By Oskar Garcia
Tuesday, December 29, 2009; A03
LAS VEGAS -- A two-month roundup of about 2,500 wild horses from public and private lands in northern Nevada began on Monday amid protests that the plan is unnecessary and inhumane.
Federal officials said the roundup counteracts overpopulation on 850 square miles of land, which could become unlivable to wildlife and livestock within four years.
Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman JoLynn Worley said the agency began gathering horses on Monday in the eastern portion of the Black Rock Range, a stretch of mountains more than 100 miles north of Reno.
A contractor transports the horses to corrals using two helicopters under BLM supervision, Worley said. The animals are then trucked to Fallon, Nev., for immunizations and veterinary care, she said.
Worley said officials would not know how many horses were captured on Monday until early Tuesday. She said the agency would probably search the mountain range for one week to 10 days -- with a goal of capturing 250 mustangs -- before moving on to the next of five areas.
Long-term plans call for the mustangs to be put up for adoption or sent to holding facilities in the Midwest. The agency said a facility in Reno was full of adoptable horses, making it unclear when new animals could be housed pending adoption.
Horse advocates say the use of helicopters is inhumane and risks the animals' injury and death. Opponents also contend that winter roundups expose horses to respiratory illness.
Suzanne Roy, program director of In Defense of Animals, said the group questions the plan's timing and methods, which prevent public monitoring of the roundup.
"It just all smells bad," she said. The California-based group has had trouble getting White House and other federal officials to work through their complaints during the holidays, she added.
About 30 protesters gathered on Sunday at the entrance to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area west of Las Vegas, waving down motorists and holding placards.
The group also planned to demonstrate on Wednesday outside the San Francisco office of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D), who protesters hope will sympathize with calls for a moratorium on wild-horse roundups. Other protests were being planned for Wednesday in Chicago and Denver.
Worley said that the agency planned to take reporters near the corralling sites on Wednesday and that she was working through the details for public viewing areas as the roundup shifts locations.
The plan includes horses from five federally managed areas in the Calico Mountains complex.
A September count showed more than 3,040 wild horses living in the area, about three times the land's capacity, federal officials said.
Without the roundup, the horse population in the area would grow by 20 percent to 27 percent annually, passing 6,000 mustangs within four years, according to the BLM. At that point, wildlife and livestock would not have enough water or forage.
The roundup is part of the bureau's overall strategy to remove thousands of mustangs from public lands across the West to protect wild horse herds and the rangelands that support them. The bureau estimates that about half of the nearly 37,000 wild mustangs live in Nevada, with others concentrated in Arizona, California, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming.
-- Associated Press