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.

The horse wasn’t alone. Soon, a red horse approached and stopped just short of the onlookers.

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

33 comments for “Nevada’s Vanishing Mustangs

  1. Barbara Warner
    September 24, 2012 at 5:51 am

    Great article. Thanks

    • September 24, 2012 at 10:05 am

      Thanks, Barbara. And thanks for taking the time to comment.

  2. Ellen-Cathryn Nash
    September 24, 2012 at 7:37 pm

    I think that information is power. We cannot be dragged down by the Forest Service or the BLM. That is a conundrum that one agency must follow the Law but the other does not, both being supervised by the Department of the Interior. Keep writing about it and spread it far and wide. This is an awesome article!

  3. September 24, 2012 at 7:45 pm

    Thank you so much for your comment, Ellen-Cathryn. You are so right; information is power. We all need to spread the truth about what is going on. Sunshine on an issue is paramount. Thanks again. –Cathy

  4. Christie
    September 24, 2012 at 8:29 pm

    The Forestry Service is an agency of the Department of Agriculture. BLM, Fish Wildlife Service, and the National Parks Service all manage wild horses and burros under the Department of Interior. The law and previous policies have indicated that the BLM is the principle manager of wild horses and burros covered under the 1971 Wild Horse and Burro Act. So what laws the agency must follow is based on whether or not the herd was part of the original act. However, the FS does have to follow NEPA, FLMPA, APA, and QOIAA, and other administrative procedures. What we have now is a government that ignores whatever laws and procedures it doesn’t want to follow, and it is doing so with impunity.

    We need to get someone to introduce legislation in the 113 Congress to make any federal employee who breaks a law that a reasonable and prudent person knowns he is to enforce, should be subject to suspension without pay, loss of job and pension, fines of not less than $50,000, and criminal charges. Do we have any advocates in CO who are attorneys? Perhaps the Colorado bar would have some interest in holding a hearing about whether Secretary Salazar is still fit to hold a license to practice law in the state of Colorado, since he was so clearing prevaricating about the Sheldon Wild Horses. Then there was that little matter of misrepresenting the findings of seven of the 15 scientists who peer-reviewed the government’s findings of the Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill. That was on top of the clean-up for a Gulf spill that included a plan for walruses. He, as Secretary of the Department of Interior should be held accountable since his Bureau of Land Management is violating the law often leading to wide spread damage on grazing lands, destruction of riparian water ways, removal of wild horses and burros (you can sure as Inferno bet that Congress did not have in mind one horse for one thousand acres when it drafted PL 92-195, USC 16, 1331-1340 to allow the Secretary discretion to determine excess. The law is clear and this guy is just about as ethically challenged as they come. His failure to allow our wild horses and burros to occupy their federally designated land is contributing to the massive wild fires and drought in the West. If we talk about man-made disasters, the arrow points right at the Secretary’s Chair, but the buck stops with the President who put him in the seat. And, yes I am talking about the President who talks pretty little prevarications like about how he is the President of all of Americans and that he listens with concern to all of us. Wild horse and burro advocates, all 100,1000+ of us as well as the 80% of us who oppose slaughter. If this weren’t so tragic, it would be a joke.

    • Ellen-Cathryn Nash
      September 24, 2012 at 11:31 pm

      The Wild Horses and Burros are already ‘Endangered Species’ and the Forest Service decides which species gets to be listed OR de-listed on the National Endangered Species List. They are slaughtering Wolves again and I know the Wolf as I own one. He is an Omega and very gentle and afraid of practically everything. Please don’t ask how I came to get him as he is not ‘Legal’ where I reside. Wolves do not hunt for fun but Coyotes will and they are responsible for that which the Wolves are being blamed for. Wolves do not seek out humans or places where they know humans are. They make a point to hide and they cannot outrun a Helicopter with some jerk with a high caliber Rifle that wants a ‘Trophy.’

      They have de-listed the Polar Bears (they are now mating with Grizzly Bears – can you imagine meeting up with an 11 foot Bear that would kill you in a second?) This messing around with Nature generally has brought us to the point where we will have ‘water wars’ due to the Fracking.

      I doubt the 113th Congress will be any better. I do not buy in to the theory that the President is part of a ‘Muslim Cell’ as many do. I just think he dislikes animals and he does not care a wit about them. He is heartless and has made a huge mess with his appointments to the Cabinet. I can’t wait until this Congress is gone but I fear that whatever or whomever we get will be more of the same regarding Animals and the Environment in general. WE should send out a Petition to NOT vote for him unless he stops the Department of the Interior.

