Photo: Cold Creek Stallions © Arlene Gawne
By George Knapp, Chief investigative reporter
COLD CREEK, Nev.
A roundup of wild horses north of Las Vegas has ended, for now. The Bureau of Land Management confirms it gathered 230 Mustangs over the past three weeks in and around Cold Creek.
The government says it took the emergency action in order to save the horses from the ravages of drought. But critics of the BLM say the Cold Creek operation illustrates everything that is wrong with the wild horse program and say it has all but wiped out the last viable horse herd in southern Nevada.
“They want us to believe somehow it’s a humane thing they’re doing for the horses and that we should all feel grateful. I don’t feel grateful at all,” said long-time wild horse advocate Jerry Reynoldson.
In the decades that he’s been fighting on behalf of the mustang herds, Reynoldson has seen this same story play out over and over.
Across the West, millions of acres which were designated by law as habitat for Mustangs have been zeroed out, completely stripped of wild horses. But it’s not entirely empty, he says.
“That’s just been set aside for cattle again, pure and simple.”
Reynoldson and other mustang advocates are heartbroken over the roundup at Cold Creek, but hardly surprised.
In the 20 plus years the I-Team has chronicled the Cold Creek herd, it’s captured some amazing images, many worthy of scenes from a Hollywood movie.
The Cold Creek herd is one of the West’s most iconic, in part, because they’ve always been so accessible. They are beloved by visitors and by nearly all of the residents, many of whom moved to the town to be near the Mustangs.
The BLM asks for public comment whenever it contemplates a roundup. Opposition is usually close to unanimous, but it never impacts the BLM’s decision.
In recent years, the BLM has come to rely on what it deems emergency gathers. Those are roundups carried out with little advance notice and no public comment at all.
Each time BLM staffers say they had no choice but to move in to rescue horses that were in bad shape due to drought conditions.
Reynoldson and others allege the emergency was manufactured.
“This didn’t sneak up on us. People have known these horses were out there for many years” he said. “I think they knew what their game plan was for a long time. They were just waiting for the situation to get dire enough and that’s a terrible remedy and a terrible way to manage.”
If you ask a BLM official what their overall wild horse strategy is, the answer is remarkably similar every time: the horses have to be managed. But the reality, critics say, is that management means only one thing to BLM: roundups.
In the mid 90s, BLM captured the last Mustangs in Red Rock Canyon, a supposedly temporary measure to allow wild grasses to replenish.
Twenty years later, the horses have never been returned.
After roundups, they get shipped off to holding pens where most spend the rest of their lives. In many previous roundups, BLM releases pictures of a few emaciated horses to the public, even though 90 percent of those captured might be in good health.
In Cold Creek, a round up to help emaciated horses ended with 15 percent of them being killed on the spot, for their own good, the agency said.
If BLM wanted to manage the herd at Cold Creek, it could have been pro-active, Reynoldson says, by working with local residents, culling the older sicker horses, instituting birth control, and actual management.
“In the end, they want to get these horses out of here. They want to remove them. Cold Creek was probably the last substantial group of horses in southern Nevada.”