A rural community in Nevada is pursuing options to protect its wild horses and burros from federal roundups — including by asking the county to buy and designate land for the animals and to pass an ordinance that would ban helicopter roundups.
The federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recently used a helicopter to gather and remove more than a dozen well-known horses and at least 115 wild burros from the northern part of Pahrump, a town of about 38,000 people in Nye County on the southern tip of Nevada near the California border.
Members of Friends of the Wild (Horses and Burros) and more than a dozen community members — mostly from the southern part of the county — responded by gathering in front of the Board of County Commissioners to advocate for the ordinance, which would prohibit the BLM from using helicopters, motorized vehicles, or drones to gather wild horses and burros within the boundaries of Nye County.
Priscilla Lane, a Friends of the Wild member who presented the proposed ordinance, said that helicopter roundups are inhumane, often forcing panicked animals to run for their lives in extreme temperatures and resulting in serious injuries and death for wild horses, including broken bones and necks.
“There is no compassion in these roundups,” she told Commissioners. “If we don’t make this inhumane program stop, it’s never going to stop. This bill will help stop the inhumane roundups and make the BLM change their ways.”
Lane had asked Lady Freethinker for a letter of support advocating for an end to helicopter roundups, which she also referenced in her comments.
The group also has started a GoFundMe account to raise money to adopt the animals back, purchase land that could be county-designated as a sanctuary and permanent home, and pay for feed, fencing, and shelters.
“These are special horses that belong in our community,” the introduction to the appeal reads. “Please help them return home.”
The account had raised more than $5,000 of a $1 million goal as of mid-September.
The BLM has claimed the roundup was needed to address reported safety issues, including the wild horses crossing state highways and damaging fencing, water lines, and vegetation.
County Commissioners were split in their responses, ultimately deciding to table a vote on the ordinance and land designation until the Oct. 10 meeting.
Outcry for Wild Horses
Sixteen people spoke in favor of the ordinance during public comment, citing the important ecological role of wild horses, the inhumanity of helicopter roundups, and the beauty that wild horses add to the valley.
“These are beautiful animals, and we should appreciate them, not destroy them with helicopters,” said Phil Raneri, who said he served in Vietnam. “Let’s take care of them the way we are supposed to.”
Others spoke to the huge expenses of helicopter roundups to taxpayers — from the BLM paying for the contractors to the costs of caring for wild horses languishing in long-term holding corrals — as well as alternate methods available, including bait trapping or humane fertility control via darting.
“There is nothing that justifies chasing horses across the desert with a helicopter,” Tina T. said. “You don’t spend $2 million dive-bombing horses… for a person who really cares about animals, and I do, it breaks my heart.”
Eddie Jim, an enrolled Native American of the Paiute Tribe whose family had lived in the valley for 150 years, spoke to the importance of coexistence, noting his grandfathers had not owned helicopters but had been able to successfully live on the land.
“A lot of the things coming up don’t make sense,” he said. “We pay the BLM to manage these animals, not abuse them. If we treated our domestic animals the way the BLM treats these horses, we would be charged and go to jail. Maiming and killing these icons of the wild is not managing them.”
Three people spoke up in opposition, voicing concerns that the ordinance would hamstring and challenge BLM operations, create habitat destruction for other species, and pose a public safety risk if horses and burros collided with cars.
The County Commissioners had formerly passed Resolution 2020-08 in June 2020 — a nonbinding resolution that publicly opposed the BLM’s helicopter method of rounding up wild horses and burros.
But they were split regarding the ordinance, with Commissioners Donna Cox and Ron Boskovich in favor, Bruce Jabbour and Debra Strickland against, and Frank Carbone requesting more time.
Cox referenced the high cost for taxpayers and alternatives available, emphasizing that the ordinance would not prohibit the BLM from gathering the animals and that the bait-trap method would work with less injuries and death.
“Every time they have a roundup, it’s costing you and me to terrorize these animals,” Cox said. “We’re not telling the BLM they can’t round up horses; we’re saying they can’t do it inhumanely with helicopters. What we’re saying is don’t round up animals with things that terrorize and kill them, because that is abuse.”
Boskovich referenced a nightmarish video of wild horse injuries following helicopter-roundups that he “would never be able to unsee,” before saying it was time to “Get the BLM the hell out.”
Jabbour, who represents the northern part of the county, said his constituents had asked for a burro roundup and also said that a locally-passed ordinance would not trump federal law, which allows helicopter roundups — a sentiment echoed by Strickland.
Cox replied that if the BLM didn’t like the ordinance they could challenge it in court.
Jabbour proposed passing some kind of ordinance that would instead emphasize the humane treatment of horses, rather than focus on helicopters.
“We need to inform the BLM that we are very concerned,” he said. “I want the ordinance to focus on humane treatment.”
Carbone also said he’d like more time to work on the ordinance’s language, resulting in the vote being pushed back to a later meeting with the blessing of Friends of the Wild.
How You Can Help Wild Horses and Burros Today
If you haven’t already, please sign Lady Freethinker’s petition in support of a federal bill that would end helicopter roundups nationwide!
You can also reach out to your legislators to let them know that you support this bill — every voice, call, and email makes a difference!