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Nevada Senator Calls Wild Horse Overpopulation an Ecological Catastrophe

Wild Horses, Feral Horses, Animal Welfare, Nevada, Senator Ira Hansen, Ecological Catastrophe,

Letter by Ira Hansen, Nevada Sate Senator

About the Wild Horse Overpopulation

This letter was recently written by Nevada State Senator, Ira Hansen, regarding the ecological catasrophe as a result of the man-made wild horse overpopulation emergency in his state. Seven Nevada counties have declared states of emergency.



An ecological disaster is defined as a catastrophic event in the natural environment due to humanity’s impact. The scientific definition of a catastrophe is the loss of stability in a dynamic system.

Due to the ecologic catastrophe being imposed on our indigenous flora and fauna by man-made feral horse overpopulations, the Federal Government must take decisive action and fulfill its congressionally mandated legal responsibility to maintain Nevada's feral horse populations within Appropriate Management Levels (AMLs). Ironically, we are asking you to insist that the federal land management agencies obey federal law. Today, in Nevada alone, that means removing in excess of 40,000 feral horses.

Enclosed are emergency declarations from the following severely impacted counties: Elko, Eureka, Humboldt, Lander, Lincoln, Pershing, and White Pine.

Why, today, is this an emergency?

In Nevada, the population of feral horses and burros is five times the statutory AML (7,000 - 14,000) and growing rapidly at the alarming rate of 20% per year. Historically, feral horse populations double every five years. The severity of this issue cannot be overstated. This is a clarion call.

Nevada's aridity, coupled with the Federal Government's failure to comply with its own law, has resulted in inhumane consequences being inflicted on these animals resulting in starvation, dehydration, and death. The same fate, unfortunately, is being imposed on our native species.

One horse consumes approximately 20 pounds of forage and eight gallons of water per day. For comparison, this is equal to nine pronghorn antelope, eight bighorn sheep, seven mule deer, or two elk. Existing limitations on habitat and foliage, further exacerbated by drought and horse overpopulations, has degraded ecosystem equilibrium and survival to the point of no return.

Horses are behaviorally dominant at water sources. By monopolizing this scarce resource, they push out

wildlife and livestock from riparian zones. They trample brush used for sage grouse brood-rearing, denude rangelands, out-compete other ungulates, contribute to predator overproduction, promote soil erosion, and disturb the habitat of endangered plants and animals.

Unlike regulated livestock grazing that provides seasonal respite and rotation, feral horse herds and burros cause constant terrestrial pressure. This depletion of natural resources feeds into an ecologically exhaustive negative feedback loop. The biggest losers are our native wildlife whose very existence is increasingly threatened.

Out of the ten states with feral horses, Nevada is home to 60 percent of the animals. The sheer numbers, their reproductive capacity, water scarcity, and the vexing vegetation degradation, simply make the situation untenable. It is imperative the Federal Government be compelled to action and quickly conduct a herd size reduction campaign and get these invasive animals back to what federal law requires. We already see the deleterious effects on our mule deer populations. Time is ticking.

I've spent a good portion of my adult life in the backcountry of Nevada. One of the great treats in life is watching a band of mustangs run across the sagebrush plains. I know you, like me, love mustangs. But, because they are not an indigenous species, we have to manage their populations. We owe it to our state and its indigenous species.

As mentioned, Nevada holds nearly two-thirds of the entire feral horse population of the United States. We need federal action requiring the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service to comply with federal law and get these populations back to AML's.

These Declarations of Emergency help to spotlight our voices, our pleas, and the critical nature of the situation. At the county and state government levels, our ability to influence federal land management policies is very limited. That is why we are reaching out today to our entire federal delegation that have significant influence over federal agency policies. We cannot overstress the need for immediate action. Time is of the essence.

If you heed this urgent call to action, generations of future Nevadans, whether they be hunters, nature lovers, ranchers, hikers, bird watchers, tourists, or anyone who cherishes our beautiful state, will all thank you.


Ira Hansen

State Senator – District 14


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