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John L. Smith On Nevada's Wild Horses

In this June 29, 2018, file photo, wild horses kick up dust as they run at a watering hole outside Salt Lake City.
(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

In this June 29, 2018, file photo, wild horses kick up dust as they run at a watering hole outside Salt Lake City.

When you see them on a distant mountainside or running across the desert, it’s hard to imagine that Nevada’s wild horses could be that controversial.  


But what to do with those mustangs has long been a hot political topic. Recently, the House earmarked $11 million dollars in the Bureau of Land Management budget for wild horse fertility control. 


Lifelong resident John L. Smith, a State of Nevada contributor, has been following the issue. 

“It really signals a change in philosophy," Smith said, "Because this is a bi-partisan issue, That $11 million is basically a new chapter for the treatment of the horses and burros."

Smith said the roundups and removal of animals are controversial because many people view them as cruel. Adoption programs have shown some success but not a significant amount.  

"There are a lot of animals and they bred pretty quickly - up to 90,000 in the country and most of those in Nevada," Smith said, "It really is a Nevada First problem that members of Congress are focused on because they want to fix it rather than just continue to treat it and spend… literally hundreds of millions of dollars chasing the horses around.”

Wild horse advocates have wanted to use different methods for years but the technology didn't allow them to efficiently round up horses and administer birth control.

Smith said technology has changed.

“With the rise of drone technology and the ability to identify the animals up close, they are arguing you can actually administer the drug at a distance and it’s less obtrusive and less stressful for the animals,” he said.

Smith said the plan is getting praise from a variety of interested parties on both sides of the aisle - wild horse advocates, Republicans and Democrats from the West and horse enthusiasts from the East Coast.

“That all appear to be on the same page because they want a change there. They want a more humane, what they’re calling just a more humane treatment of the animals as you’re addressing the issue of what to do with them,” he said.

It's not just people who have been involved in the issue for decades that want to see the animals treated better. Smith said surveys show most Americans want to see the horses and burros treated more humanely.

Even ranchers, many of whom support the Bureau of Land Management's roundup and removal plans, like the idea of something new on the issue, Smith said.

“If this is a way forward that eventually winds up saving money rather than just spending, I know it seems like a lot, but spending a few million dollars, when you’ve been spending hundreds of millions of dollars, it actually might be smart money over time,” he said.


Controlling the Coronavirus Outbreak

“Clearly, at the national level, Nevada’s numbers are pretty troubling, but the other side of the coin is, is that you have to, at some point, try to go back to work," Smith said, “I think the governor is balancing interests. I think this is a really good example – another example – of why this should have a national strategy rather than a piecemeal strategy of every governor for him or herself.”

While traveling through Arizona and New Mexico over the past few weeks, Smith noticed the stark difference between how the two neighboring states tackled the pandemic.

Arizona was mostly open, while New Mexico, especially northern New Mexico where part of the Navajo Nation sits, was mostly closed down. The Navajo Nation has been hit particularly hard by the outbreak.

"Unfortunately, you’ve got inconsistent messaging and the one thing that Americans can do is they can follow certain directions, especially if there is leadership that makes those directions acceptable,” he said.

Smith quipped that it may be tough to look cool in a mask, but governors around the country are trying to provide that important leadership on that matter and others.

John L. Smith, contributor

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.