|Virginia Range Wild Mares|
5 by 7 inches Drawing on #110 Paper
by Linda L Martin
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These numbers were based on what the land could sustain in an average rain year. Had there been plans in place managing wild horses, which was a totally new science at the time, those numbers probably would not have gone over 25,000 at any given year. And under drought conditions, die offs would have lowered the numbers substantially. Instead the number of wild horses not only exploded but, the horses, due to lack of forage and water, as well as territorial issues when new bands were created, began to expand into areas that prior to 1971 had no wild horses.
The arduous task of figuring out which horses were owned by whom and what their legal status was became that action that took precedence to any hard core management plans. In fact, on some Herd Management Area plans are still evolving and changing even after 42 years of learning how to manage wild horses.
After a number of court rulings, several decisions were made to establish the ownership and control of wild horses. By 1976 property owners were requesting that wild horses be removed from their property by the BLM. These horses were considered by the BLM to be estray, or formally domestic horses, that had gone feral and were not among the original wild horses protected by the act. In fact, it was geography and time period that determined which horses were wild and which were not. If title could be proven in ownership, private citizens were responsible. If in the wrong place at the time of the Wild Horse and Burro Act they were estray.
The first group of Pine Nut Mountain HMA wild horses had migrated down to High Way 50 by 1978 and were causing problems on private land and road hazards. Due to fencing and natural obstacles the BLM took responsibility for those horses and removed any horse that became a problem in that area that bordered the Herd Area and has done so since.
Another document stated that both the BLM and The Nevada Department of Agriculture recognized the ownership of wild "feral" horses by private land owners . Private land owners had to make a determination. If they did not want the horses removed by the BLM on their property the horses, no matter what the origins, were theirs and they must control both the populations and the migration. Some property owners did round up and sell off wild horses others did not. Wild horses were being rounded up by privately hired helicopter contractors on private land well into the 1990s, until pressure was brought to bear by private groups living in the areas of the Virginia Highlands.
Yet still, wild horses were running freely throughout the state controlled region and private citizens had stopped claiming ownership. In 1982 the Nevada Department of Agriculture took responsibility for the horses and solidified their legal rights to do so.
The feeling was that the Department of Agriculture, the citizens of Nevada and the local government and land owners didn’t want to remove the horses totally. They wanted to preserve them to healthy levels so that they could be enjoyed by everyone safely. The determination that the Virginia Range could sustain from 100 to 150 wild horses in good health was actually determined sometime in 1995.
What was needed was a good plan to keep the animals healthy, control the populations and to make sure the animals were protected. The Department of Agriculture created a position: Virginia Range Astray Manager. Governor Bob Miller of Nevada from 1989 to 1999 appointed Mike Holmes, to that position.
Tomorrow: Mike Holmes and what he accomplished for the Virginia Range Horses.
Special thanks to Mikel Hettrick for the use of her photography.
Sources for some of the information in this section are from different wild horse advocacy groups, public information, The State of Nevada and interviews provided from advocates of the Virginia Range horses who wish to remain anonymous.