Wild horses die in Highway 50 crashes

In the fall, when grass becomes scarce at the higher elevations of the Virginia and Pine Nut ranges, the area's wild horses head to the Carson River in Dayton Valley.

It's part of their natural migratory pattern, said Willis Lamm, president of Least Resistance Training Corp., a wild-horse advocacy group.

"Every winter the horses come down to the valley," Lamm said. "You are always going to have horses come down to the valley until the time that it's wall-to-wall houses."

Now horses are crossing an increasingly busy Highway 50 .

Three automobile-versus-horse collisions have occurred in the past few months, Lamm said, with a particularly gruesome one occurring about 9:15 p.m. Oct. 10.

"What happened was a horse crossed 50 and was hit by one car, then pushed into the opposite lane and hit by another," he said. "Then a semi kind of ground him up."

A second, severely injured horse from the same accident was later put down by Mike Holmes, program officer for the Nevada Department of Agriculture.

Holmes also confirmed that a 7- or 8-month-old foal was killed on Highway 50 in the early part of September.

Despite these incidents, Nevada Department of Transportation officials have removed 600 Strieter-Lites - designed to frighten horses away from the highway, said Julie Keller of Mark Twain Estates, whose husband is a sales representative for Strieter-Lites Wild Animal Highway Warning Reflector System of Rock Island, Ill.

Strieter-Lites are activated by approaching headlights that causes light to bounce off the reflectors at angles, creating flashes of red light which frightens horses, deer and other wildlife away from the roads. The lights were installed in 2002 from Riverboat Road to Chavez Drive in Dayton as part of a three-year study of their effectiveness.

A year later, Gail Bellenger, a wildlife biologist for NDOT, praised the effectiveness of the lights.

"This is the first time Strieter-Lites have been tested with horses. We were hesitant at first because there isn't much data. It could be a fluke, but so far we've seen no road-kills at night - no horses, deer, cows or dogs," she told the Nevada Appeal in an April 2003 article. "I'm very pleased, and I'm confident this program will be effective."

NDOT Spokesman Scott Magruder said the Strieter-Lites were removed due to the widening of the highway and said they may be installed elsewhere as an additional test to see if they work.

Kelly Anrig, a senior safety engineer for NDOT, said the department has been told that the Bureau of Land Management removed the horses from that area, adding that the new development and more urbanized nature of the area now may have contributed to fewer horses crossing the highway.

Anrig said his records show one horse hit in the area where Strieter-Lites were installed since 2002, with four horses hit in the same general area but outside the Strieter-Lite zone. "If you look at crash data prior to that you have a lot more collisions," he said.

Anrig said NDOT is considering placing the Lites in areas where high numbers of deer are a problem such as areas around Elko and Ely.

Keller said though the reflectors were meant for deer, the three-year test along Highway 50 that began in 2002 proves they worked for wild horses too.

"They're scientifically proven to work - they're all over the East and in Europe - there's no reason to keep testing," she said. "I have many referrals from departments of transportation all across the country where they're working successfully. There's no reason to test them any more."

Bonnie Matton of the Wild Horse Preservation League said even if horses are removed, they're going to come back to reach the Carson River and the removal of the Strieter- Lites endangered horses and people alike.

"We're concerned about human life, too; these collisions are going to kill someone," she said. "It could have happened with this last one."

n Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at kwoodmansee@nevadaappeal.com or 882-2111 ext. 351.


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