Reno horses compete with home builders for habitat

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It was the majestic mustangs that spurred the creation of the American Wild Horse and Burro Act. Now, Reno’s herds are increasingly succumbing to traffic collisions as housing estates expand into wildlife territory.

In the past three years, motorists have struck 25 Virginia Range Reno horses, with 21 fatalities. From October to December last year, vehicles collided with 13 horses on the roads south of Reno, according to a Newscast. Of these, nine horses died.

Housing is expensive in Reno, where the median price of an existing home has reached $545,000 in December. Homebuilders venture where they have never gone before – to the edge of habitable hills and gorges.

“As this development pressure increases, and we have seen tremendous growth in South Reno, wildlife habitat is reduced, access to water sources often blocked, and it becomes problematic for all animals. , horses and all,” Reno City Councilwoman Naomi Duerr said last week during a videoconference about a number of proposals aimed at reducing collisions between motorists and horses.

Wildlife advocates have volunteered and implemented a number of short-term solutions such as locating watering holes and food away from roads as a diversion. But the work is labor-intensive and sometimes Sisiphyian.

Fences erected by volunteers from the nonprofit Wild Horse Connection are designed to keep horses and other wildlife off the roads, but are frequently cut by off-road vehicles seeking access to land. In addition, well-meaning people are willing to offer approaching horses a carrot or an apple. Governments are considering imposing fines on those who violate state laws that prohibit feeding wild animals.

Reno and Washoe County, which share jurisdiction over the area, have implemented flashing warning signs and increased lighting in an effort to reduce collisions. Reducing speeds on roads south of Reno is also an option, Duerr says. The city is conducting a speed study on the South Veterans Parkway. Data is expected in the coming weeks.

Unlike Nevada’s public lands, which are managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Virginia Range spans 280,000 acres of mostly private land. It is home to approximately 3,000 wild horses, managed by the Nevada Department of Agriculture.

Long-term proposals for wildlife protection include the Nevada Department of Transportation requesting US bailout funds to build overpasses or underpasses for animals and off-road enthusiasts, a move which, according to experts, would reduce the need to cut fences. The state has successfully constructed similar wildlife features, NDOT officials said.

“There is designated funding in ARPA for wildlife crossings,” says Tracy Wilson of the American Wild Horse Campaign, adding that the crossing area would be located on Geiger Grade, a state highway, and would require several years for impact studies alone.

Duerr is working on another proposal that involves buying land unsuitable for construction to use as a wildlife corridor.

“It’s not just the horses,” Wilson says of the challenges development poses to wildlife, including pronghorn, deer, “and everything else within our range. . It’s about securing these hallways as open spaces where they have a safe place to go and a natural water source. This is the simplest answer. We need to start securing this now or this range is going to be a patchwork of locked out animals, not just horses.

Another long-term option is to create a wildlife sanctuary to promote “equestrian tourism,” where residents and tourists could see and learn about horses and other animals in a protected setting, Duerr says.

An immediate step that is producing results is controlling the horse population via contraceptive vaccines delivered via darts. The state partnered with AWHC to implement the campaign, which achieved zero population growth in about two years, said the organization’s executive director, Suzanne Roy.

The effort is funded by donations and grants, and has bipartisan support from Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, and Assemblyman Jim Wheeler, a Republican. It is also supported by Blockchains LLC, the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center, feral horse advocacy groups, and landowners who allow access to AWHC to administer vaccines.

Since April 2019, some 1,644 Virginia Range mares have received the contraceptive vaccine.

“We think we are probably at the point of population reduction because there is a high mortality rate of foals in the Virginia range, largely due to mountain lions. We have a very high mortality rate in cougars,” says Roy.

AWHC’s Wilson says 243 fewer foals were born on the range in 2021, a 43% reduction from the previous year. The mortality rate for foals born in 2021 was 46%.

Developers in northern Nevada, eager to enter the booming market, have had mixed reactions to mitigating the impacts of their construction, says Wilson, who monitors proposals.

Municipal authorities, she says, are receptive to the idea of ​​requiring concessions aimed at protecting wildlife.

Wilson says she appealed plans for a 4,000+ unit project called Daybreak, “because I didn’t think there were enough precautions to keep horses off roads and neighborhoods.” She says the developer “immediately met” and agreed to the terms she proposed for the self-closing gates and cattle guards, which were eventually approved by the city.

Another builder who balked at Wilson’s concerns about lack of water for wildlife, lost a claim, she says, over a technicality, and sold her land to another developer.

Officials plan to hold another meeting in May when they discuss data from the speed limit studies.

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