Run FEB. 6, 2004, and on Voice of America.
Whether you consider wild horses common farm animals or a symbol
of freedom in the west, they've been protected by federal law since the Wild Free Roaming Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971.
The law also says they must be managed. But the federal government faces a significant challenge in doing that . . . mainly
that the 39 thousand beasts roaming 10 western states are reproducing at rate of 20 percent a year. Lets saddled up to see
how the management program is faring in Southern Nevada:
BILLY YOUNG: Yes we have some rescues that come in .
PLASKON: Billy Young, President of the National Wild Horse Association is on the phone and standing in the
mud at the base of the snow-covered sheer cliffs of the Spring Mountains. She's one of many tireless volunteers trying to
find homes for wild horses, like the ones in a Bureau of Land Management pen nearby. This time she's getting an offer for
free horse food.
YOUNG: Sorry here's another call.
PLASKON: Tomorrow the Association will hold an
all volunteer-organized auction to assist in the adoption of 19 wild horses. They go for just $125 a head - a small price
for this symbol of western freedom. But it can take weeks to go through the process of adopting. Young says it's worth it.
We walk through the gate of the pen and she points out Romeo, who's chomping on grass.
YOUNG: He just has a wonderful
disposition, he is really flexible. He can bend and twist and turn. He is very agile, he is going to do very well in whatever
discipline his new owner chooses.
PLASKON: They look a little scrappy
YOUNG: It just rained and
they rolled. So they are a little muddy yes.
PLASKON: Over the centuries on their own, wild horses have evolved
less complex dietary needs, and that's just one of the things that makes them different from domestic horses.
The wild horse depends on its family for survival so once you make the connection with the wild horse, it takes you as part
of its family and it gives you its heart and soul and it gives you a connection unlike any domestic you would ever find.
PLASKON: Living in the wild has made them loyal, but confident and hardy she says.
YOUNG: And they are very
smart. You know they have had to learn quickly for their survival so when you teach them something you can walk away and the
horse is going to be right where you left them.
PLASKON: In past auctions volunteers held horse shows to prove
how smart wild horses really are.
ANNOUNCER: Riders walk your horses . . . walk your horses. Riders canter your
horses . . . riders canter your horses. This show is to demonstrate what a wild horse can do once you gain it's trust and
they are pretty impressive.
PLASKON: But they aren't always so impressive. Overpopulation combined with drought,
encroaching development and lack of food in Southern Nevada have contributed to the demise of the Red Rock wild horse population.
Young describes how they found these horses in the herd.
YOUNG: They were walking dead, they were nothing but
skin and bone, all of these horses have recovered. We did not loose any of our red-rock horses.
these horses the red-rock herd has been reduced to just 25 - not enough to sustain it's genetic viability Young says. Initially
they were gathered to bring them back to health and then re-introduce them back to the herd. When they got healthy they also
got pregnant. One mare gave birth this week.
YOUNG: Oh Gosh, cute! Ha, ha, ha, how's that. A buckskin pinto,
just cute as a button, happy, healthy, was prancing around earlier doing fine.
PLASKON: But both the Wild Horse
Association and the BLM have agreed this foal and the other horses can't go back to their family in Red Rock because there
isn't enough food on the range and without enough food they would simply die also. Without importing a stud to sustain the
herd's genetic viability, tomorrow's auction may be the last for the red rock horses. Despite the horses demise in Red Rock.
. . in the rest of the west, wild horses are reproducing at an alarming rate - 20 percent per year. Adoptions like this play
a key role in figuring out what to do with so many protected animals every year according to Dean Bolstead, BLM Natural Resource
Washington Specialist on Wild Horses and Burros.
BOLSTEAD: Herds will double every four years and the rangelands
have limited capacity to support them and then we begin to have impacts on wildlife habitat, impacts to rangeland health and
impacts to other users of the public lands and it is pretty obvious too many animals are not good for anything, nor themselves,
we must, we need to bring them to appropriate levels for the good of public lands and the users of those lands.
PLASKON: To reach the appropriate level the BLM needs to remove and promote adoption for 14 thousand horses in addition
to 7,800 because of newborns every year. But the demand for adoption is only about 6,000 annually. If the BLM can meet its
goal of reducing the number of wild horses to 25 thousand nation-wide the number available for adoption would be about 5,000,
balancing supply and demand. The BLM is steadily getting closer to that goal. In Nevada, which holds 60 percent of the nation's
wild horses, populations have been reduced from 25 thousand three years ago to 18 thousand today. Now the BLM needs only to
remove 3 thousand more to reach its ideal management level. But BLM Public Affairs Officer Maxine Shane says the agency is
reaching its limit.
SHANE: Well, it's not quite that easy because we aren't going to be able to gather until
after foaling season and we are going to have 20 percent more here in a few months so it is a direct relationship and you
have to have a place to put those three thousand if you are going to take them off.
PLASKON: Officials say holding
facilities are near capacity with 24 thousand un adopted wild horses that each cost one dollar and twenty cents a day to care
for. And because of a lack of facility space and funds it's had to cut back on its average annual horse gathering from 10,000
annually to just 3,400 this year - that means more horses are out there reproducing and threatening the gains BLM has made
in reducing the population. Part of the reason is that federal funding for wild horse management has dropped from 35 million
dollars in 2001 to 29 million this year. This week the BLM did release a new proposed budget. In it is a 10.5 million dollar
increase for monitoring, counting and fertility control of wild horses. Some of the money is for Nevada but none specifically
for what Nevada officials say is the most important aspect - the adoption programs.
