Denio, Nevada (August 20, 2012)…A national coalition of wild horse advocacy organizations today harshly criticized a plan by the Sheldon Wildlife Refuge in northwestern Nevada to eradicate all wild horses and burros living within the federal refuge over the next five years.
The final “Comprehensive Conservation Plan” released on Friday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), which manages the Sheldon Refuge, calls for the fast-track removal of an estimated 800 wild horses and 90 burros using helicopter stampedes to capture and remove the animals. The animals will be placed up for adoption. However, those who are not adopted can be sold at auction for slaughter.
“We are extremely disappointed that the federal government has chosen to eradicate wild horses and burros from the lands where their ancestors have lived for more than a century and a half,” said Suzanne Roy, director of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC), a national coalition. “Wild horses are a native, reintroduced North American wildlife species and, as such, have biological, historic and cultural significance to the Sheldon Refuge and the entire Great Basin area.”
The wild horses on the Sheldon Refuge are descendants of cavalry stock and breeds that helped develop the area in the 1800’s prior to the land being sold to the federal government. The presence of wild horses and burros on the land pre-dates the 1931 creation of the Sheldon Refuge by over a half century. The Sheldon horses are part of a lager wild horse population in the tri-state area (California-Oregon-Nevada), which is known as “mustang country.” The area includes the Bureau of Land Management’s Calico and High Rock Complexes.
The final management plan rejects a more humane alternative to phase out wild horses and burros over 15 years utilizing fertility control, an option that would allow the older, unadoptable animals to remain wild and live out their lives on the lands of their birth.
According to AWHPC, although the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act only protects mustangs and burros living on Bureau of Land Management and US Forest Service lands, the US FWS could seek special permission to protect wild horses and burros on the Sheldon Refuge in recognition of their historic and cultural significance to the area.
“We have had conversations with Sheldon Refuge directors over the past 10 years regarding instituting a fertility control program utilizing native PZP on the refuge,” said Neda DeMayo, President of Return to Freedom American Wild Horse Sanctuaryand a founding member of the AWHPC coalition. “If a fertility control program had been instituted a decade ago, Sheldon would be experiencing a measurable reduction in reproduction. It’s not too late to implement this fertility control program that would place the refuge in a position to benefit from an eco-tourism program to engage the public while gradually arriving at a fair management level for each of the four distinct wild horse herds and the burros that live on the Sheldon Refuge.”
AWHPC also took aim at the federal government for downplaying public support for maintaining wild horses and burros on the Refuge. In fact, the final management plan for Sheldonmisrepresents the situation by claiming that just 401 public comments were received on the preliminary Comprehensive Conservation Plan. In reality, AWHPC supporters alone submitted in excess of 2,000 individual comments urging the FWS to maintain wild horses and burros on the refuge, or at minimum, to choose the more humane alternative of phasing the populations out over time.
In addition, the coalition blasted Sheldon for its lack of transparency in wild horse and burro management operations. Earlier this month, the refuge launched a wild horse and burro helicopter roundup, but barred the public from observing the capture operation. Sheldon managers have yet to report the numbers of horses and burros captured, injured and/or killed in the operations. Although the refuge is working with two reputable adoption groups, the captured horses and burros are apparently leaving the refuge unbranded, meaning it will be impossible to trace the ultimate fate of these animals, including how many ultimately end up at slaughter plants in Mexico or Canada.
The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC) is a coalition of more than 50 horse advocacy, public interest, and conservation organizations dedicated to preserving the American wild horse in viable, free-roaming herds for generations to come.
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