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The state’s wild horses
by John L. Smith
Feb 27, 2011 | 680 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Court is in session.

The court of public opinion, that is.

While the legal battle for the future of Nevada’s wild horses gallops on, both sides attempt to try their case in the court of public opinion with the beleaguered Bureau of Land Management lost in a political dust cloud.

For the self-appointed protectors of the horses, a generally liberal group, the forced removal of the animals has been documented as inhumane. The horses’ survival hinges on stopping the roundups.

For the representatives of the cattle and sheep ranching community, a conservative bunch if ever there was one, the roundups are essential to preserve delicate grazing lands. The future of their ranching lifestyle depends on it.

Lost in the increasing volume of the ongoing arguments is a simple question I’ll wager most Nevadans will relate to these days.

Are the state’s wild horses really such a clear and present danger to Nevada’s open range that the federal government can justify spending millions each year trying to round up the animals?

When we talk about BLM roundups, we’re not talking about a handful of cowboys with lassos. We’re talking about an all-out assault on the poor beasts with helicopters. If the government pursued Osama Bin Laden with half as much zeal as it chases those anvil-headed horses, he might have been in custody years ago.

There’s plenty of emotion to go around on this issue. Horse lovers who don’t live here claim to have the animals’ best interests at heart. Ranchers who have exploited public lands for generations are angry that wild horses share the range but claim to have a soft spot in their hearts for the critters.

But no one can reasonably argue that in the current economic crisis that it makes any sense to spend millions of taxpayer dollars chasing wild horses around the state’s great outback. That’s just plain dumb.

In 2009, the Calico Complex roundup cost $900,000 to catch and transfer 2,700 horses. Whether it did any appreciable good to the environment, or merely played havoc with the horses, is debatable.

As a public service, which of course means it’s unlikely to ever happen, the BLM should prominently post every dollar of taxpayer money it spends to roundup those horses.

It’s hardly surprising the horse huggers win in the media. Their 30-second commercial spots would be filled with mustangs running free across the desert. “We love horses,” the narrator reports. “We want to save them from being injured or killed. Please help us.”

And the contributions pour in.

On the other side, you have the BLM and their friends the ranchers and the horse slaughter crowd. (For some reason, the ranchers haven’t figured out that it’s not in their best interests to be embraced by the horse slaughter crowd.)

Their 30-second spot would look somewhat different than their opponent’s commercial. The narrator would say something like, “We love horses. They’re delicious.” Cut to the meat in a butcher case.

One of my favorite false arguments the horse slaughterers make is that Americans shouldn’t be so squeamish about equine flesh because it’s regularly consumed in France and parts of Asia. Who are they kidding?

At the risk of being downright provincial, the French eat snails on purpose. In some parts of Asia, dogs and cats are regularly consumed. Monkey brains are on the menu. And large bugs are available to the eclectic palate. (Just remember to ask for dipping sauce.)

Those who desire to move wild horses from Nevada’s open range will never win their argument by riding with the equine meat slaughter crowd. Until they figure a new strategy, this side of Paris, cattle and sheep ranchers will continue to lose their argument with the public.

  John L. Smith writes a weekly column on rural Nevada. He also writes a daily column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He blogs at Contact him at 702-383-0295 or at
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