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'Save a horse, hire a cowboy': New bill aims to end helicopter use in Nevada's wild horse roundups

Horses, wild horses, helicopter, round up
Brad Horn / AP
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A helicopter rounds up wild horses on July 13, 2008 in Washoe County, NV.

Originally published Feb. 16, 2022.

The battle over how to manage the now 47,000 wild horses and burros in Nevada has raged for years. 

 

Birth control with drugs; adoption and removal from the range are all options now employed to some degree. 

 

In all of those, the horses and burros have to be rounded up, and helicopters are used. It’s very controversial, as the helicopters frighten and stress the animals, which can lead to serious injury and death. 

 

Those who round up horses say helicopters are the best option because Nevada’s wilderness is so vast. 

 

Nevada Congresswoman Dina Titus has spoken out against these measures for years. Now she's introducing a new bill that would end the use of helicopters and find more humane and inexpensive ways to address the wild-horse issue. 

The bill is called The Wild Horse and Protection Act. Or as Congresswoman Titus also calls it, "Save a horse, hire a cowboy. The goal is to replace helicopters in the sky with people on the ground who can round up the horses.

"We have a lot of cowboys in Nevada. A lot of them are kind of unemployed because of modern technology. And no one knows how to round up a horse better than a cowboy."

The Nevada congresswoman says she introduced this bill after the recent Pancake Complex Wild Horse gather near Ely. Helicopters were used in this round up, and she was particularly alarmed by a video that came out. "A helicopter ran down that little colt. He had a broken leg and kept running because he was terrified. And in the end they just had to shoot him and put him down. That was just so horrendous and we got so many calls from people who were outraged by it that I said 'Alright, enough is enough.'"

The wild horse round ups happen in part to keep the populations in check. Congresswoman Titus says her bill is more cost-effective because it encourages the usage of birth control to control the wild horse populations. According to various wild horse advocates, it can cost $220 to dart a mare with birth control. On the other hand, it can cost $500 to $800 per horse during helicopter round ups, and up to $50,000 to warehouse it for the rest of its life.

Congresswoman Titus is also encouraging safe horse adoptions. She says some research has been done in using drone technology in roundups, and horses have been known to follow the drones on their own. She would also like to see more areas set aside for the animals to roam free.

"There's been a plan to create a sanctuary on private land for some of these horses, that I think would attract tourists from all around the world. We've gotten calls from Italy, people saying 'save those beautiful creatures.' Someone who hadn't been out west would probably love to see them in the wild."

Dina Titus, Congresswoman, NV-3

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Kristen Kidman is the senior producer at KNPR’s State of Nevada and is proud to be from Las Vegas.