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Arid Conditions Force Horse, Burro Roundup

Drought: Emergency herding has collected more than 300 equines in Nevada. They will be put up for adoption.

July 05, 2002|From Associated Press

COLD CREEK, Nev. — Wild horses and burros, symbols of the Old West, have roamed the flat Nevada desert landscape for centuries. That same parched land now threatens to become their graveyard.

Relentless sun coupled with 100 rainless days make for a severe drought season that's killing the wild animals' food.

Conditions are so bad that the Bureau of Land Management has been conducting emergency roundups for two weeks, gathering more than 300 animals in southern Nevada.

It's the driest Gary McFadden has seen in his 11 years as a BLM wild horse specialist in Las Vegas.

"They're out of feed and they're getting weak," McFadden said. "It was less of a gamble to gather them now. We waited as long as we thought we could."

The hot, dry conditions are the same as those that have served as incubators for wildfires throughout the West and prompted the BLM and National Park Service to ban open flames in some camp areas.

An emergency roundup soon will begin in Utah and possibly in Wyoming and Arizona in coming months, said Lili Thomas, national BLM specialist. In New Mexico, Santa Fe National Forest managers have ordered most ranchers with grazing allotments on the forest to remove some or all of their cattle by mid-July because of the worst forage conditions in nearly half a century.

"If it continues to be really hot and windy, there could be more roundups all over," Thomas said. "We're constantly looking at water holes and making sure there's enough forage."

More than 48,600 wild burros and horses roam Montana, Oregon, Nevada, California, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Colorado. Nevada is home to more than half, with 25,096.

The BLM's last emergency roundup in southern Nevada was last year. Officials had no plans for another roundup until next summer.

The hills of Cold Creek were filled with the sound of a helicopter during a recent roundup about 50 miles north of Las Vegas.

Clouds of dust kicked up by the hooves of running horses filled the air as the animals, followed closely by the helicopter, made their way into holding pens.

"The lucky ones are coming off first," said Dave Sjaastad of the BLM's herd management facility in Ridgecrest, Calif., where the horses will be shipped.

"So far they have been in quite respectable condition."

The 57-acre facility serves California, Nevada and Arizona, and it will be filled to its 1,100-animal capacity with horses by the end of the season, he said.

Most of the animals will be taken to Ridgecrest to be treated, inoculated and made available for adoption nationwide. Horses older than 5 years are sent to a sanctuary in Oklahoma.

Nationwide, 6,192 horses and burros were adopted in 2000, Thomas said.

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