VIRGINIA CITY - After months of wrangling over a contract to govern the management of horses in Storey County, commissioners on Tuesday threw out a new agreement proposed by the Department of Agriculture.
"We've been trying to work out a new agreement between the Department of Agriculture, Storey County and the Virginia Range Wildlife Protection Association," said Commission Chairman Greg "Bum" Hess. "Since we can't come to any consensus, that agreement has been denied."
"We can continue to operate under the old agreement until the Department of Agriculture can come up with something acceptable," said Commissioner Bob Kershaw. "The VRWPA is an integral part of horse management here."
Paul Iverson, executive director of the Department of Agriculture, doesn't see the issues as insurmountable. He said the state doesn't want Storey to assume any liability and he will be consulting with the Attorney General's Office today to correct the problems.
If Storey County doesn't approve a new agreement, the old one will be terminated, according to Iverson.
"We only work with counties when we have an agreement," he said. "Let them manage their own program. It gets to the point where it's not worth the fight.
"My main concern is the horses," he said. "They need to be managed. We need to remove some and we need an adoption program that works.
"The resources in the mountains have deteriorated to the point where the horses are moving down here for water and right now we have 70 horses in the foothills," he said. "They need to be picked up and I don't know what to do with them. It's a big issue and it's going to get bigger."
District Attorney Janet Hess said the "hold harmless" clause in the new agreement is too broadly written, leaving Storey County liable for damages. Storey County residents were also irate over a clause in the new agreement that would allow the Department of Agriculture onto their land without permission.
"Under the agreement, Storey County is supposed to enter private property to remove horses," said Janet Hess. "We can't blindly go onto private property."
"There are plenty of public lands," said Highlands resident Bob Williamson. "Let them collect the horses on their own property without bothering us."
Under the new agreement, the Department of Agriculture must approve any separate agreement between any horse-protection agency and Storey, like the one now in place with the Virginia Range Wildlife Protection Association.
For the past six years, the association has worked in concert with Storey County, offering a range of services from caring for the sick, injured, and orphaned animals to dealing with carcasses. The group also arranges about 75 percent of the wild horse adoptions.
Storey County Sheriff's Department would also transport horses under the new agreement, but that department doesn't have the manpower, equipment or budget, according to Sheriff Pat Whitten.