AUSTIN — One of the biggest problems facing Nevada ranchers is an overabundance of feral horses drinking water and eating forage rightfully set aside for cattle and sheep, but the bigger problem is the utter indifference of the Bureau of Land Management to this burgeoning problem.
For years the BLM rounded up mustangs and attempted to adopt them out, warehousing the unadoptable ones at Palomino Valley near Reno. It has reached the point that more than 60 percent of the BLM’s $70 million annual budget for managing wild horses and burros is consumed by warehousing them in corrals. The BLM claims it doesn’t have the budget to round up any more horses, as reported in this week’s newspaper column available online at The Ely Times and the Elko Daily Free Press.
Ranchers attending a packed meeting at the Austin Community Center a couple of weeks ago heard an audacious suggestion that might bring the problem to a head.
The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 states: “If wild free-roaming horses or burros stray from public lands onto privately owned land, the owners of such land may inform the nearest Federal marshal or agent of the Secretary (of the Interior), who shall arrange to have the animals removed.”
Mike Stremler emphasized to fellow ranchers in Austin that the language is “shall arrange to have the animals removed.”
“In Pershing County I’ve been exhausting these administrative remedies,” Stremler said. “We got a preliminary order out or communication that says there is no available water for any other users, which means the wild horses have no water rights. When there was a fire I charged the BLM 5 cents a gallon to use my water coming off of public land. They paid it. That set a precedent that they are willing to pay for the water if they need it. One of the things we need to do as ranchers is set them up, if they’re going to use your water, send them a bill. And when the horses need to use your water, we can start sending them a bill.”
He noted that, if a rancher charged the BLM 10 cents a gallon for water, a wild horse could consume 20 gallons a day or $2 a day apiece for 1,000 head of wild horses. In 300 days the bill would be $600,000. Failure to pay would be a taking of private property under the Fifth Amendment.