Wild horses gallop toward freedom | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Wild horses gallop toward freedom

by Susie Vasquez, Tribune News Service

It’s been almost three years since a band of about 35 wild horses tasted freedom. This month, they’re going home.

Characterized as dark-colored, big-boned and adept at negotiating steep rocky terrain, they will be reintroduced into the Flanigan Herd Management Area, northwest of Pyramid Lake, by Bureau of Land Management officials this week.

The horses were removed from the Virginia Range in October 1999, just months after lightning strikes ignited four fires. The fires merged into what became the Fish Complex, a blaze that destroyed 47,700 acres, including the entire herd management area, according to agency officials.

Because the feed was gone, the horses were gathered in October of that year. In February 2000, about 196 tons of seed including native and non-native grasses, sage, bitterbrush and saltbrush were dropped via helicopter. To protect the new seedlings, all livestock was barred from the area for three years.

“Complete rehabilitation takes years,” said agency spokesman Mark Struble. “The grasses grow back first and that stabilizes the slopes, but the sage and other brush species reappear more slowly. One of the challenges is keeping the fires out of recently burned areas. If the area burns repeatedly, the sage won’t come back.”

Wranglers said about 30 wild horses were left in the area in 1999 because they proved impossible to corral. Bureau officials contend the animals have drifted in and out of the area over time.

The captured animals were held on rented land, a private pasture in Eastern Nevada’s White Pine County, and are now being readied for reintroduction at Snow’s Holding Facility in Fallon.

“Their feet will be checked, hooves trimmed and any problems attended to,” Struble said. “We’ll give them any needed vaccinations and try to get them as healthy as we can.”

The horses numbered 41 when they were captured, but two older animals died in captivity and four others are deemed too old to survive in the wild. Mares were separated from the studs, so there are no yearlings or foals with the group.

Struble said the number of horses in this area are below levels deemed appropriate so there will be room for growth.

The Flanigan Horse Management Area is located on 17,100 acres of federal public lands in the Virginia Mountains northwest of Pyramid Lake. The elevation varies from 4,265 to 8,000 feet with annual precipitation between 8 and 12 inches.

Dominant vegetation includes sage, rabbit brush and a variety of grasses, with aspen and chokecherry stands lining the creeks and surrounding natural springs.

In addition to a limited number of livestock, the wild horses will share the area with sage grouse, bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, mule deer, rabbits and coyotes.

Maintaining the herd cost about $129,000. Efforts to extinguish the fire cost $1.05 million and reseeding cost $2.6 million.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.