UNR Professor Argues Wild Horses Hurting Nevada's Ecosystem


(AP Photo/Scott Sonner)

Wild horses that have been captured from U.S. rangeland stand in a holding pen Thursday, May 25, 2017, at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Wild Horse and Burro Center in Palomino Valley about 20 miles north of Reno, Nev. Wild horse advocates are up in arms over President Donald Trump's budget proposal to allow the sale of mustangs rounded up on the Western range to be sold for slaughter.

(Editor's note: This discussion originally aired February 2018)

The new budget proposal by President Donald Trump could mean a big change for wild horses on the Nevada range.

Early proposals say it would allow the sale and “disposition” of horses to thin the herd.

Meanwhile, UNR professor Barry Perryman says an overpopulation of feral horses is destroying sensitive rangeland and had led to at least one fatality when a vehicle hit a horse.

"We have a lot of animals that are out there in excess of what has been determined as being an appropriate management level that is the crux of the matter," Perryman said.

Perryman doesn't advocate eliminating the animals. He said because the horses haven't been managed properly they're starting to damage the habitat of species native to the environment. 

However, Deniz Bobol with the American Wild Horse Campaign disagrees with Prof. Perryman. 

She said the idea that there are too many horses on the range is a myth perpetuated by cattlemen associations in the West. She said cattle outnumber horses on the range 4 to 1. 

"When you continue to put out these large extreme numbers of cattle and you have a smaller number of horses and you blame the horses for the damage, it's ridiculous," she said.

Support comes from

Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nevada, said a solution that has worked is using birth control for the animals, instead of rounding them up and putting them in pens, which is the current strategy.

Titus said there is bipartisan support for finding a solution to the ongoing wild horse problem.

"It is incumbent upon us to work together and find a solution that saves the wild horses, helps people to realize that this is part of what we remember from the Old West, allows those cows to go out and eat most of the grass like the cattlemen want... and still protect the range," she said.

Arguments for and against thinning the wild horse herds of Nevada have been made for decades, professor Leisl Carr Childers said. 

Childers is an expert in land use in the American West. There are a couple of reasons why it is such contentious issue she said. The first reason is that most of Nevada's land is public land, meaning it is managed by the federal government.

The second issue is the land is used for several purposes from outdoor recreation to testing bombs. The wild horse management and cattle herds are also part of that mix.

"So, these arguments often get very contentious about who gets priority," she said.

According to Childers, an additional part of the problem is that the BLM is underfunded and understaff. It is also perpetually pressured by both the cattlemen and wild horse advocacy groups to see the issue their way.

Cows are not equivalent to horses from the perspective of the law, she said. On top of that, there is not a large number of people who want to own horses anymore. 

Cattlemen turn a profit on raising cattle and protecting the horses costs money, but that doesn't mean it is not worth doing.

"From the perspective of ranchers, there is absolutely an overpopulation," she said, "But from the perspective of wild horse advocates, there is an underpopulation."


Barry Perryman, UNR professor, College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources; Deniz Bobol, American Wild Horse Campaign; Congresswoman Dina Titus, D-Nevada; Leisl Carr Childers, professor, University of Northern Iowa


KNPR and NPR Thank-You Gifts including t-shirts hoodies and cap

More Stories

KNPR's State of Nevada
KNPR's State of Nevada