The Nevada Department of Agriculture’s board met early Tuesday to discuss, hear public comment, and vote on whether to transfer ownership of feral horses on the Virginia Range to a private animal advocacy organization. After passionate public comment the Board of Agriculture voted in favor of transferring ownership to a yet-to-be-determined animal advocacy group with eight in favor, one against, and one absent.
The Department of Agriculture is currently non-noncompliant with regulations regarding the Virginia Range feral horses, and according to board chairman Paul Anderson, these horses would be rounded up and auctioned if they were in any other part of the state.
The meeting was video-conferenced between Las Vegas, Elko, and Sparks. While the majority of the Board of Agriculture members were in Las Vegas, most citizens submitting public comment were in Sparks. The main meeting room was at capacity and an overflow area one room over was set up with a live TV broadcast to accommodate additional people.
Only one comment in favor of the transfer was submitted by a representative from national nonprofit Protect The Harvest, who commented that while they were for the transfer of ownership their organization was not interested in acquiring the horses.
City of Reno councilwoman Naomi Duerr submitted the meeting’s only neutral comment. She stated that the City of Reno preferred to work government-to-government. Duerr also noted there would be ramifications on city law enforcement should the Department of Agriculture transfer ownership of the horses to a non-government party.
Then began the long line of those who opposed the proposal: wild horse advocacy groups both in and outside of the Virginia Range, residents in the area of the Virginia Range, wild horse photographers, business owners, and new-to-the-region residents who were influenced to move here by the horses’ presence.
Board member David Stix Jr., who was on site in Sparks, consistently reminded the crowd to limit comments to the ownership transfer matter and not veer into discussion of general issues, which they could address after the vote during general public comment.
When the time came to vote one board member said that he had heard a lot of opposition to the plan but not many positive ideas. Some in the audience grumbled that they were not allowed to give out ideas during comment but only to speak for or against the proposal. The actual time to vote was swift, around 30 seconds.
The room had the ambiance of a pressure cooker ready to burst as people grumbled that the public comment was a waste of time. They said the decision had already been made and felt their voices didn’t matter.
After the meeting, Stix was asked if there was anything that would stop the new owners of the herd from rounding up the horses for sale at auction or for slaughter, a concern of many who spoke against the proposal. He said that while the goal was to find an advocacy group that would not do this, legally the new owners could do as they wished.
Editor’s Note: Writer and photographer Ty O’Neil lives in the Virginia Range and in July 2016 worked with the Hidden Valley Wild Horse Protection Fund to document the group’s efforts.