“Cattle-driven Rhoads Pushes Bulls**t Horse Law”
It’s great to know our state lawmakers have solved Nevada’s budget woes and have nothing else to do with their time in Carson City. How else to explain a recent vote by the Senate’s Natural Resources Committee regarding wild horses?
The committee, whose longest-serving and most influential member is Dean Rhoads, staunch defender of all that is bovine, approved a bill that urges the BLM to make sure no public land is designated as habitat for wild horses. See, public land is for one thing and one thing only — cows. Privately owned cows, that is. Maybe an occasional sheep. Sen. Rhoads personally leases 60,000 acres from BLM for his cows, and at a bargain price, too, far less than the market value of the land.
The bill, as approved by Rhoads’ committee, would make sure the number of mustangs in Nevada doesn’t get any higher than it is now, and it strongly discourages the creation of wild horse sanctuaries on public ranges. You might be asking, what authority does the state of Nevada have over federally owned lands? Good point. The answer is none. Nevada can’t dictate what is or is not done with federal land, nor does it have any say in regulating wild horses on federal land. In other words, this resolution has zero chance of affecting the public range in any positive way, but it does have the power to screw with our state in a negative way.
Sen. Rhoads is a cattle rancher. He believes that the public range is for cattle, not wild horses, even though federal law says the mustangs have a right to exist on the public lands, while cattle grazing by private ranchers is, at best, a privilege. Rhoads has campaigned against wild horses in pretty much every session of his long legislative career, even opposing a campaign by fourth-graders to declare the mustang as Nevada’s official animal. He has frequently urged the feds to round up as many wild horses as they can capture, to get them off the public lands, even though private cattle outnumber the horses 40 to 1.
If this bill makes it through the Legislature, it won’t make a rat’s ass bit of difference to the BLM’s management of public lands. After all, in just the past two years, the BLM has wiped horses off the map on more than 1 million acres of Nevada range. It doesn’t exactly need a pep talk from Carson City to round up more horses. This week, the bureau came down off the fence regarding the possibility of creating public/private horse sanctuaries, declaring that it wants to hear proposals right away. Presumably this would include the ambitious plans by philanthropist Madeleine Pickens to create a million-acre mustang eco-sanctuary in Elko County, a plan that could transform a worn-down cattle ranch into a world-class tourist attraction and education center, where visitors could enjoy wild horses in their natural environment. Mrs. Pickens has already plunked millions of her own dollars into the project. She purchased a ranch near Elko and wants to lease the attached public lands to allow wild mustangs to run free. Cattlemen are appalled because it would mean some of the public land now devoted to cows would be redesignated for horses. Perish the thought.
Is Nevada so flush with investors and new businesses that it can say no to something as unique and promising as the Pickens plan?
What worries me most is that Sen. Rhoads is seen as perhaps the key vote in plans by Democrats to raise revenue in this session, so there is a chance they might toss him this bone, allow him to get his meaningless bill through the Legislature so that he might be more inclined to side with the D’s when it comes to taxes and budget cuts.
Those hardy Nevadans who make a living by raising livestock on our oft-parched ranges have my unqualified respect. It’s a tough life, fraught with peril. Without some sort of management program, wild horses could certainly threaten the viability of some ranches. But this bill would do nothing to manage the horse herds and little to protect hard-scrabble ranch operations. This bill is pure horse shit. Anyone who cares about the mustangs should let state lawmakers know that this resolution is not only a waste of time, but could cost our state millions of dollars in outside investment and lost tourism.
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