Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Walking With Sunshine

Recently, veteran journalist George Knapp jotted down a few quick thoughts about BLM’s promotion of Nevada Wild Horse & Burro Lead Susie Stokke (a.k.a. Susie Sunshine) to a shiny new position at the National Program Office.

Appropriately titled, “How To Get Promoted At The BLM: Screw Up”, the Knappster reminisces how he always found Susie overflowing with optimism about the Wild Horse & Burro Program despite catching her red-handed telling lies about the budget, wild horse deaths by gathers, by outbreaks of disease, by poisoning, by shootings and a miserable state adoption record. He also mentions the overflowing corrals filled with what he coins as potential “Mr. Ed Burgers” due to the only thing he acknowledged she was good at – removing wild horses by the thousands.

(Note: Let’s not forget the criminal charges filed by a Las Vegas local against Ms. Stokke alleging inappropriate behavior, hostility, intimidation, humiliation, threats, coercion, etc. while he was attempting to adopt a mustang. Click Here to view.)

Well, the Knappster got me wondering, just what is Susie doing at the National level these days? So I asked her and straight from the horse’s mouth - so to speak – here’s how she described her new position.

“I am a National WH&B Program Specialist. I am responsible for professional and technical assistance, policy guidance and training for WH&B specialists in the ten western states. My replacement will be Alan Shepherd, who is currently in Wyoming. He reports on June 21st. In the interim, I continue to support Nevada’s WH&B Program, together with Paul McGuire, who is currently on detail to Nevada from Oklahoma.”

Well, if it’s not enough to scare the bejeezus out of us that she is now training everyone in the WH&B Program to mimic her techniques, further inquiry revealed part of the “policy guidance” she was referring to includes helping craft the new National Policy Manual for the WH&B Program.

That’s right, BLM was so happy with her ability to be caught in bold face lies, intimidating those trying to adopt mustangs and being able to smile all the while wild horses were dropping dead like flies without the slightest accountability, they decided Sunshine’s special techniques must be permanently incorporated in the Program on a nationwide scale!

In addition to all the Knappster mentioned, both in his recent article as well as the prolific amount of Investigative Reports he has produced over the years, here’s a few items I’d like to share about Ms. Sunshine techniques that I think earned her this prestige’s position as well.

*As Field Manager for the Surprise Field Office, she supervised a gather proposal that also incorporated a new AML (Allowable Management Level) for the High Rock wild horses into one slick, tidy bundle. The technique used to set the new AML was vastly different than the one previous managers used. Instead, a formula based on Animal Unit Months was used that had no foundation in forage or water production for the area. It was also recently discovered in another BLM document that one of the water sources cited for the High Rock area as “heavily utilized by wild horses” back then just happened to be fenced off several years prior to the proposal with no wild horse use even possible due to the fencing.

This Preliminary Round up/AML proposal was released to the public for a 30-day review but before the public comment period even closed, an emergency gather was initiated and the High Rock wild horses were removed down to the newly proposed population level. However, Susie didn’t find it necessary to tell the public BLM had already removed them until a few months later - after the horses were long gone and the chance to appeal the decision had conveniently vanished.

Shortly after Stokke’s stunning coupe in the High Rock HMA, she found herself promoted to Nevada’s WH&B Lead. From here, she proceeded to oversee Herd Management Plans and AML reductions throughout Nevada. Some of these included:

*Applying two different interpretations of the same formula used to set AMLs for the Muddy Mountains and Johnnie wild burros; one interpretation zeroed out the Muddy Mountain burros while the other was reinterpreted to allow only burros; wild horses in the Johnnie HMA were zeroed out instead. As for the technique she used, which just happened to be the same one used for the High Rock wild horses, here’s what Nevada Department of Wildlife’s Brad Hardenbrook had to say about it.

“Since the water data and analysis is absent and the calculated AUMs (animal unit months) are misleading averages and inconsistently applied, the summary and conclusions of the Bureau’s PEA are not valid for the Johnnie and Wheeler Pass HMAs”.

*Susie also oversaw the Nevada Wild Horse Range Herd Management Area Plan, where the “No Action Alternative” flat out lied about the fact that in 2004, BLM had already legally committed to establishing new water wells to help compensate for all the water sources wild horses had been fenced out of over the years. There was also that little speed bump of BLM stating in their Preliminary Proposal they had no authority to authorize an all-gelding herd without a change in the WH&B Act by Congress – and then they went ahead in the final decision and approved it anyway. Also, let’s not forget how she orchestrated the wild horse removals with the help of State Director Wenker to circumvent BLM Instruction Memorandum 2004-151, which require BLM to issue a round up EA to the public if they knew the wild horses would need to be removed at least 30 days in advance. Apparently, BLM issuing a Preliminary Gather EA almost a year prior to the “emergency removals” failed to qualify as needing to comply with their own removal policies.

