When Congress unanimously declared America's wild free-roaming horses and burros to be Living Symbols of the Historic and Pioneering Spirit of the West in 1971 Everyone who loved horses and history through out the USA seemed to breath a sigh of relief.
Virginia Range Foal in the Snow
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by Linda L Martin
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The very thing that pulled at the heart strings of the American public regarding Wild Horses was the idea and romance of these beautiful creatures running free on the range. This is a symbol of our freedom and a historic documentation of where our peoples came from. However, most American’s love their wild horses from a distance. The romance is far from the reality, as life often is.
The very first thing the New Wild Horse and Burro program had to do was figure out who owned what horses. On the Virginia Range in Nevada it was a complicated process. I think the Alliance of Wild Horse Advocates sums it up best in their Introduction to the Document on the "Virginia Range Horses and the History" of their management.
“There are two distinctly separate BLM Herd Use Area s (HUA) areas located near the large block of private lands currently holding estray horses managed by the State of Nevada. They are known as the Jumbo and Horse Springs HUAs.
The Jumbo HUA is located west and south of the aforementioned private lands, and the Horse Springs HUA is located to the east. Following extensive planning and public input all horses were captured from both areas and both were declared horse free following completion of the removals. BLM received only positive responses to its capture plans with no one objecting to either the removals or the horse free designations.
The rationale behind each removal was somewhat different but both were backed by not only the law and regulation but extensive case law as well.
No federally protected horses occurred within the Jumbo HUA at the time the Act was passed in 1971. The law specifically restricts (BLM's) management to those areas where horses occurred in 1971 thus Jumbo was eliminated from consideration for long-term management. The horses remaining within theJumbo HUA had relocated there from the Pine Nut HMA after passage of the Act and as a result were removed in late 1984, and the area was declared horse free.
The land use patterns within the Horse Springs HUA are heavily skewed toward private holdings with 15,000 acres of BLM lands as compared with 37,000 acres of private lands. Written requests from the private landowners, and several traffic accidents involving wild horses, necessitated the removal of all of the horses from the HUA. Again, extensive public input and planning were completed prior to the removal of the horses with no entity opposing BLM's proposed removal.
All horses were removed in 1983 and the area was declared horse free. At the time of the removals a Mr. Woodrow Cox ran horses on the adjoining Curtis Wright lands leased by Nick Mansfield. The horses now present are believed to be descendants of these horses. Prior to the State of Nevada assuming management of these horses, several large removals were conducted by Nick Mansfield that held their numbers in check. At that time the State of Nevada recognized Mr. Mansfield as the owner of these horses. A lack of any substantial removal effort since has resulted in the numbers now present.
Over the years the BLM has worked extensively with the all divisions of the State of Nevada concerning the remaining horses located on the private lands and have on numerous occasions reaffirmed our position( the AOWHA) that all remaining horses are not under the protection of the BLM”
Keep in mind that from the time the first census of wild horses was taken in 1971-1973 no one was legally removing wild unbranded horses from the range. As the wild horses produced more and more offspring the bands began to spread out. The nature of wild horses is that each band stallion has a territory. The territories do over lap . However if all the space is taken by existing band stallions then when a young stallion gets his first mares he has to establish his own territory. As stated before wild horses go where they need to.
Add to this the fact that any wild horses who ranged on privately owned lands were not protected by the Wild Horse and Burro Act in 1971. When their herds began to re-populate out of control with nothing to keep the numbers in check they began to fill up and overlap into Nevada Department of Agriculture managed land because there was nowhere else for them to go. It wasnt long before the Virginia Range was again covered with wild horses, a lot of them from private sources This population explosion created the beginning of a crisis for both the wild horses and the ecosystems on the range.
Monday Part 4: More complications for Virginia Range Horses
A special thank you to Mikel Ann Hettrick for the use of her photography.
To read more about the History of the Virginia Range management you can read the white paper put together by the AOWHA: http://www.aowha.org/documents/virginia_range_horses_history.pdf