Issue: Disposition of the Virginia Range Horses removed from Mound House, NV
Situation Report Update
(Continued from Part One.)
Following the purchase and release of the Mound House horses, Nevada Director of Agriculture Jim Barbee made some provocative and erroneous statements regarding these horses and his department's conduct, particularly in reference to the pinto stallion. The allies are compelled to respond to these statements and set the record straight.
Horse Power posted to Facebook a statement from Director Barbee. It reads as follows:
RESPONSE from NV DIRECTOR OF AGRICULTURE JIM BARBEE, regarding any claim
of pre purchase agreement. "There was no pre-agreement for purchase
of the 8 horses. A request was made to us, however we did not respond
as we had already given notice via email that it was first come first
purchase. The horse was gelded to m...ore easily secure a buyer. I would
also note that that horse was branded and per the estray advertisement
we were attempting to find the owner the horse as it was found, a stud
horse. The advertisement is for the purpose of finding ownership, not
advertising the sell of the horse. Gelding the horse in no way invalidate
legal notice. Again, as a branded horse it was clearly an estray and
estray laws were utilized in the processing of the horse. Jim"
Here is what really happened.
On December 1st Director Barbee was notified that the allied groups would attend his "sale" to acquire the horses. There is no mention of any "pre-agreement" however it was made clear that the horses would be taken in accordance with the Director's terms.
I have been asked to formally inform you that the allied horse groups
are willing to acquire the eight Mound House horses that the Department
intends to offer on December 6th for reasonable costs incurred by the
Department as indicated in your earlier email message. This offer
will remain in effect in the event the offering has to be rescheduled
for any reason. It is expected that the Let 'Em Run Foundation will be
entity of record paying for and receiving the horses in behalf of the
I have to present the caveat that the allied position is that as this is
a sale transaction, this offering is out of compliance with NRS 569.075
if there is no NRS 569.075 Notice of Sale published, and if such is the
case the allies would prefer to acquire the horses under a simple
cooperative agreement attesting that the recipient is a qualifying
non-profit and that the horses will not knowingly be placed or resold
for slaughter - a document that should not only serve to protect the
Department as well as the recipient, but all transaction proceeds would
be exempt from the one-year trust account requirement stipulated in
However if the Department still intends to sell the horses in an
"unadvertised sale," the horses will still be bought and removed so as
to relieve the Department of additional expenses, and the parties can
resolve the disagreement over procedures in another forum.
This is a pretty simple message that the Director admits to receiving. The allied groups would participate in his sale scheme even though we still protested the illegal nature of the sale. Both Director Barbee and Horse Power knew that there was no need to geld this stallion but they did it anyway.
Clearly not an estray.
Director Barbee still insists that this stallion was "clearly an estray," not a Virginia Range horse. We can't fathom why the Director can't figure this part out.
Director Barbee's faulty premise involves the "N" freeze brand on the horse's neck, His apparent assumption is that the brand means that the horse was owned by a private party, then strayed. Director Barbee needs to look up this brand in his own department's Brand Book. The "N" is registered to The Nevada Department of Agriculture.
Official brand registration for the horse's "N" brand.
(Note: This brand was issued prior to 2003 when the Nevada State Legislature enacted NRS 569.008 that legally classified the Virginia Range horses as "feral" for purposes of the statutes and back when the department was located in Reno. The department still erroneously describes its Virginia Range horse program as an "estray" horse program. Also, this brand expires at the end of 2011 unless the department reregisters the brand.)
We checked with Mike Holmes before posting this update and he verified what we already knew, that horses were freeze branded for several reasons.
At the time this stallion was freeze branded the department had a policy that if horses were relocated elsewhere on the range either because they were nuisance horses or their grazing areas came under development, they were to be microchipped and freeze branded before being released. The brand records included the GPS locations where the horses were released. If the horses returned to their home territory or were later picked up at some other undesirable location, the department gained some data regarding the movements of the horses. Bands of horses that the records showed repeatedly encroached into developed areas were subject to permanent removal, a circumstance that everyone understood and accepted since it was based on hard data.
Bubba, the great-grand sire of many of the buckskins and grullas on the range received an "N" brand when his band was relocated from the Reno area.
