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May 22, 2019

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Nevada revives wild horse birth control program

Nevada's Wild Horses

Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

A helicopter is used to herd wild Mustangs into temporary corrals before they are loaded into trailers and hauled away near Yerington, Nov. 4, 2013.

RENO — Nevada has agreed to resume a birth control project for a herd of free-roaming mustangs on a range near Reno and horse advocates are looking forward to getting back to their work in the field.

The volunteers are returning to the field in large part because Assembly Minority Leader Jim Wheeler, R-Gardnerville, convinced Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak to restore a program to enable volunteer darters to work with the Nevada Department of Agriculture, the Reno Gazette-Journal reported earlier this week.

Darters are volunteers with air rifles that fire darts with birth control into female horses' haunches.

The project fell apart on Oct. 25, 2017, when Nevada Department of Agriculture officials terminated a privately funded agreement that enabled volunteers associated with the American Wild Horse Campaign to manage horse issues on the Virginia Range east of Reno

At the time, agriculture officials accused the volunteers of failing to live up to their end of the deal. Volunteers denied the accusation.

The program covered an array of horse management activity, including darting horses with the birth control drug PZP.

After terminating the agreement, the agriculture department board voted to offer the approximately 3,000 free-roaming horses on the range at no cost to anyone willing and able to manage them. There were no takers.

Since the giveaway gambit failed, the horses have remained on the range with none of the management work by volunteers.

Based on the results of the first two years of volunteer-run darting, the time that's passed without birth control has resulted in nearly 400 foals that wouldn't have been born with darting in place.

Unless volunteers get to work quickly, the number will grow even higher, Wheeler said.

Sisolak and Nevada Department of Agriculture Director Jennifer Ott, whom Sisolak appointed in February, declined multiple interview requests.