Feral horses degrade the land

 Band of horses from the Pine Nut Mountains HMA in the Dayton area of Nevada. This photo was taken in July 2018 and shows a very degraded watershed and sparse vegetation.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has recently announced the release of wild horse environmental assessments (EA) for two separate wild herd management areas in Nevada. The changes involve the Pancake Complex and the Moriah Herd Area (HA) in the eastern part of the state near Ely.

Both EAs call for gathers and follow-up maintenance gathers to be conducted over the next 10 years, from the date of the initial gather operation, to encompass 2,683-4,285 animals. According to the BLM, “The EA will be used to facilitate gathers, removals and fertility control of excess wild horses in accordance with 43 CFR 4700 regulation and the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971.”

Additionally, the BLM has postponed the Fish Creek Wild Horse Gather to later this year or early 2021 due to concerns with COVID-19. The gather was scheduled to start on Nov. 16, 2020, on the Fish Creek Herd Management Area (HMA) near Eureka, NV, and would gather approximately 195 wild horses. The gather would remove 135 horses and treat 30 mares with PZP-22, a population suppression fertility control vaccine, leaving about 105 horses.

Moriah HA

The Moriah HA is located 48 miles northeast of Ely, within White Pine County. The HA is 55,300 acres in size, and the eastern boundary of the HA is the Nevada/Utah state line.

On Oct. 22, the BLM issued a decision record and finding of no significant impact (FONSI) based on the EA.

In 2008, the Ely District of the BLM issued a record of decision (ROD) and approved resource management plan (RMP), dropping the Moriah HA from HMA to HA status due to insufficient habitat to support wild horses. The Ely proposed RMP/EIS (environmental impact statement) “evaluated each herd management area for five essential habitat components and herd characteristics: forage, water, cover, space, and reproductive viability.” The Moriah HMA failed to meet one or more of the five required habitat components resulting in the decision to drop its HMA status.

As a result, the Moriah HA is managed for zero horses, and the estimated 714 horses will be removed from the area. Approximately half of these 714 excess horses regularly move or reside outside the HA in search of forage, water and space. The last wild horse gather in the HA was in August 2010 when 53 horses were removed.

Due to the rugged terrain, 535-606 excess wild horses of the population may be gathered initially, and follow-up gathers will likely be necessary over the next 10 years to bring the population to zero wild horses.

Pancake Complex

The BLM is currently seeking public comment on the preliminary EA through Dec. 12 on the Pancake Complex.

The Pancake Complex is located approximately 30 miles west, southwest of Ely and 10 miles southeast of Eureka. The Pancake Complex consists of the Monte Cristo and Sand Springs East HMAs, Jakes Wash HA and Monte Cristo Wild Horse Territory (WHT), totaling approximately 1.1 million acres.

The Pancake Complex has a cumulative appropriate management level (AML) range of 361-638 wild horses, including the Sand Springs West AML of 49 wild horses, Monte Cristo WHT of 72-96 horses and no wild horses within the Jakes Wash HA.

According to the preliminary EA, “The specific herd size at present in the Complex is not exactly known, but it is clear that even the lower bound of possible adult herd size exceeds the upper end of AML for the complex by 1,692, and exceeds the lower end of AML by at least 1,969.”

The proposed action (Alternative A) of the EA would gather and remove approximately 1,969- 3,571 excess wild horses within the Complex and administer population control measures, which include fertility control vaccines for wild horses remaining in the Complex. Follow-up gathers would continue over 10 years to remove additional excess wild horses necessary to achieve and maintain the low range of AML.

If the BLM determines that the Complex’s proposed action is not expected to have significant impacts, a FONSI would be issued and a decision record would be prepared to enable the gathering.

If you would like to comment or review the EA, it can be found at go.usa.gov/x7RUa. Comments and concerns may be emailed to: blm_nv_ely_pancakecomplex_wildhorsegatherea@blm.gov or sent in writing to the Bureau of Land Management Ely District Office, 702 N. Industrial Way, Ely, NV 89301 Attn: Ben Noyes, Wild Horse and Burro Specialist. — Charles Wallace, WLJ editor

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