      As the lady says, spread some sunshine on this and vote NO for Obama if he does not take care of some business. 80% is a lot of people and if we can get the Petition to be known across the Nation it will show both candidates they will have hell to pay for allowing this to go on.

      Ellen

      • September 24, 2012 at 11:38 pm

        Good points, Ellen. Everybody’s voices need to be heard. A petition is a great idea.

      • John
        September 25, 2012 at 5:03 am

        Ellen

        You and others are wanting others to follow the LAW but you report that you own an ILLEGAL WOLF. I Think the law better investigate this and the fine should be in excess of $ 50,000. All of you people seem to be the same, cry if it does not fit your agenda.

        We all are concerned about our enviornment. Especially the enviornmential damage too many horses case to our public lands. When the BLM does their job and remove excess horses you and others have a fit.

        We need to take care of our water and land for generations to come, like it or not.

        • September 25, 2012 at 6:21 pm

          John, please explain how there are excess horses? We started out with over 50M acres and we are down to 1/3 of that. How can the few thousands horses left on the ranges be excess when there are millions upon millions of livestock. Science and GAO reports have determined the livestock, not the horses, are ruining the ranges – particularly around the riparian areas.

          It’s time to start reducing the livestock and save the taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. If the welfare ranchers want to run a private business, they should do so on their own land, not on our tax dollars.

          Excellent article, Cathy. Thank you.

          • September 25, 2012 at 6:39 pm

            Thanks, Vicki. Much appreciated.

  5. September 24, 2012 at 8:48 pm

    Thank you for taking the time to write such a detailed and concise comment that’s both informative and important. Those 100,000-strong advocates need to make their voices heard! Thanks again for taking the time to comment.

    • John
      September 25, 2012 at 5:33 am

      Cathy

      IF there are truly 100,000 STRONG wild/feral horse advocates. WHY is only one group that say they are a NATIONAL and INTERNATIONAL group complaining about the $ 11,000 they spent to buy the 23 head. This was over budget and further more did not have at the time of this article have 23 people to give them permanant fore ever homes. It looks like you people tend to exaggerate the facts.

      Maybe we could just call it wishfull thinking.

      http://www.mynews4.com/news/local/story/Wild-horse-advocates-bid-high-to-save-horses/k57ef-ffOkq2QbDJKkhPEg.cspx

  6. LNorman
    September 25, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    John
    People like you keep spinning the overpopulation lie. It’s tired and used up. 70% of wild horse herds are below genetic viability. Cattle/sheep are destroying OUR PUBLIC LANDS and this is well documented by GAO and independent scientific studies. If you knew anything about wild free roaming horses (except that you are opposed to them), you would know they heal the land by propagating grass seeds, build the soil, help it to retain valuable moisture and reduce fuel for wildfires by consuming dry brush. Cows just crap crap. http://www.adventure-journal.com/2009/05/grazing-is-razing-the-big-bad-impact-of-livestock-on-public-lands/

    • John
      September 25, 2012 at 1:05 pm

      This is how much you know about horses propagating seeds, who do we need to have registered and inspected weed free hay to ride in most areas. It is because horses are not like a ruminant like a cow. The weed seeds pass right thru a horse and transplant knoxious weeds. Horse manure has very little fertalizer value, plant a garden and use it. You will see that you will have an abundance of weeds. Plant a garden with sheep or cow manure, no weeds and a healthy garden. All of this is common sense you get from experience. I know a lot about wild-feral horses, I have seen many time the devistation they do to our public lands, let alone the damage they do to fences and water holes.

      I have never seen horses eat brush if there is enough grass, yes a starving horse will eat most anything. Sheep and goats will keep down brush much better. Everything that eats, craps including you.

      In the dry times we see in the western states and the shortage of grazing grass. Everyone has to cut back the numbers, if we do not cull some of the livestock in dry times we will destroy our public lands. The cattle and sheep owners will not leave their animals to starve and loose weight. They will have deaths let alone no value when they sell a skinny animal. Most of this is just common sense and experience of which most people behind the key board do not have a clue.

      It goes for Ellen who worships wolves at the expense of the livestock owners who loose animals that are killed or injured by the wolves. I wonder what she feeds her captured illegal wolf. Maybe the neighbors cat or dog, maybe some good horse meat?

      • Ellen-Cathryn Nash
        September 25, 2012 at 2:03 pm

        I will not be ‘baited’ into your wanting to argue with me. Sorry, I don’t play.

