‘Horse Rich’ documentary takes center stage at Reno event

By David Frey

Wild horses have taken a toll on public lands in Nevada. ©James Marvin Phelps

Over 300 people gathered in Reno last week for a discussion of wild horses and their impact on the environment. The program featured a showing of Horse Rich and Dirt Poor, a documentary supported by The Wildlife Society.

While wild horse advocates protested outside the Nevada Museum of Art, where the event took place, inside “it was a very educational evening with an atmosphere of curiosity and community,” said Rebekah Stetson, an environmental consultant who helped organize the event.

“The goal was to educate the average constituent — the average Nevadan — about the issue, Stetson said. “Why are we concerned about the wild horse and burro population? What are the impacts on the land?”

Participants filled out postcards to mail to Nevada’s Congressional delegation to urge legislators to take action to reduce the numbers of wild horses and wild burros on public lands.

Although they’re known as wild, horses and burros roaming public lands are actually feral animals that cause impacts to the landscape, including soil and plants, as their numbers far exceed levels the land can withstand. A problem throughout the West, they are particularly worrisome in Nevada, which has about 43,000 wild horses — almost four times what is considered the appropriate management level — and the numbers continue to rise.

Deep divides on the issue, however, have made it difficult for land managers to take effective action, and the numbers continue to grow. (TWS is urging people to ask their legislators to take action to address the overpopulation issue. Read the issue statement here.)

Stetson said she grew up around horses — her mother was a competitive rider — but as she became an environmental consultant working the National Wildlife Federation, she became more and more aware of the impacts of horses on Nevada rangeland, she said..

“We have this huge overpopulation that’s been poorly managed at best,” Stetson said.

The panel at the Wednesday event included retired Nevada Department of Wildlife biologist Steve Foree; retired University of Nevada, Reno professor Jim Sedinger; Alan Shepherd, National Wild Horse and Burro On Range Program lead for the Bureau of Land Management; and others.

As the population of the Reno-Tahoe area grows, Stetson said, she hopes to encourage newcomers to take action.“I feel like they’re the type of folks who are apt to write a letter or call their lawmakers and help,” she said. “Our policymakers want to do something.”

David Frey is managing editor at The Wildlife Society. Contact him at dfrey@wildlife.org with any questions or comments about his article. Read more of David's articles here.

You can follow him on Twitter at @davidmfrey.


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