DFG halts horse race through Spenceville | TheUnion.com

DFG halts horse race through Spenceville

A state official denied a permit for a Memorial Day horse endurance race that’s been held for 17 years in the Spenceville Wildlife Area.

Andy Atkinson manages the 11,000-plus-acre wildlife area that straddles Nevada and Yuba Counties. Atkinson said he denied the permit for the roughly 250-contestant event out of concern for wildlife that breed in the spring.

“What is spring to wildlife? It’s the breeding season,” said Atkinson, who works for the California Department of Fish and Game. Atkinson said the race could be held at another time of year.

But supporters of the Camp Far West Ride challenge the idea the ride is harmful to wildlife. They’re meeting this morning in Auburn to consider their options.

“Obviously, if this ride has been going on for 17 years, it hasn’t impacted the birds,” said Lynge Simoni, a Nevada County horsewoman who’s a fan of the race. “If you look at the narrow ribbon of trail (riders use), you would see nothing being bothered.”

Atkinson said the permit denial was “not something that just happened out of the blue.”

He said he reluctantly granted a permit for the 2001 race, but told organizers they would have to meet with him to discuss this year’s event.

Race organizers never did that, Atkinson said.

“Last year, we told them that we had concerns about the timing of the event … and their permit would not be allowed,” he said.

Simoni said she’s not a race organizer so couldn’t speak to that. But she said people are accustomed to the race being held on Memorial Day.

“It happens to be the largest-attended, 50-mile race in the country,” she said. “It’s a beautiful time of the year. … Memorial Day … makes it easy to attend.”

“This is kind of an arbitrary decision,” she said. “I think there would need to be a study done to justify the decision.”

Simoni thinks the race could be rerouted away from any sensitive areas.

Atkinson said he’s not picking on the horse riders. To protect wildlife, dogs are banned from Spenceville from March 15 to June 30, and hunting is banned from Jan. 31 to Aug. 30, except for a special, 15-day hunt to control the number of turkeys, a non-native bird.

The horse racers sought help from Nevada County Supervisor Elizabeth Martin, who wrote a letter Thursday to DFG Director Robert Hight asking for information about the decision.

“The event is important to the people of Nevada County and to our overall agricultural and local business economy,” Martin wrote.

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