Take, if you will, the Nevada Mustang, a multi-generation wild horse that has become the poster child for the rapidly disappearing wild west that the Silver State once typified. Recently adopted as the new symbol for Lyon County’s new flag, the free running mustangs are a symbol of the romantic image favored by the developers of cluster tract housing on the same range where Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable fought over the fate of a horse in "The Misfits."
The cruel taking of horses for slaughter was ended by a woman called "Wild Horse Annie" who harassed and harried federal lawmakers and officials until laws protecting the herds were passed several decades past. The law, and the program of roundup and adoption it created, were deeply flawed. The fate of horses crowded into corrals hock deep in the mud of their own urine and feces became the focus for a number of wild horse protection groups, several of which brought actions against the BLM for mistreatment of their charges. This caused the federal forces to seek an escape from their duties to protect and control the herds, and a solution for the public image problem was mongered together in ’97 with the Nevada Department of Agriculture taking over responsibility for the horses in the Virginia Range, just east and south of Reno.
While the horse advocates and state officialdom often differed, the cooperative efforts to find a way to save both range and animals resulted in placement of several bands of mustangs on private ranges and development of some programs to ease the problems of feed and water in the encroaching suburbs. Then came the great crash of ’07, with a huge deficit in state revenues and a largely clueless governor whose congressional sojourn had not been marked by fiscal responsibility. Facing the crisis, the governor began hacking away at low-priority spending and feeding wild horses was definitely on the hit list. A new chief for the Ag Department was appointed, one Tony Lesperance, who began to develop plans to remove all the horse bands under state jurisdiction in favor of habitat restoration, a process which could cost millions to introduce native grasses and shrubs, but that would be far in the future, after the horse are gone. Testifying to the Interim Finance Committee of the legislature Lesperance denied any intention to provide feed for horses "starving" on the range, and requested funds for the gathering and removal of the horses. Advocates claim the real purpose of the program planned is to clear the area for developers and to eliminate the state management of the Virginia Range herd as an expense. They are willing to take over the program themselves, working with private funding, but federal and state officialdom are ready to kill any and all protection programs for America’s last symbol of a freedom long lost to most of us.