Much of Nevada, and Lyon County in particular, consist of wild horse country. Three herds inhabit the central county: BLM's Pine Nut and Lahontan herds and the Virginia Range herd that falls under the authority of the Nevada Department of Agriculture. The Virginia Range herd, estimated at around 2,500 head, is believed to be the largest herd of publicly owned free-roaming horses in North America with the horses being spread out over four counties.
Two federal highways, US-50 and US-95A, transect this area. A third highway, State Route 439 (commonly known as the "USA Parkway") is being constructed southward from I-80. The Parkway is intended to handle truck traffic between the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center (TRIC,) located in Adjacent Storey County, and points south. TRIC is the largest industrial park in the United States situated within the largest publicly owned free-roaming horse herd. Clearly a number of conflicts are possible.
A running horse appears
on the county's logo.
Horses grazing in the industrial center.
Horses are frequent visitors to many of our rural highways. For years motorists have been watchful as the bands move from grazing areas to sources of water.
Typical afternoon "traffic jam".
Steady development in the region has placed more traffic on existing highways and prompted the construction of the new link to I-80 to the north. Something needed to be done as rural routes grew from two-lane to four-lane divided highways and new asphalt further divided the horse range.
The Stagecoach Town Advisory Board created a Virginia Range Horse Committee to study the situation and submit a report. Local advocates and stakeholders met with NDOT to brainstorm solutions. The agreed upon concept involved installing a wild horse undercrossing. It would be placed at a location where the topography facilitated such an installation that was also near the traditional route horses took to get from grazing areas to water.
An additional selling point was that hikers, OHV operators, equestrians and wildlife could also utilize the undercrossing, thereby eliminating these other hazards to motorists. NDOT budgeted for an underpass as an experiment and the University of Nevada Reno installed several cameras in order to conduct a study.
For the first couple of months the undercrossing was utilized pretty much solely by ATV drivers, coyotes and occasional equestrians. The horses would travel a couple of miles west where the highway wasn't fenced in order to cross. Oftentimes horses get in a habit of not having a particular access available to them so they ignore a new option. We all agreed on "baiting" the undercrossing and placing a water tank just clear of the south opening to see if the horses could be enticed to use it.
Once the underpass and its entrances were baited and the horses discovered that it was a short cut to their destination, it became a favored route and surface crossings diminished.
Filling the stock tank for the "experiment."
A band coming through.
Regular visitors to the tank now. After a few weeks the tank was removed
and the horses would continue on to their traditional sources of water.
With the new USA Parkway transecting the southeastern corner of the range, NDOT agreed to install two undercrossings along that route to prevent "compartmentalizing" the horses or forcing them to cross the surface of the highway. Those undercrossings will also be multi-modal, providing access for recreational users, wildlife and livestock owners.
One of the new undercrossings under construction.
Other measures were also put in place to protect water sources as well as culturally and environmentally sensitive areas.
An identified sensitive area roped off.
Once again collaboration between advocates, stakeholders and cooperative public agencies have solved issues that otherwise would have been unfavorable for both motorists and the area's free-roaming horses.