Ky Plaskon, News 88-9, KNPR
BLM Wild Horse Site
Yesterday Ky Plaskon visited a
Nevada Gold mine and explored some of the environmental controversy surrounding one of Nevada's most profitable industries.
One way the industry maintains favor in the state is by donating to politicians like most industries do. Mining donated more
than 4-million to congress and 100-thosand dollars to Nevada politicians last year. Another way mining companies gain favor
is through educating children about the industry. KNPR's Ky Plaskon reports.
SOUND: Hi kids, I'm Gus
and I'm the head miner here . . .
PLASKON: On a hot morning in Henderson 2nd graders listen to an automated
manikin at the mouth of a building that looks like a big rock. When the recording is over, a guide takes over.
GUIDE: The next thing we do is go into the active blasting area. This is where it is dark and I would like everyone to turn
their lights on so that we can see better back in here.
PLASKON: The children put on hard hats with headlamps.
The mine is like a haunted house, dark and scary. As the children pass through, their movement triggers the cackling of more
manikins dressed as miners crouched in the rafters above them.
MANIKIN: Ha ha ha ha ha
CHILD: AAAH. There is nothing scary about you!
NELSON: He snuck up on you did he?
This is just one aspect of the McCaw School of Mines, a non-profit corporation offering field trips for children. The site
is a replica of an old mining town.
GUIDE: 200 hundred foot level.
PLASKON: The children pretend to ride in a mining elevator. It is actually a platform on a spring. They
also watch a video featuring mining explosives.
VIDEO HOST: Wow, they sure made short work of that!
VIDEO MUSIC: Disco
VIDEO SOUND: Explosion
PLASKON: More than 40-thousand children have been through the school.
CHILD: I think that
it's real cool.
CHILD2: This place is awesome.
PLASKON: This was one of the last groups
of second graders to attend the mining field trip. The school district decided that second graders can't understand the message
and field trips in general have declined.
HOLLOWAY: I do firmly believe that there are very few schools
that have field trips anymore.
PLASKON: Clark County Education Association President Mary Ella Holloway
says children in Clark County used to go on regular field trips to sites such as the Hoover Dam, bottling, bread, chocolate
and marshmallow factories and plays at UNLV. But not anymore.
HOLLOWAY: Because the school district doesn't
want to spend the money on the school buses for the field trips.
PLASKON: With less funding for field
trips, corporately funded field trips are very tempting according to the school district. Coordinator Dorothy Webb says the
field trip started up because Nevada history lessons about mining were difficult for children to grasp. Mining companies were
eager to get their message out to children from the start.
WEBB: One child wrote a letter and said 'Dear
Rich Person, would you give us some of your money.' That rich friend sent us 15-thousand dollars to get started.
Over the past eight years mining companies have invested 2 million dollars to build the school of mines. Every year they pay
the 120-thousand dollar operating costs. The names of the companies that pay the school's bills are everywhere, including
tractor maker CAT and Round Mountain Gold Corporation. Guides even point out the company names and then tell children how
primitive life would be without these mining companies.
GUIDE: I would like to ask you one question though.
If there was not a mine in the world today how would you get back to school? You would have to walk wouldn't you? There would
be no bus. If you got home tonight, there would be no TV, no bicycle, mother is going to cook for you, there is no stove.
Momma would have to go into the back yard and light a wood fire wouldn't she. So you are going to see a sign later on, if
it can't be grown, it has to be mined. And so you pick up something if it can't be grown, it has to be mined.
We have a situation where metals mining and particularly gold mining is the most highly polluting industry in the nation and
80 percent of the nation's gold mining happens in Nevada.
PLASKON: Elyssa Rosen is Executive Director
of the environmental group Great Basin Mine Watch
ROSEN: Its no wonder that the industry wants to repair
a tarnished image by bringing pro-industry materials into the classroom.
PLASKON: Rosen says the field
trip is biased and doesn't mention environmental consequences of mining. For instance there are an anticipated 450 million
dollars worth of clean up costs from uninsured and bonded mines currently operating in the state. There is the clean up of
a mine in Yerington recently taken over by the EPA for high levels of radioactivity seeping into one towns' wells. On top
of that, EPA tests have shown that high levels of mercury from Nevada gold mines have polluted neighboring states. Elizondo
Elementary Second Grade Teacher Sima Stein sees what's missing from the field trip.
STEIN: Well I am
going to go back and we are going to do the environment, you know, how to protect the environment. You know how important
it is to take care of our natural resources and that part we will do when we get back.
PLASKON: The school
district leaves it up to teachers like Stein to find more balanced educational materials. The field trips' web site does have
a link described as offering debates between environmentalists and mining companies. But it doesn't work. Second grade teacher
Sima Stein said its difficult to compete with the mining industry's message in the well-financed field trip.
DOBRY: Doesn't bother me in the slightest, ha ha ha.
PLASKON: Principal at Robert Taylor Elementary Dr.
Janet Dobry helped set up the non-profit that runs the mining field trip. She says the school district doesn't have any control
over what is taught there, even though it sits on school district property.
DOBRY: I think that it is
factual information that is being presented there we talk about environmental concerns and the whole works so I think kids
get a pretty straight forward look at the mining industry.
PLASKON: She says nearly anything could be
turned into a lesson for children - a corporately funded field trip to a make believe casino could be turned into a great
Ky Plaskon, News 88-9 KNPR