*She also helped draft last fall’s Preliminary Herd Management Plan for the Gold Butte burros, which snuck in an authorization to schedule removals whenever burro populations reached 50% of their established AML, currently set at 98 burros. Despite this being the last burro herd left in the Lake Mead area BLM has yet to zero out, it's BLMs intention to remove them whenever population’s “swell” to 49, which of course means they will only leave about 20 after each round up. As far as I know, this plan is still pending….

And so, as Ms. Sunshine has left behind a trail of empty ranges and zeroed out herds, we can now look forward to her applying all she has learned on the national level.

If Susie’s oversight in creating the National Handbook wasn’t enough, there is the very real possibility it will be written and implemented without having to go through any sort of NEPA process (a legal requirement of normal proposals). Over the years, BLM has leaned heavily on this method for managing our wild herds until it has become a common place tool that can then be used to circumvent legally required analysis, public disclosure and opportunity for comment or even accountability for the long string of policies they set in motion for which there's no public recourse.

According to Ms. Stokke, the only people BLM intends to run the new WH&B Policy Handbook by for approval is the National WH&B Advisory Board. Kind of helps explain why BLM was so adamant about reappointing the same Board Members who have been overseeing their failed policies the last several years – they still needed them to put their rubber stamp on the new National Policy Manual.

Recently in her March 2, 2009 public comments, wild horse advocate Julianne French focused on the issue of the Advisory Board and BLM’s recent reappointment's. Here’s a sampling of what she had to say.

“The present Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board reminds me of special interest lobbyists that influence lawmakers decision and policies. The deceitful maneuvering can only occur as long as the public is denied access to information….The cruel and ruthless recommendation of the Board at the last meeting to dispense wild horses and burros instantly without title to foreign countries and kill healthy wild horses is a testament to the BLM’s ongoing selection of board members opposed to existence of wild horses and burros on public lands.Click Here to read her full comments.

As for whether the new Handbook will be open for public review or comment, I’m still waiting on a response from BLM. Speaking of waiting, that’s not the only thing I’ve been waiting for…

When I first began to pursue information about what was going on in Nevada with our wild herds, Nevada State Director Ron Wenker requested I stop contacting the local Field Offices and only communicate with WH&B Lead Susie Stokke.

This past November, I was then asked by the National Program Office (NPO) to stop contacting other states or field offices when I request Post-Gather Reports but to go through the NPO instead. Well, three separate requests and five weeks later, I’m still waiting…

Which reminds me. Guess what I noticed has disappeared from the WH&B Monthly Statistics page on BLM’s website? The numbers of wild horses and burros in Long and Short Term Holding. From the new title, which excludes Facility Statistics, it looks like BLM doesn’t intend to report them so “publicly” anymore. Click Here to view. Guess the GAO’s recommendation for more transparency is not something BLM sees as clearly necessary despite their dismal track record almost 33,000 wild horses and burros can attest too.

While I’m on the subject of promotions, apparently Nevada State Director Ron Wenker, who was briefly promoted to Acting National Director, was replaced last month by Mike Pool, formerly BLM’s California State Director.

In true irony, these are the only two BLM State Directors I have ever had any dealings with and I truly can’t decide which is worse; the guy that said “no” to water for wild horses and burros in Nevada and approved of permanently removing almost 1.6 million more acres of wild horse and burro habitat or the guy who first agreed to answer questions about zeroing out the Clark Mountain burros and then refused when he realized the request was demanding BLM do so in relation to the cumulative impacts their decision would have on the handful of remaining wild burro herds. (A analysis of cumulative impacts is required by law through the National Environmental Protection Act).

As for Director Pool’s oversight of California’s wild horses and burros, here’s what wild horse crusader Kathleen Hayden and champion of the Coyote Canyon wild horses had to say when she heard about Director Pool’s recent promotion.

Is anyone aware of how obstructive this man has been in California on Wild Horse & Burro issues? He was a major participant in the Desert Managers Group that removed all wild horses and burros from Southern California to Nevada, bypassing Congressional mandates such as the National Historic Preservation Act, Sec. 106, NEPA, CEQA, FLPMA, and management of herd areas as covenants running with the land. He facilitated the extinction of rare breeds on public lands”.

The Hayden’s ongoing struggle for the Coyote Canyon herds rightful place on their legally designated range, what BLM did to them – and consequently, the American people who were promised they would be protected and preserved - has recently been highlighted on Madeleine Pickens website. Thank you Madeleine!
Click Here to learn more.

Photo at top of captured High Rock wild horse, #9468.


Barbara said...

I hope and pray that this insult to justice will be investigated by Congress. The BLM has gotten by with corruption for way too long. This is an atrocity !

Cheryl Ann said...

It's hard to realize people like this are IN CHARGE of our wild horses! My gosh!