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Virginia Range Horses Saved - For Now

Nevada’s controversial plan to find a private owner for more than 2,500 horses roaming near Reno fizzled out. The Department of Agriculture this week announced it received zero responses to a request for proposals from private groups interested in taking ownership of horses living on the Virginia Range. With no one willing to take ownership of the animals, the decision for how best to manage them will go back to the state’s Board of Agriculture.“We are still under the existing directive from the Board of Agriculture to manage the horses for public safety only,” said Jim Barbee, director of the agriculture department. “The next step is to go back to the board for further direction, and we will continue to manage the Virginia Range feral/estray horses for public safety.”Barbee subsequently announced he was leaving his job as agriculture director to become manager of Churchill County.The lack of bidders was a setback for people hoping the state would rid itself of any responsibility for the animals.But it was a victory for the majority of people who spoke out on the issue, mostly driven by the concern that private ownership would lead to the horses being forced off the land.“We are glad the state’s terrible idea of giving away the beloved Virginia Range horses is finally dead,” said Suzanne Roy, executive director of America’s Wild Horse Campaign.Unlike wild horses that roam much of Nevada under the jurisdiction of the federal Bureau of Land Management, free-range horses in the Virginia range are considered feral or “estray” livestock and fall under state jurisdiction. That means they aren’t protected by federal regulations that restrict the sale of wild horses for slaughter.The Virginia Range horse population includes all feral and estray horses roaming in the area bounded by U.S. Highways 395 to 95A, Interstate 80 and U.S. Highway 50, according to the department.In January the board voted to launch the giveaway process by issuing a request for proposals from groups interested in taking ownership.Board members said their hope was to find a private group willing to manage the horses on the range.But advocates said the hope was misguided and the proposal was doomed to fail because it was impractical and would run afoul of Nevada law. Their fear was that even well-meaning owners would be overwhelmed by the difficulty of the task and that the horses could end up paying the price, potentially by being sold for slaughter.They filed suit to block the giveaway, a case that’s now moot given the Department of Agriculture pulled the plug.Horse advocates were relieved the giveaway won’t happen. But they acknowledge it doesn’t solve the greater problem, an impasse between horse advocates and the Department of Agriculture.The department is charged with managing the animals on the range, a job that includes keeping horses off roads and out of neighborhoods and sometimes tending to the sick or wounded.In recent years the department, which has little to no funding for horse management, participated in a cooperative agreement with the horse advocates who would manage the horses.The advocates used donations to fund management, which included administering birth control in an effort to control population growth.However, in October the state canceled the agreement with agriculture officials and advocates accusing each other of not living up to the terms.After canceling the agreement, the board voted to attempt the giveaway plan, a proposal that prompted protests and intense opposition.Advocates now say they want a new cooperative agreement. They’re hopeful that with the giveaway plan seemingly off the table the agriculture department will support a revised agreement.“We need to get that back in place and amend it,” said Deniz Bolbol, spokesperson for America’s Wild Horse Campaign.

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