The Nevada Department of Agriculture (NDA) said today that it is severing its agreements the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC), agreements that allow local horse advocacy groups to manage the Virginia Range feral-estray horse population.
NDA officials said that AWHPC sent notice they would not be fulfilling all items in the agreement.
“AWHPC was notified of cancellation of the agreement,” said Doug Farris, NDA’s animal industry division administrator. “They informed us they would not be providing the resources needed to manage feral horses in the Virginia Range, including responding to public safety concerns, relocation, diversionary feeding, etc.”
AWHPC was surprised by NDA’s cancellation of the agreement.
“We were completely blindsided by this announcement,” said Suzanne Roy of the AWHPC. “What NDA Director (Jim) Barbee is doing by pulling the plug on this agreement, they are pulling away from population control efforts we have have put in place. This has been a very successful community effort.
“We got an email out of the blue this morning. They didn’t even send us any advance notice on this. At our most recent meeting with Barbee this year, he said he was pleased with the progress of the program and had no issues. We are committed to this program. There’s broad support for it. Why would the state pull away from this?”
The notice by NDA comes after the City of Reno stepped up and issued warnings to motorists after four of the feral horses were struck and killed by vehicles since Oct. 1. The city posted message boards warning of horse activity and to slow down.
“We want people to understand that the advised speed limit of 35 MPH is not considered permanent, but may ultimately be part of the solution to improve public safety, which is our top priority at the City of Reno,” Councilmember Naomi Duerr said. “We will keep these message boards in place for approximately 30 days while staff evaluates the situation and determines the appropriate next steps.”
According to the Reno Police Department (RPD), RPD has received 13 calls since August related to horse-vehicle problems, including the four horses that were hit. Most of those incidents were on or near Veterans Parkway or Rio Wrangler.
“We cannot stress enough to the public to slow down this time of year, particularly as we approach the Halloween holiday and the time change on November 5,” Reno Police Chief Jason Soto said.
NDA’s agreement with AWHPC allowed advocates to keep horses off roadways with diversionary feeding, trapping, and horse adoptions. An agreement in 2013 allowed advocates to place any horses gathered by NDA, rather than having them sold at public auction, and in 2015, a new agreement gave AWHPC and its partner organizations management of the horses.
“Our number one priority is to protect public safety, and that requires collaboration between state, local, and non-profit partners,” said NDA Director Jim Barbee. “In addition to working with a coordinating partner, the NDA can assist local law enforcement with removal of feral horses upon request.”
The City is seeking increased collaboration with the state, citizens, and advocacy groups on the feral horse issue.
“We are seeking input on how to improve permit conditions for new developments, ensuring the integrity of fencing along the Virginia Range, and evaluating speed limits, gates and horse guards.
“The goal is to keep the horses and people separate and safe. Further, NDA has committed to do no horse gathers in the Reno area without concurrence of the local jurisdictions,” she added.
NDA said it is looking for a organization to manage the horses: “Management includes responding to public safety hazards and removal, relocation, and adoption of horses.”
AWHC’s Roy said they they requesting an immediate meeting with the NDA.
“We stand ready to work with the department to address any issues or possible problems to allow this very successful public-private partnership to continue,” she said.
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Bob Conrad is publisher, editor and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011. In addition to managing This Is Reno, he holds a part-time appointment for the Mineral County University of Nevada Extension office.