Nevada’s Vanishing Mustangs
Story and Photo By Cathy Scott
LAS VEGAS, (Horseback) – On a recent Friday, a van headed up a rural road in the center of a herd management area toward Southern Nevada’s Wheeler Pass. When a young red-and-white horse was spotted on the right, the driver stopped the van so everyone could step out and take a closer look.
For many on the trek to Wheeler Pass, it was an extraordinary view and undeniable evidence that wild horses are fending on their own with no help from humans. As the van continued up the rural road toward the tiny town of Cold Creek, at the base of the Spring Mountains, nine wild horse bands were seen at both a distance and at close range grazing on the desert floor.
Once the van arrived at three ponds near Cold Creek, the VIPs gathered near the largest pond where the family bands of wild horses make their way across desert scrub and Joshua trees several times a day to drink from and play in the water.
After a 20-minute wait, a band of about 15 horses, including two or three foals, trotted when they approached the water’s edge. A black stallion pranced and splashed as he made his way across the length of the pond. Another bowed down and submerged all but his head and neck.
By all counts, 300 horses and roughly 500 wild burros live on this land north of Mt. Charleston just 45 minutes from the Las Vegas Strip. “They have water at low elevations and they have feed,” said Arlene Gawne, who helped organize the outing to Wheeler Pass for attendees of the recent International Equine Conference for a trip to the field.
As the van slowly traveled down the hill back to Las Vegas, a band of horses was on a hillside, far from the road, grazing. This particular management area, one of the last in Southern Nevada, is a mix of desert and mountain habitats located on the northeastern flanks of the Spring Mountains. There, the herd lives in harmony among people, deer and elk.
For those on the field trip, the sight of these animals living well was not lost on them. These horse are not dying of thirst or starvation as the BLM has said in the past. A New Yorker on the tour said she had always hoped to see wild horses in their native habitat. And Virginia resident Jo-Claire Corcoran described the scene as “remarkable.”
If you want to see these wild horses living off the land in the high desert, as they have done since before people inhabited Southern Nevada, you’ll have to hurry. They may very well become creatures of the past if the federal government has its way.
Today, one horse or burro lives on roughly 1,600 football fields, yet the Bureau of Land Management’s plan to commandeer helicopter round-ups of these horses and burros, proposed to take place in 2012 and 2013, will leave just one horse or burro per 10,000 acres. That means the horses roaming free will be moved to small stalls and held indefinitely, with their fates unknown.
Gawne, however, says there is a possible ray of hope. The Spring Mountain Alliance – a volunteer non-profit group of concerned citizens, businesses and professionals — has proposed to the BLM a 3-year hold be put on its wild horse and burro removals in the Spring Mountains so the alliance can develop programs, at little or no cost to the government, including: wild horse and burro tours on public lands that would boost Las Vegas tourism; contraceptives for old and young mares and jennies on the range’ and adding fences and viewing hides to protect ecologically sensitive areas. The alliance is a branch of America’s Wild Horse Advocates.
Rhea Little has observed the horses for years. “Seeing these animals run free is natural,” said Little, a wild horse advocate who lives in Cold Creek, which lies at the edge of the Wheeler Pass Herd Management Area. “They’re not hurting anyone.”
Most of all, another Cold Creek resident said, “The horses are happy.”
If you’d like to help, join the Spring Mountain Alliance: SpringMountainAlliance.org, 702-216-2920.
Cathy Scott is the bestselling author of The Millionaire’s Wife and Pawprints of Katrina, and is a close friend of Horseback Magazine