An aerial survey in early September is expected to help officials at the Department of Agriculture determine the condition of both the range land and wild horses in Storey County.
Two professionals from the Nevada Department of Agriculture's Division of Resource Protection will be conducting the census to determine the herd locations, numbers and their health as well as range conditions at the request of State Veterinarian Dr. David Thain.
Officials estimate between 5 and 10 percent of Storey County's wild horse population is beginning to weaken in the wake of the driest season in history. Thain emphasized it was just a guess.
"Drought conditions are making things a lot worse," he said. "Horses must travel miles between feed and water, and the weaker horses are having a tough time handling it."
Many horses are still in good shape but less aggressive feeders are being driven from watering holes and feed.
Pregnant mares and those with foals require between two and three times the nutrition, so the crisis is putting them at risk, according to Thain.
Traps in the form of fenced areas with food and water are being set for the weaker animals. Once caught, they will be turned over to nonprofit groups like the Virginia Range Wildlife Protection Agency and Wild Horse Organized Assistance, Inc. It costs thee groups between $500 and $1,000 to rehabilitate a horse in weakened condition, according to Thain.
Department of Agriculture policy states injured and debilitated animals as well as those posing a threat to humans or themselves by frequenting areas close to roads, residences or school yards are removed from the range.
Gradual removal of these animals before a crisis of this proportion would be ideal, but a more aggressive policy would cost more than the program's $18,000 annual budget will allow, according to Thain.
"Our policy is to keep these animals for 60 days," Thain said. "But the horses won't go to sale (slaughter) unless we have emergency conditions beyond our control."
Five organizations now assist Nevada's Department of Agriculture with adoptions and they're scrambling to keep that from happening.
At a meeting Monday with Prison Industries, the State Department of Agriculture and nonprofit organizations, a marketing program was developed to increase these animal's exposure in the hopes of increasing their marketability, according to Olivia Fiamengo, spokeswoman for the Virginia Range Wildlife Protection Agency.
Future efforts will include large newspaper ads, bidders will be notified of adoptions a year in advance and a segment concerning the horses will air on the Discovery Channel the week of Sept. 10, according to Fiamengo.