What does it take to qualify as wildlife in Nevada? Be something hunters like to shoot. A new bill being debated today would specifically exclude wild horses and burros from water rights. Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, told the AP he sponsored the bill on the bidding of hunters and ranchers. It’s already passed the assembly and expected to pass the senate.
Right now the state can give out water rights for a variety of purposes, including helping wildlife. But hunters and ranchers have been working for months to get equines excluded.
In Nevada, like most states, wildlife watchers far outnumber hunters in participants and dollars spent. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, animal tourists spent $362 million in 2006 in Nevada. That’s 2.8 times the $129 million hunters spent. Only 3% of NV residents hunt; 24% watch wildlife. Only 1% of employment is from natural resources (which includes mining in addition to farming, ranching, hunting and fishing) compared with 27% for tourism.
The only area animal lovers lag behind is government influence. Animal Law Coalition reported that a committee the state threw together to handle horses–Feral Horse Committee of the Nevada Wildlife Commission, which drafted the new rule–was a complete sham: “One member of the committee was actually a former mustanger, others were members of various hunting committees for bobcats, coyotes, and other wildlife, and the chairman Mike Stremler, was actually a mountain lion bounty hunter for Nevada’s wildlife commission receiving $1,800 for each lion killed. It was not clear how these men were qualified in any way to be called experts on wild horses.” The Nevada wildlife commission is just as preposterously weighted and appointed by the governor: five hunters, one rancher, one farmer, one member of the general public and one conservationist.
Water rights are a huge worry in dry Nevada, with its booming population and withering economy. The American Bar Association says that “under Nevada law, all water within the boundaries of the state belongs to the public. The owner of a water right does not own the physical water itself.”
The Bureau of Land Management, no friend of mustangs, currently has leases for wildlife on water. But under this new rule they wouldn’t be able to get a water right for them to graze on the land that belongs to all Americans. Oddly, the BLM, which is in charge of wild horses, leases out land at cut rate prices to ranchers. The BLM has 70 million acres in Nevada, about 50 million of which they totally control. In 2011 they lease it out to ranchers for $1.35 AUM (one mother and calf per month)–far, far less than they would pay if, like other federal agencies, they let the market decide its worth by putting it up for auction.
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