Two Men Charged in Wild Horse Shootings

According to a March 10, 2010, press release issued by the U.S. Attorney for the state of Nevada (Reno), two Nevada men have been charged with killing five federally-protected wild horses “on federally-managed lands in northern Nevada” on November 28, 2009.  The bodies of the horses were reportedly discovered on December 5, 2009, by a helicopter pilot conducting a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) round-up of wild horses in the Buckhorn Herd Management Area in Washoe County, Nevada.

The BLM is the agency responsible for the protection and welfare of wild horses on federal land managed by the agency.  On December 7, 2009, the BLM’s Redding, California office issued a press release reporting the “suspected shooting deaths of up to six wild horses on public land along the Nevada-California border about 45 miles northeast of Susanville, Calif.”  The press release indicated the BLM’s Cedarville, California office was investigating the suspected unlawful shooting deaths of the six horses.

A subsequent release dated December 12, 2009 from the BLM’s Redding, CA office announced a $10,000 reward for “information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person(s) responsible for killing six wild horses found in northern Washoe County, Nevada, in early December” and stated that “BLM officials from the Surprise Field Office in Cedarville, Calif., recognized the dead mustangs belonging to a clan of horses known to roam the Buckhorn Herd Management Area.”

It is not clear when or how BLM Surprise office employees recognized the horses as belonging to “a clan” from the Buckhorn HMA; how management of the wild horses and burros in Northern California and Nevada is shared or split between the BLM’s California and Nevada offices or why the Redding, CA office was responsible for investigating killings that allegedly occurred in Nevada and have now been charged in Nevada.  It does indicate how meaningless state lines are to wild horses and wildlife, and although not meaningless to humans in the West, less significant than are watersheds, rainfall and drainage patterns and geographic boundaries.  It is also not clear what happened to the sixth wild horse that was originally reported as also killed in late November or discovered in early December 2009.

Charges were announced by Daniel Bogden of the U. S. Attorney’s Office (U.S. Department of Justice) in Reno, Nevada on March 12, 2010, as follows:

TWO PERSHING COUNTY MEN CHARGED WITH KILLING WILD HORSES

RENO – – Two Pershing, County Nevada men were charged in federal court today with killing five wild horses on federally-managed lands in northern Nevada, announced Daniel G. Bogden, United States Attorney for the District of Nevada.

Todd Davis, 44, and Joshua Keathley, 36, both of Lovelock, Nevada, are charged in a criminal information with causing the death of wild horses. According to the information, on November 28, 2009, in the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Buckhorn Horse Management Area of Northern Washoe County, Nevada, Davis and Keathley maliciously caused the death and harassment of five wild free-roaming horses by shooting them. Davis is employed by the Pershing County Water Conservation District in Lovelock. Keathley’s employment is unknown.

Davis and Keathley are scheduled to make initial appearances in court on the charges on April 27, 2010, at 3:00 p.m. If convicted, they face up to one year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

The investigation is being conducted by BLM’s Office of Law Enforcement and Security California State Office in Redding, California, with the assistance of the Lovelock Police Department, the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office, the Washoe County Forensic Services Division, the Nevada Department of Wildlife, and the California Department of Fish and Game. The Humane Society of the United States and the State of Nevada Commission for the Preservation of Wild Horses also contributed to the investigation.

The public is reminded that a criminal information contains only charges and is not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

The DOJ’s March 10, 2010, press release includes the name of the press contact, Natalie Collins, and contact phone number, (702) 388-6508.

U.S. Attorney Bogden is one of eight U.S. Attorneys who were fired in December 2006 in a controversial midterm dismissal by the George W. Bush Administration.  Bogden was reinstated (renominated) to his position by President Obama in July 2009.

Lovelock, Nevada (93 miles east of Reno, population 2,381), is described in a listing of “Gateway Communities” by the “Friends of Black Rock High Rock” website (courtesy of the Lovelock Chamber of Commerce) as a place “where the pavement ends.”  The website of the controversial “Burning Man” festival, held annually in the Nevada desert, describes Lovelock as a “conservative Mormon community” and “the last major pit stop on I-80 heading west before you veer north to the playa” where the annual festival is held.  The relationship between residents of Pershing County, the state of Nevada, the BLM and Black Rock City LLC (the San-Francisco-based organizer of the Burning Man festival) is a microcosm of modern-day range conflicts including simmering resentment of Californians by some Nevadans (and often for good reason).  Whether or not these two men from Lovelock, Nevada are ultimately tried and found guilty of the wild horse killings, the crime will need to be seen in the context of the larger issue of the best use and value of our public land, resources and wildlife.

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