and two burros that that they have tamed. They speak at public adoptions and offer advice to potential owners on how to care for these animals.
"You can adopt them for $125 and people go do that and they figure, hey a $125 horse, I can train this horse," says Mike Kerson. "People need to get the help they need to be able to succeed."
While adoptions may be part of the answer to controlling the wild horse populations, only 30 percent will be taken home. Some may be released to wild after they are given birth control. The rest will be shipped to other bureau facilities around the country.
Wild horse advocates won a legal victory recently when a federal judge agreed to let a case go forward that could make the roundups illegal.
Written and produced by Ken Miguel
animal, animals in peril, reno, assignment 7
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