Nevada Wild Horses & Burros
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Nevada Water Rights for Wild Horses

Typically, the BLM does not apply for water rights for wild horses and burros because under the current definition of wildlife, they are covered under NRS 533.367 which requires all permit holders for springs or seeps to allow access to wildlife that customarily use it. The BLM usually only applies for a water right if the Bureau wants to develop the source, such as put in a trough or well, or if it feels a water right is necessary to protect the source.

The BLM Nevada currently holds approximately 28 water rights for wildlife use identifying wild horses and burros as the wildlife utilizing the water. All water rights within the state of Nevada are managed through the Division of Water Resources, which is headed by the Nevada State Engineer. Although a federal agency managing federal lands, the BLM must abide by state law and therefore must apply for water rights through the Nevada Division of Water Resources, the same as any other water right holder in the state. In order for the State Engineer to consider permitting an application for wildlife with use by wild horses and burros, the water source must be located within a BLM Herd Management Area.

BLM and Livestock Water Rights

With changes to the Nevada Revised Statutes (NRS) with the passage of S.B. 76 in 2003, the State Engineer will issue a permit to appropriate water for the purpose of watering livestock only to permit applicants who are legally entitled to place livestock on the lands for which the permit is sought, and who own or have an interest in the livestock (NRS 533.503). In addition, new regulations tying appurtenance to ownership of livestock is set forth (NRS 533.040). These changes in state law apply to any water application which is processed by the State Engineer after June 12, 2003. These regulations also impact stock watering rights in certificate status which are held by the BLM. Such rights are subject to forfeiture after 5 years of non-use for a groundwater right and subject to abandonment for a surface water right.

Since the passage of S.B. 76, the BLM has adhered to the substantive and procedural requirements of state law as required by Departmental policy and has not filed new applications with the Nevada State Engineer for permits to appropriate water(s) for the purpose of watering livestock on public lands. In light of these state requirements and in recognition of its fiduciary duty to the public, Nevada BLM policy is that when the BLM and another party cooperatively develop a water source on public lands that is intended to water livestock, the BLM may expend public funds on the development in an amount that corresponds to the relative quantity of water allowed by a second water right obtained by BLM for a different use (such as wildlife). In some circumstances the BLM state director may grant an exception to this policy. This may occur, for example, if natural resource benefits attributable to the development could not be achieved by other practical means, and the development would not be constructed unless BLM contributed to the cost of the development in excess of its relative share.

Last updated: 11-03-2015