BLM / USFS seek public comment on plans for Spring Mountains Wild Horse and Burro Complex

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RTF sanctuary residents Target, left, and Azure are survivors of a BLM roundup on the Wheeler Pass Joint Management Area, part of the Spring Mountains Wild Horse and Burro Complex. Photo by Irene Vejar.

The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are accepting public comments on a preliminary Environmental Assessment for the Spring Mountains Wild Horse and Burro Complex in Nevada.

The Environmental Assessment is being prepared to address the environmental consequences of establishing a Herd Management Area Plan for the complex.

Public comments are due by Oct. 29.

The complex is located on the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest’s Spring Mountains National Recreation Area and the Bureau of Land Management’s Southern Nevada District in Clark and Nye counties in Nevada.

The complex is made up of Joint Management Areas (JMAs): the 187,639-acre Red Rock JMA, the 216,874-acre Johnnie JMA, and the 379,813-acre Spring Mountains/Wheeler Pass.

Write the agencies in the preliminary Environmental Assessment, “The distribution of the wild horses and burros outside the JMAs is impacting management of other resources in the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area. Over utilization by the wild horse and burro population across the complex is causing ecological harm to the environment and creating a situation that cannot be supported by the resources in the complex.

“There is a need for the (Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service) to manage the wild horse and burro populations consistently across the Spring Mountains (Wild Horse and Burro) Complex to reduce the impacts to the environment caused by excessive animals, improve the ecological conditions across the complex and move toward a more balanced distribution of animals.

“There is a need to manage the Complex to allow for wild horses and burros year-round access to essential habitat components (forage, water, cover, and space) and unimpeded natural movement within each JMA while controlling herd size and minimizing emigration of wild horses and burros outside the JMAs.”

The proposed action would reaffirm population targets for wild horses and burros, called “Appropriate Management Levels,” set by the BLM in 2004-2005. It also includes provisions to modify those AMLs based on interagency monitoring.

The proposed action would allow for helicopter and bait-and-trap roundups to reduce wild horse and burro populations to “low to mid-range AML.”

The current combined Appropriate Management Level for the three JMAs is 62-93 wild horses and 103-192 burros. The estimated combined population of the three JMAs, based on a February 2021 aerial survey, is 281 horses and 551 burros.

The proposed action would also allow for the use of fertility control treatments, surgical sterilization and sex-ratio adjustments.

The proposed action would also address impacts of “excess” wild horse use within the habitats of the endangered Mt. Charleston blue butterfly and threatened desert tortoise, “degraded vegetation due to overgrazing as well as trampling at spring water sources,” “dangerous driving conditions created by habituated wild horses and burros along state highways,” and “potential public safety encounters with excess wild horse and burro populations, especially in high-use recreation areas,” the BLM said in a press release.

To read the preliminary Environmental Assessment and other documents, click here. Click “analysis” to find the preliminary Environmental Assessment.

Notes to consider for your letter:

–The preferred action allows for the use of helicopters to remove “excess” wild horses and burros. RTF urges a slower approach of scaling up fertility control as lesser removals are accomplished methodically with bait-and water-trapping techniques.

–The preferred action includes the possible use of fertility control to help manage wild horse and burro numbers. RTF strongly supports the use of safe, proven and humane fertility control vaccines to halt roundups. Of the available vaccines, RTF prefers the use of PZP, which has a long history or research and use and because the public tends to support its use because of the long-term data behind it.

–The preferred action includes the possible use of sterilization surgeries for both stallions / jacks and mares / jennies. RTF strongly opposes the costly, unproven and dangerous surgical sterilization of wild mares and burro jennies. RTF does not advise gelding as a population management tool since there are effective and well-studied, safe and humane and reversible population growth suppression alternatives and there are not sufficient studies to understand the behavioral effects of gelding some proportion of a population. Modeling for population effects of a certain percentage of male horses in a population being geldings is a guess, at best.

–The preferred action includes as an option sex-ratio skewing so that males make up a greater percentage of the herd. RTF does not advise sex-ratio skewing for wild horses for these reasons: (1) management of populations via sex skewing is temporary (populations return to their normal ratios), and (2) healthy populations rely on whatever the norms are in terms of that population’s demographics – adjusting a population of wild horses to skew for more or less of anything does not attain a natural state for that population, with behavior ramifications that are not yet understood (potential heightened aggression in stallions, for example).

How to submit a letter

Electronic comments must be submitted in a format such as an email message, pdf, plain text (.txt), rich text format (.rtf), or Word (.doc). They can be uploaded to the “Comments/Objection on Project” section of the project websiteat under “get connected.” Please put “Spring Mtn WHB Complex EA” into the subject line.

Comments may also be mailed to: Deb MacNeill, Spring Mountains National Recreation Area Manager, 4701 North Torrey Pines Drive, Las Vegas, NV 89130-2301, or submitted by fax at 702-515-5447.