Trying to Understand – Northern Nevada’s Wild Equine Struggles

WildMustang3By Dawn Cranfield

Trying to Understand – Northern Nevada’s Wild Equine Struggles

Northern Nevada is has been facing an environmental, moral and ethical crisis for decades as communities struggle with what to do with the growing population of horses and burros.  This is the second in a series of articles highlighting the struggle between man and nature.

For over a century, the wild horse has been an iconic symbol of the Wild West; they symbolize the freedom and spirit of the Americans who survived and settled in some of the most inhospitable territory in the land.  However, these majestic animals have come under attack in the last few decades by the government, the community at large, and even by the ranchers they once supported.

Wild horses (mustangs, feral or estray horses) and burros that once roamed freely in the Virginia Range of Northern Nevada are at the heart of a much-heated public debate as to their future.  The controversy between the government ((Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Department of Agriculture)), the residents, and tourists has been quite spirited at times as each group focuses on different aspects of the issue.

Even within each broader group, there are smaller factions with differing viewpoints as to whether or not the animals are an annoyance or a benefit to the area.  While some residents believe the equine should be allowed to roam the range freely, others believe they are a public and safety nuisance and support the BLM round-ups.

There are many advocacy and charitable organizations working in the Virginia City, Highlands, and outlying areas to save these animals.  Some groups focus on all animals; some have an emphasis on either horses or burros, but all have a heart for saving them from the kill-buyers.

Kill-buyers purchase the animals from the Nevada Department of Agriculture auctions and take them to slaughterhouses in Mexico where they are massacred for use in dog food and consumption in Canada.  The process is brutal and inhumane at best, savage at worst.

While the groups trying to save the animals all want to save them from the kill-buyers, they do not necessarily all agree on the best outcome for the community or the environment.  Some believe adoption programs where horses and burros are rescued and adopted to the public would be best, while others feel letting the animals live their lives naturally on the open range would runningbe the better option.

One group, the Virginia Range Wildlife Protection Association (VRWPA), wants to take a different approach when dealing with this overwhelming issue.  Their plan is to form a coalition with the other advocacy groups and organizations in the area so they can tackle the topic with one cohesive voice.

Bob Maccario, President VRWPA, and Rene Klein, Vice President VRWPA, are businessmen who are taking a business approach in moving forward on this matter.  They have changed the direction of the non-profit organization; after a thirty-year history in the Virginia City Highlands, the group is now open to membership all over the United States.

Additionally, they have collaborated with University Nevada Reno (UNR) to study the problem at hand, to determine what should be done with the animals.  Their five-point plan includes:  1) Establishing a sustainable wild horse herd capacity for the Virginia Range; 2) Updating an accurate count of current herd size on the range; 3) If necessary, creating a herd reduction program reintroducing excess horses to available, natural habitats; 4) Utilizing proven science, initiating a birth control program for the wild horses to maintain a healthy vibrant herd; and 5) Creating an educated volunteer program to oversee the well-being of the entire Virginia Range for the animal population and the habitat.


imagesFor now, they are meeting monthly with all of the groups in the area, trying to determine common goals and create a unified front when meeting with governmental agencies.  When working with the government, it is easier to be heard when a community comes together with a solid plan and fewer contacts.

The range problems were not created in a day, nor can they be resolved overnight.  This group seeks to work collaboratively in determining the best method for a peaceful resolution for the residents and the environment, and to preserve the stature of these icons of the West.

If you would like more information on this unique group, please contact them at:


Virginia Range Wildlife Protection Association

P.O. Box 536

Virginia City, NV 89440

Phone: 775-881-2288

[email protected]


To view the first article in the series please follow this link:


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