Monday, December 29, 2008

The Prestige

This is Part VI of a six part series on the newly approved Ely Resource Management Plan, which permanently eliminated almost 1.6 million acres of habitat and over a dozen wild horse Herd Management Areas in the Fall of 2008.

In 1971, when Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act, the BLM was legally mandated to reverse course; going from actively hunting and killing wild horses and burros in order to reserve forage exclusively for livestock to now being required to protect and preserve wild horses and burros and their habitat instead.

There are many historical accounts of how this change in federal mandates did not sit well with many in the agency or the livestock operators personnel and their families had to work and live with in what were often remote regions throughout the West. Ingrained attitudes of prejudice and political pressure continued to operate behind the scenes from all sides and history has documented the long road of intolerance levied against our wild herds.

As the public felt assured through the passage of the Act that America’s mustangs and burros would now be legally protected and preserved, many moved on to the business of living, falsely believing the herds were now safe from inhumane hunting, slaughter and rangeland “thugs”.

Yet to those whose income depended on revenue generated from public resources such as livestock, oil, mining and gas, their business of living caused them to never forget the mouthful of grass each wild horse consumed. From the time the Act was passed, they have led a ceaseless march to undermine those protections and whittle away our herds.

With wallets fat from the harvest of public lands subsides, they were poised to buy the ears of enterprising politicians and subsequently, the legal protections granted wild horses and burros were continuously eroded and constantly under attack.

The stratagems employed were multi-leveled, ranging from proposals that were “site specific” to sweeping land use plans issuing decisions affecting millions of acres of public resources, compromised of management “alternatives” both proposed and approved by the agency, as well as employing tactics on every level in between.

Herds and habitat would be zeroed out under “new” amendments, documents referenced in support of their decisions often demanded a Freedom of Information Act request to gain access too, new regulations and policies were continually being cranked out; from the Federal Register, from the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board, from Resource Advisory Councils stacked heavily with livestock permittees, from internal agency memos that altered long standing policies and finally, sometimes BLM just asserted “professional discretion” to those who tried to challenge them legally or within the meeting rooms that carve up public lands.

As for the players behind the scenes, they had nothing but time, funds and connections to network their agendas in order to block, obscure and manipulate both state and federal laws to serve their interests, which of course were not in the interests of America’s free-roaming herds.

Since Nevada is home to the majority of America’s remaining wild horses, the political persuasions and history that comprise the backbone of wild horse country help illustrate the insidious process behind the decisions that continue to impact our Living Legends throughout the West, such as found within the Ely District’s newly approved Resource Management Plan.

The Sage Brush Rebellion, a phrase coined for a coalition of cattlemen, mining and timber interests, began going head to head with the federal government for what they considered unfair control of their land and property, even though “their land” and all the federal subsides that come with it, are legally described as public land.

The state of Nevada is often referred to as the cradle of the Sagebrush Rebellion and long-time Winnemucca cattleman Dean Rhodes has been attributed as holding the prestigious titles of both Founder and Father.

When Father Rhodes was not devoting his life to ranching, he was devoting it to climbing Nevada’s political ladder. Today, we can find him dispensing his brand of federal defiance from the halls of the Nevada legislature. He currently serves as a Nevada Senator, chairperson of the Senates powerful Natural Resource Committee and the Nevada Interim Committee on Public Lands. However, Father Rhodes couldn’t do it alone and when it comes to the Sagebrush Rebels, the Ely District may lie at very heart of the Rebellion's instigators and supporters.

“Wise Use Withers?” an article published by Ted Williams in 2002, was about the Sagebrush Rebellion copycat movement re-branded as Wise Use for more palatable public ingestion. The article quoted Newt Gingrinch as stating, “We have to find a way to build a bigger coalition” while Dan Barry from CLEAR, a professional watcher of the movement said, “Wise Use is down but not out. There are a lot of signs that it is getting serious about developing political maturity-media outreach, funding and real grass-roots activism.”

More Nevada based politics rippled out as Nevada Senator Harry Reid was also rumored to be the co-sponsor of the despicable 2005 Burns Amendment (a rumor Senator Reid adamantly denied), which repealed wild horse and burro protection from slaughter and instead mandated every wild horse and burro over 10 years old or failing to be adopted after three tries be sold without limitation until every one of them had been disposed of.

