Darting program is a model for wild horse management, proponents say

The American Wild Horse Campaign says collisions between motorists and horses in Reno fell 50% from 2020 to 2022, falling from 25 in 2020 to one in 2022 in the Dayton Valley, thanks in part to a fertility control program where mares are shot with an inoculation arrow.

Horse advocates announced Wednesday that their four-year fertility-control effort could reduce births and set a new model for managing feral herds across the West, says Tracy Wilson, director of the AWHC in Nevada. The group says 1,868 mares were stabbed and all 3,138 horses in the main area have been cataloged in a database.

Wild horse populations that are unmanaged are doubling every few years, experts say. Fertility control efforts include administering a dart to each mare, with a booster vaccination given a few weeks later.

“We saw a 61% drop in foal births in 2022 compared to the end of 2020, without having to remove a single animal,” Wilson said. Given the prevalence of predators on the site, the mortality rate for foals born is 50%.

Managed by three dozen volunteers and funded by private grants and donations, the effort began with “key support” from blockchains and other tenants of the Tahoe Reno Industrial Park, says Suzanne Roy, executive director of the American Wild Horse Campaign.

Housing is expensive in Reno. Builders venture into places they’ve never been before – right on the edges of habitable hills and canyons. Development in the region has disrupted habitat and water sources for horses and other wildlife, bringing them closer to civilization and highways, experts say.

Reno City Councilwoman Naomi Duerr says the area she represents has added “15,000 people and their cars” over the past 10 years. “This development has displaced horses and other wildlife from areas of the Virginia Range, both their natural habitat and access to water.”

The herds are under the jurisdiction of the Nevada Department of Agriculture, which has the right to sell the animals if necessary for their housing, the law says. No horses have been sold in the past decade, officials say.

The Department of Agriculture has entered into an agreement with the AWHC to manage the Virginia Range horses that lack federal protections Wild Horses and Donkeys Act.

“Since the Virginia Range Mustangs are not federally protected, horses removed from the country can be sold at cattle auctions frequented by “kill buyers” who ship them to Canada and Mexico for slaughter, something three in four Nevadans oppose,” according to one AWHC spokesman citing a survey by Public Policy Surveys.

With lost habitat, thinning Virginia Range herds is a necessity, says Roy. It is also designed to protect public safety, reduce human conflict with wildlife, and secure wildlife corridors “so that, frankly, the wild horses and wildlife in this area have a future.”

It is expected that the fertility vaccines coupled with the natural death of horses will result in zero population growth.

Roy says the effort is creating “a new playbook” for feral horse management in the West and providing a model for an alternative to the controversial summaries and holding pens currently used by the Bureau of Land Management, which manages the country’s estimated 86,000 feral horses manages horses in 10 states.

“Great for our economy”

“Come and work in the largest and most advanced factory in the world!” Elon Musk tweeted in 2018 to fill its Storey County Gigafactory with workers. β€œThe hotel is located on a river near the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountains with wild horses roaming free.”

Now, with a new factory in the works and the post-COVID era challenged to keep employees in the office, Musk is showing off the Mustangs again — this time in a trailer truck mural posted ahead of a promotional event last week for Chris Thompson , project manager of the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center.

Development can be bad for wild horses. But wild horses are good for development, says Thompson, who, during a conference call Wednesday, highlighted the success of a partnership to reduce human-animal conflict in the Virginia Range, about 300,000 acres of land in Nevada, mostly in Storey County, which stretches east extends, Lyon district welcomed.

“Having feral horses and preserving their way of life β€” no raids, no relocations, no slaughter β€” but preserving our feral horse population is great for our economy,” Thompson said, adding that all renters have committed to a collective effort to reduce car accidents reduce in horses by reducing the number of horses through fertility control.