The lingering drought, the third consecutive year, throughout the western states and most of Nevada, is taking its toll on cattle grazers and wildlife.

Local ranchers say they are feeling effects of the three-year drought. (Rachel Williford photo)

The lingering drought, the third consecutive year, throughout the western states and most of Nevada, is taking its toll on cattle grazers and wildlife.

The winter snowpack in the mountains was quite a bit below normal in many places, and water in many mountain springs is close to drying up, or has already.

Eureka rancher, state senator Pete Goicoechea, said he is having to haul water to his cattle in the Rudy Mountains. “Hauling water into the mountains?” he said, “unheard of. We just don’t have stock water enough. That is impacting all across the state.

David Catalano, a supervisory biologist with the Nevada Wildlife Department commented, “It’s stressing the animals, and it’s stressing the habitat itself.”

From comments given by a few Lincoln County cattle operators, especially the northern allotments, the problem this year is not quite as much the lack of water, as it is the unchecked amount of wild horses that are taking the water and forage from the cattle.

John Sanders of the Delamar Cattle Company in White Pine and Lincoln County, said in his allotments impacts of the drought is not so much a problem right now, but what might be in the coming months. “We are not in a really bad situation as some in other parts of the county are. Some of our springs are dropping, but not all. We had a real good summer last year with several inches, with a lot of moisture in October, and we do have quite a bit of feed.”

But he noted, the summer and fall rains can be spotty, he said, some parts of the county may get the rains while other will not.  

On their ranges in Delamar Valley, Dry Lake Valley and Cave Valley, Sanders said, if the springs continue to decline the impacts for him will be felt this coming winter. “Will we have enough water for the number of cows we need to run?”

He said they are having to haul water to some places right now, “but it’s where we usually have to haul water to anyway. There is no live water there.” As a rule on his range, they are not having to haul much water.

On allotments in the northern part of the county, the major concern for cattlemen, in addition to the drought, are mostly due to the continually growing and overabundance of wild horses and mustangs.

Eagle Valley rancher Kenna Gloeckner said the horses are coming onto the range and eating all the forage meant for livestock and wildlife, and destroying the range in the dry conditions.  

Paul Mathews of Panaca said most of the ranchers are really suffering. “The feed is going away and if we don’t get any rain to regrow some of feed they are going to have to wean their calves early and try to figure out what else to do. We need rain in July and August.”

Lack of rain, with some of the springs drying up or running about half the usual output, is causing the production on the calf crop to have gone drastically down because of the reduced forage.

Pete Delmue, who operates in the Wilson Creek area, said his main concern is the feed, much of which is being taken by the horses, as well as having to make management decisions because of the drought. For the most part though,” he said, “our summer ranges usually do have enough water. A good summer rain though, will help us out quite a lot.”

Gloeckner said the most negative results from the drought they are facing on their large Wilson Creek allotments, held in common with the Delmue’s and Lytle’s, come from the overabundance of wild horses, and all the feed and water they consume.

She said the BLM’s Appropriate Management Level is far below what the exact number of horses really are on the range. “That number right now is 10-12 times over what it is supposed to be. Even BLM will admit their own AML records are not up-to-date.”

She noted, “Our allotment, the Eagle Management Area, is supposed to have only 100-200 horses, and present estimates are close to 1500. Our area is said to be one of the worst places in the state.”

She said with the lack of water in many of the usual springs, “then it concentrates all of those horses on the few springs that are running well and they are just destroying them.”

In addition, she said the special spring crested wheatgrass seeding areas, “sections that were planted 60 years ago at the request of, paid for and maintained by the ranchers, then designated by law for cattle only, are now just filled with horses. The elk knock the fences down daily and the horses flood in. We are not allowed by BLM to get them out, and the BLM admits they have no solutions.”

Gloeckner explained the horses are devouring what little is left for the cows. “Cattle have only one set of teeth, on the bottom, and can take the forage down only to a certain point. But horses, have two sets, upper and lower, and can graze the grasses down to near nothing, even pull the plants out completely. Without the rains to regrow the forage, all are suffering, horses, livestock and wildlife alike.”

On bit of a different note, Goicoechea said he sees a little bit of sunshine to all the current cattle problems. “If we do have to sell some of the cattle off, they are worth a ton of money at current market prices.”

However, on the other side, Sanders said, “While it might be a good time to sell, it makes it a very bad time to try to buy back in. You could lose money in the turnaround.”

And Goicoechea also said, “Everything is starting to pile up on the limited water sources, which is also prompting the current discussion on the wild horse numbers.”

In the meantime, just this week the BLM announced it is seeking public comment through July 30 on the Ely District Public Safety and Nuisance Gather Preliminary Environmental Assessment.

The press release notes in part, “The EA analyzes the district’s need to address potential environmental consequences associated with wild horse management in order to reduce and mitigate public safety concerns along major roadways in and outside HMA/HA boundaries, decrease nuisance animal complaints on private lands, and address management issues of wild horses that reside outside HMA/HA boundaries, in accordance with the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971.”