Sagebrush Day 6

Sustainable Ranching and Wild Horses

In 2012, in northern Nevada’s Elko County, a group of eight ranches joined together to create SANE, or the Stewardship Alliance of Northeast Nevada. The group owns or leases 1.7 million acres of prime sage grouse habitat and is taking the reins on conservation efforts – putting in place a sagebrush ecosystem action plan using the best available science from state agencies and universities as they focus on on-the-ground conservation efforts that, they hope, will put them out front of any potential listing decision. These ranch families came out to meet with our journalists, share their thoughts, provide a tour of their proactive techniques to protect the landscape, and then feed us lunch (their own homegrown, hormone-free, grass-fed beef, no less!)

Next the group headed deeper into Nevada to hear about the contentious subject of wild horses.  Perhaps no animal is more iconic (or more controversial) in the American West than the wild or, some say, “feral,” horse. Thanks to the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act passed by Congress in 1971, U.S. taxpayers fund a Bureau of Land Management department responsible for “managing and protecting” wild horses and burros and “ensuring that healthy herds thrive on healthy rangelands.” However, the BLM estimates wild horses at 50,000 animals, or twice what they think the West can support. Heavy grazers, the horses destroy habitat that provides for both cattle grazing and sage grouse populations. The group headed out into the remote reaches of the state, and was able to spot a herd grazing in the distance. We heard about advocates who want to let every horse roam free, ranchers who wish the “nuisance species” were off the landscape, and heard directly from the management agency - the BLM -  that is saddled with the near-impossible task of trying to find a sustainable middle ground.