        Ellen

  7. johynny
    September 25, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    The forest service is under the Dept of Ag and the BLM is under the dept of the interior. The management of feral horses is under the BLM and the Forest service has nothing to do with the feral horses. 300 horses at one water hole, a recipe for a disaster.

    • admin
      September 25, 2012 at 4:03 pm

      Most would agree that the proper term for th ehorses is Wild Horse, not feral horses, a term that has long been out of use for the North American Mustang.

    • John
      September 26, 2012 at 6:51 am

      Wild Horses are an Invasive Species according to the Wildlife Society.

      There was a time when rinos,elephants, tapirs, camels, lions and horses roamed
      wild. The in depth study found that all of these animals including the wild horses died off 10,000 years ago. Read the full article.

      http://www.environmentalgraffiti.com/animals/news-wild-horse-population-mangement-differs-among-united-states-australia-and-great-britaon

      • admin
        September 26, 2012 at 6:53 am

        The Wildlife Society has been repeatedly discredited on this issue by reputable scientists as we said before.

  8. John
    September 26, 2012 at 4:25 am

    Here is an article and study that is written and called FERAL HORSES:

    GET THE FACTS that will be posted at bottom. The article reads that the WILD
    Horses in America are actually FERAL. WILD-FERAL horses damage landscape by
    TRAMPLING vegatation, hard packing the soil and over grazing. READ THE STORY

    http://joomla.wildlife.org/documents/policy/feral_horses_1.pdf

    • admin
      September 26, 2012 at 6:24 am

      The study you cite has long been called into question by authoritative naturalists. It has been around a long time but is still continually cited. We strongly urge you to buy and read the new book by Craig Downer.

      • John
        September 26, 2012 at 8:32 am

        The Craig Downer book is just full of opinions like his own. There are no scientific studies done by anyone there. I guess we will always disagree. Since you own the press you will always get the last word. I post articles that are backed by university’s and science.

        • September 26, 2012 at 12:54 pm

          Regarding Horse fossil records:

          “History of the find
          The horse was discovered by a friend of the man who found the Mammoth, Jack Harrelson, also from Oregon. While walking the mud flats near Pyramid Lake, he had previously found two camel skeletons which were reported and excavated by the Nevada State Museum in 1983 and 1984. The horse was found in 1985, exposed on the surface, lying on its left side, fully articulated with most of the bones relatively intact. Working with a representative of the Pyramid Lake Tribe, these fossil skeletons, the camels and the horse, were excavated by the Nevada State Museum anthropology department staff, Donald R. Tuohy and Amy Dansie, with assistance from three volunteers. Frost action and sun light had fractured many of the horse bones in place, but all bones except the splintered ribs were restored into a complete skeleton of an Ice Age horse.

          Originally these Wizard’s Beach skeletons were thought to be terminal Pleistocene in age between 11,000 and 9,000 years old, due to the low elevation of these skeletons in the Lake Lahontan basin. When one of the camels was dated at 25,500 years old using an important new dating method, the results surprised most students of the prehistoric lake history and geology of Nevada. At 25,500 years ago, it was thought there was an extensive, relatively shallow lake system in all the western Nevada basins, lakes that rose rapidly less than a thousand years later.”

          Source: http://museums.nevadaculture.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=528&Itemid=443

          • John
            September 26, 2012 at 3:33 pm

            Thank you Denise De Lucia, your article proves what my post with the link said. The camels, elephants, tapirs, lions and horses died off 10,000 years ago. Your findings also confirm that the so called wild horses of today are actually feral horses. The so called mustangs came from the Spanish horses crossed with domestic horses of several different breeds. Thanks again for the good information.

        • September 26, 2012 at 12:56 pm

          “The Cenozoic: During the Early Cenozoic (Tertiary), tectonic activity was intense and blocks of crust rose to form mountains, while others dropped to form basins, initiating the Basin and Range Province we see today. Mammoths, rhinos, and horses roamed through woodlands populated with oak, redwood, and willow. Volcanic eruptions were frequent. During the Late Cenozoic (Quaternary), the Sierra Nevada Mountains were uplifted, and glaciers sculpted the highest peaks. Mammoths, horses, camels, and giant ground sloths roamed freely. Volcanic eruptions continued throughout the state, depositing ash flows and lava.”

          Source: http://www.paleoportal.org/index.php?globalnav=time_space&sectionnav=state&name=Nevada

  9. John
    September 26, 2012 at 9:47 am

    Today the state of Nevada is auctioning off 25 more wild-feral-estry horses.

