Published Monday, Feb. 17, 2014 | 9:33 a.m.
Updated Monday, Feb. 17, 2014 | 10:21 a.m.
ELKO — Elko County has agreed to pitch in up to $10,000 to help cover legal fees for a lawsuit filed by two groups with rural Nevada ranching interests that have accused the federal government of mismanagement of wild horses.
The lawsuit claims mismanagement has led to an overpopulation of the mustangs on public lands at the expense of the range and the animals themselves.
The Elko Daily Free Press reports the county commission voted last week to provide $5,000 immediately and another $5,000 if needed in support of the lawsuit, which wild horse advocates say could lead to the slaughter of mustangs.
The Nevada Association of Counties and the Nevada Farm Bureau Federation filed the complaint in U.S. District Court in Reno in December. It maintains that although wild horses and burros have long been a part of Nevada's landscape and heritage, their populations have grossly exceeded appropriate management levels.
"Wild horse overpopulation creates serious environmental concerns for horses, wildlife, and ecology of rangelands, and creates both direct and indirect economic impacts," NACO said in a statement.
"Loss of use of public lands as well as the cost of services associated with the health and safety impacts created by the overpopulation of wild horses and burros decreases tax revenues and yet increases the costs that counties must bear."
NACO President Jeff Fontaine said the group already has spent about $56,000 on the suit and expects total costs to reach about $90,000.
"So far we have received financial support from a variety of groups, including nongovernment organizations and counties," Fontaine told the Elko Daily Free Press.
NACO is asking the court to require the U.S. Interior Department to gather all excess animals on public lands, conduct regular counts, cease interfering with water rights, follow multiple-use principals, and remove horses from long-term holding facilities to instead "auction, sell and otherwise properly dispose of such animals in accordance with the (Wild Horse and Burro) Act."
Suzanne Roy, director of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, said the lawsuit represents the opinions of a few ranchers "who are dead set on slaughtering America's wild horses over the objections of the American public," because they compete with cattle for food.
Roy said the lawsuit "hinges on the scientifically disproven claim that there are more wild horses on BLM land than the range can sustain."
"As we all know, the number of wild horses pales in comparison to the hundreds of thousands of cattle and sheep who are permitted to graze on our public lands," she said. "This lawsuit is an attempt to scapegoat wild horses and divert attention away from the destruction of our public lands by livestock grazing."