Sentinel and Bubba, two old rivals on the range for as long as anyone can remember. Both
Horses were also freeze branded and microchipped for tracking in a university fertility control field study. A large number of Virginia Range horses were included in this study. These horses were freeze branded and microchipped so in the event they were brought in, or if an observer noticed that a horse was having some kind of medical issue, the horse could have blood drawn and the results analyzed. Using veterinary records associated with the horse's microchip, a determination could be made as to whether the fertility control drug had any impact on the horse's general health. Meanwhile the study, conducted at no cost to the department, helped control the growth rate of the Virginia Range herd.
received freeze brands when they and their bands were relocated from south Reno as the area developed.
(One reason the advocates are so familiar with these processes is that during former administrations they participated in relocating horses that otherwise would have to be removed, and they helped monitor the health and condition of the fertility control horses. Volunteer assistance helped reduce the department's costs.)
Relocating horses away from an area experiencing urban development.
A few hundred Virginia horses were placed with private adopters, however Holmes does not recall placing the distinctive looking pinto with any adopter. According to locals, this horse has been seen on the range for many years, with photographs going back over four years. Therefore he "appeared" on the range well within the time period that all studs offered for adoption were gelded by the Department. We don't have any reason to believe that this horse grew a new set of testicles, so the odds are infinitely small that this was ever a privately owned horse.
Even in the extremely unlikely event that this horse was adopted intact and subsequently escaped, his time on the range (documented by photographs) covered many years and shows him to meet the definition of a feral horse under NRS 569.008. Director Barbee's estray horse claim is without any legal foundation whatsoever.
An illegal sale is an illegal sale.
Given that the "N" freeze brand is in no way an indicator that the horse was not feral, and given that the other seven horses were not branded, Director Barbee's whole explanation as to how he didn't break the law fails the test.
Bad grammar aside, Director Barbee is absolutely correct when he stated, "The advertisement is for the purpose of finding ownership, not advertising the sell of the horse."
If this horse was actually an adopted horse that escaped, it would have been originally received by a cooperator. If Director Barbee's position regarding this horse is correct, why wasn't the microchip read and the cooperator of record notified to come retrieve the horse? Accountability was one of the purposes for the cooperative agreements and NRS 569.060 requires that the department examine the state brand records to identify the owner of record of any estray prior to selling the animal.
Nevada law also states "before the Department may sell feral livestock, the Department must publish notice of the sale of the feral livestock in a newspaper published at the county seat of the county in which the gathering of the feral livestock occurred." (NRS 569.075) The required Notice of Sale of Feral Livestock was never published for these horses and Director Barbee has admitted that his notice was limited to "finding ownership."
In one sentence Director Barbee admits to breaking the law and in another he insists that he didn't. The Director can't have it both ways.
The Director's admitting that the advertisement was solely "for the purpose of finding ownership," raises an important question. Why did he then sell the horses without posting the "Notice of Sale" required under NRS 569.075? Even if the Director wants to hold fast to his claim that the (former) stallion was estray livestock, the other horses were not branded, they clearly met the definition of NRS 569.008, and were therefore illegally sold by the Director.
If one accepts his claim regarding the pinto, Director Barbee's department therefore failed to notify the owner of record associated with the microchip placed in the pinto stallion (or the department failed to read the microchip at all,) in which case the legal owner now has a valid claim against the department. More likely the horse was in fact feral and was illegally sold without the required sale notice, as were the other seven horses.
The reasons for advocate groups being so sensitive about these issues is that for several years the Nevada Department of Agriculture has run roughshod over the law while individual livestock owners can and do receive citations and fines if their paperwork is not all in order.
The Director might do well to remember that many of these bands have been tracked for the fertility control study and that literally thousands of photographs have been taken of Virginia Range horses by volunteers, nature photographers and local citizens, creating defacto photographic pedigrees of a surprisingly large number of these horses. The horses are so integrated into the communities that border the range that many of the locals can describe how old a particular horse is and who the horse's sire was.
These very citizens are becoming increasingly agitated with the Department. The Director would do well to check his facts before posting provocative excuses.
We had hoped that this matter had been resolved with the release of the horses onto privately owned range. Given Horse Power's and Director Barbee's statements, we appear headed towards yet another conflict.