    Last week there were 23 bought that it was reported by the buyer that they have not yet found permanate long term homes yet.

    With the well over 100,000 plus loyal supporters it should be no problem to get enough money to buy and feed these horses till they die. Last weeks buyer reported they spent most of their money to purchase the horses. With it costing
    $1,800 plus per month to feed each horse, this does not cover the vet or farrier
    work if needed. It is nice to see that there are people will pay for these expenses
    other that the taxpayers. Keep up the good work. Buy all of the horses at auctions
    and care for them too. There are over 130,000 sent to slaughter each year, you can save them too for only $1,800 per month to feed. Simple solution.

    • admin
      September 26, 2012 at 9:49 am

      This is your most absurd post yet. Please use this site for serious comment. It’s not the place for insults, unfounded allegations, or hyperbole. You have been guilty of posting all three this morning.

      The Editor

      • September 26, 2012 at 12:49 pm

        No, This is for real. These mustangs are for sale for slaughter today. Here are some links/sources. I can put you in contact with someone who is there if you wish. Advocates Paid 3 Times Market Value to Save Horses
        http://horsetalk.co.nz/2012/09/21/charities-pay-three-times-rate-wild-horses/#.UFvtD41mTKR
        http://www.examiner.com/article/twenty-three-wild-horses-rescued-from-probable-slaughter

        Rally to Stop the Sale for Slaughter on 09/14/12 in Carson City
        http://www.nevadaappeal.com/article/20120915/NEWS/120919867/1001&parentprofile=1058

        Governor Ignores Please May Cost Revenue
        http://www.aowha.org/war/sandoval1201.html

        Petition to Save Virginia Range Horses
        http://www.change.org/petitions/please-help-the-virginia-range-wild-horses

        May 2011 Horse Advocates Boycott Nevada over Assembly Bill 329
        http://horsebackmagazine.com/hb/archives/8710

      • September 26, 2012 at 12:58 pm

        The rest of his calculations I can’t speak to but the fact that they are auctioning wild horses for slaughter I can testify.

      • Ellen-Cathryn Nash
        September 26, 2012 at 6:08 pm

        Has this poster been removed? I sure hope so. Such a sad case of not seeing the forest for the trees. Just another Wild Horse hater. He was clearly a Cattle Rancher, or comes from a Ranch family, as his reaction to my owning a Wolf was ludicrous. My neighbors know about him and so does our small animal Veterinarian. He eats regular dog food. He is terrified of men as well as Thunderstorms. He hides in the closet when it storms where he has another bed! He lives with both a Canine and a Feline and he loves both of them. He is ‘bossed’ by the cat!

        If it were the case that wolves, who are natural Preditors, are going where humans are, then why would they not go after the Wild horses and Burros? There are some Horses and Burros where the Wolves are. The Fish and Wildlife service killed 3 more wolves today. They will do Necropsies to see if they do find the remains of Cattle. They will never release the results of their findings. Never.

        I do not know which is more corrupt, the BLM or The Forest Service. I think it is the Forest Service as they manage The Endangered Species List. We all know the USDA is corrupt. On my Board of Directors I have a former Chief Officer of the USDA. I know exactly how corrupt they are as Craig Downer knows exactly how corrupt the BLM is. He was once an employee of the BLM many years ago and has been fighting them for years after he quit on his own volition!

        I am unable to start a petition at this point as I am so tired. I was the originator of the Children’s Letter Writing Campaign which was picked up by the EWA. There is such a dearth of response from the ADULTS who state they would do anything to save the Wild Horses and Burros that it sickens me. The kids want to write the letters and I guess 2K letters from kids is good but it should have been 25K! People are just lazy. I coined the term ‘slactivists’ several years ago to describe a person who wants to just click and send. Well that does not work. Some people do not want to have a Change.org or Causes account as they do not want to take the time to create an account! This is how it is working. Social Media, and the Internet generally, have fractured the Advocates. Nobody knows what is going on with the other and it is a real mess.

        That leaves the die hards such as myself to figure out different ways to deal with these things. I am doing just that.

        Ellen

  10. September 26, 2012 at 12:57 pm

    Thank you for covering the story.

    • September 26, 2012 at 3:22 pm

      You’re welcome, Denise. Thank you for concise comments.

  11. Janet Ferguson
    September 29, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    So John, tell me again why we need 3,000,000 cattle (that originated in Asian countries) on America’s Public Lands. And you are choking to defend them?

Comments are closed.