I-Team: Senator Reid Pushes For Investigation of 71 Dead Wild Horses - 8 News NOW

George Knapp, Chief Investigative Reporter

I-Team: Senator Reid Pushes For Investigation of 71 Dead Wild Horses

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Nevada Senator Harry Reid wants to know what killed 71 wild horses on the Nellis Air Force Base Range. The BLM says high concentrations of nitrates killed the horses. Now the senator wants the Pentagon to launch a full scale investigation to find out how the nitrates got in the horses drinking water.

Senator Reid wrote to the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of the Interior, asking them to find out how and why the horses died on the Tonopah Test Range. The initial explanation that the nitrates which poisoned the water might be from a natural source isn't going over too well with wild horse advocates, especially since the military has shown a callous attitude toward wild horses many times in the past.

Wild horse advocates like Jerry Reynoldson aren't buying the initial explanations given for why 71 horses died on the Tonopah Test Range. "If somebody has done this on purpose, there's not a lot of difference between Michael Vick killing dogs and someone killing 71 wild horses out there," he said.

The BLM, which manages wild horses, even on classified ranges, had to get permission from the Air Force to set foot on the site to conduct tests on water and soil. The BLM thinks the high nitrate levels in the water might be from a natural source but isn't certain.

"We can come up with theories. At this point, we really don't know. It's definitely odd that it would affect just the horses," said Pat Putnam of the BLM.

Wild horse advocates are less inclined to give the military the benefit of the doubt. They've seen what people do to unwanted horses.

"It's always been sport for people to kill these horses in spite of the fact that it is a violation of federal and state law. Why this is happening right now is hard to explain, but under no circumstances should we accept 71 horses being dead in due course," said Reynoldson.

Reynoldson notes there have been other dead horse incidents that had nothing to do with natural nitrate sources. As the I-Team has reported, 61 horses died at the same spot in 1988.

Tonopah personnel even had a betting pool about the final number, including jokes about horse burgers. The culprit back then was a de-icing compound that was washed into the desert soil and then into the water.

A former Tonopah serviceman named Kevin Dye told us it is routine procedure on the Tonopah Range to dispose of chemicals by simply dumping them into the desert. Bases like Tonopah and its sister facility Area 51 have long histories as locations where environmental regulations and health laws are routinely ignored. Since the bases are classified, inspections by outside agencies are rare.

"This is terrible. We're not only talking now about dead horses. We're probably talking about violating dumping laws, putting something into the water that is so toxic to everything around, without even going into the question of whether it's going into the groundwater," said Reynoldson.

Senator Reid's letter calls for answers, not only about the source of the killer nitrates, but into larger questions about wildlife management on the Nellis Range and whether federal agencies are being given lawful access. The BLM says tests are continuing at the Tonopah site while admitting that it has not received results of tests conducted by the military.

Kevin Dye, the man who worked at Tonopah for eight years, says base employees used to paint little horse decals on vehicles whenever those cars struck and killed a wild horse, sort of an inside joke because it happened so often.

Eyewitness News also knows the carcasses of the dead horses were mostly left at the scene and were scavenged by other wild animals, animals which were not affected by the poisoned water.

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