Exceeding Goals on the Virginia Range

(April 5, 2017) AWHC is proud to be implementing the largest humane on-the-range Wild horse management program in the world. (Note: Technically speaking, the Virginia Range horses are legally defined as "feral/estray horses" because they were not extended federal protections as "wild" horses.) This program is a collaborative effort with our local coalition partners, which operates under a Cooperative Agreement between AWHC and the State of Nevada. We’re charting new territory with this program by managing a large number of horses (more than 2,000 - 2,500 horses) over a nearly 500 square-mile area that includes the Reno, Carson City, Sliver Springs and Fernley areas in northern Nevada.

Last month (March) marked the second anniversary of the signing of the Cooperative Agreement. We are happy to report that we are ahead of the scheduled targets that had been established for this program. 

Working through our local coalition partners, we have developed an excellent team of certified volunteers who vaccinate horses with PZP via remote darting. The volunteers include a diverse array of citizens who want to protect the beloved and historic Virginia Range wild horses. The darting team is followed by another team of volunteers that identifies individual horses and records each horse’s information in a comprehensive database to enable monitoring and tracking of the vaccinated mares.

In Year 2, we are inoculating more than 400 mares with the humane PZP birth control vaccine. Because the vaccine doesn’t interfere with the hormonal system, it prevents pregnancy without affecting the natural mating behaviors that distinguish wild horses from their domestic counterparts and are essential for their survival in the wild.

The Virginia Range wild horse population is challenged by habitat loss in the fast-growing northern Nevada area. The PZP birth control vaccine provides a humane way to reduce the size of the horse population over time through natural attrition and fewer births. The ultimate goal is to reduce – and hopefully eventually eliminate the need for – the removal of horses from the range due to “public safety” concerns that arise whenever horses start crossing roadways and entering neighborhoods seeking water or feed. 

Photo of Virginia Range volunteer, Nancy Kilian by Kimerlee Curyl

This program is a true community effort and a great example of a public-private partnership for humane wild horse management. Our local coalition and certified volunteer darters work tirelessly to track, monitor, and vaccinate mares. The Virginia Range program is proving that humane wild horse management is possible on large wild horse populations that roam over vast tracts of land. If our relatively small team of community volunteers can implement this successful program, imagine what could be done with the resources of the federal government behind a committed effort to humanely manage and Keep Wild Horses Wild on our Western public lands.