Yet evidence suggests the inception of the Burns Amendment’s was taken straight from the text of a 1998 Wild Horse Management Plan(1) mandated from Nevada’s own legislature. The plan was paid for by the Nevada Commission for the Preservation of Wild Horses, originally created to protect and preserve Nevada’s wild horses from funds obtained from the last will and testament of concerned philanthropist, Leo Heil.

So how exactly did Conrad Burns get a hold of this text if not for Senator Reid, who has continued to do nothing to repeal the Burns Amendment or investigate the Wild Horse and Burro Program? Click Here to learn more.

By the way, most of the now broke and soon to be defunct Wild Horse Commission’s funds are currently sitting in Texas. In yet another deal gleaned through the Nevada legislation in 2003, a legal cap on the Commission’s annual expenditures was repealed in order to form a partnership with BLM (to the tune of $400,000 each) in the creation of the Mustang Heritage Foundation.

So is it any wonder, as the details have been uncovered regarding Ely’s hot-off-the-press Resource Management Plan, little adherence to national law, regulation or policy was found?

According to BLMs Code of Federal Regulations, “If necessary to provide habitat for wild horses and burros, to implement herd management actions, or to protect wild horses and burros from disease, harassment or injury, the authorized officer may close appropriate areas of public lands to grazing use by all or a particular kind of livestock”, CFR 4710.5(a).

How can BLM justify 545,267 Animal Unit Months (AUMs) given to livestock within their jurisdiction, continue to authorize year long livestock grazing within the very same areas wild horses were zeroed out from all the while maintaining their actions are legal?

Meanwhile, BLMs Wild Horse and Burro Division Chief, the head honcho of the Program, looked me right in the eye with a group of others who attended the Wild Horse and Burro Summit this last October in Las Vegas and stated not once, but twice, he didn't know a thing about it. Common on, give me a break! However, if he was sincere, it would go a long way in explaining how the Program has elevated to the current level of crisis.

The Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act required wild horses and burros to be preserved in the areas they were found in 1971 and in order to accomplish this, BLM is required to “consider them comparable with other resource values in the formulation of land use plans”, CFR 4700.0-6(b).

How does this land use plan preserve them in those legally designated areas, provide comparable consideration of resources and conform to multiple use mandates within those areas now zeroed out as BLM’s newly issued score card now reads: Livestock 100% - Wild horses 0%?

Another one of BLMs mandates states, “Management shall be at the minimum level necessary to attain the objectives identified in approved land use plans and herd management area plans”, CFR 4710.4.

It has already been clearly established BLMs land use plans objectives require them to give equal consideration to wild horses and burros, which they obviously did not, yet here we also find BLMs unchallenged interpretation of “minimal management” to mean zero wild horses or habitat while Herd Management Plan has been interpreted to mean plans that will only manage livestock and big game.

If the objective was truly “minimal management” without incorporating the need to do what was necessary to preserve them, why pass the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act at all?

Furthermore, how does spending millions of dollars to remove wild horses and burros under the guise of protecting the range and its forage, which is then re-allocated to livestock, meet BLMs minimal management objectives? How does BLM spending millions more to provide water in long-term holding troughs versus developing reliable water sources on the range meet this minimal criteria or their federal obligations to protect and preserve them?

BLM is also required to “manage wild horses and burros as self-sustaining populations of healthy animals in balance with other uses and the productive capacity of their habitat” CFR 4700-6(a).

Yet the recent decision issued for the Ely RMP, which included the Delamar Herd Management Area, is a glaring example of abuse of discretion, authority and the public trust. While BLM acknowledged there was sufficient water, forage, space and cover for wild horses, the only factor cited by BLMs as reason to zero them out was the population level they themselves established as being "non-reproductively viable".

With regards to the productive capacity of the habitat, BLM has affirmed the Delamar livestock allotment is productive enough to support 454 head of cattle year round but somehow, they found it is no longer productive enough to support wild horses on this same range?

The illegally sanctioned actions continued as a Protest was filed with BLM in December 2007 regarding the Ely District's Proposed Plan. Click Here to review.

Due to the passage of the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act, wild horses and burros are considered a “Special Status Species” due to the protections afforded them through the Act. In addition to being federally protected, they are also a state protected species through Nevada Revised Statutes (NRS 504.430 to 504.490).

BLM even defined special status species in the Ely Proposed RMP as, “Special status species include federally listed, proposed, or candidate species, state protected species, and BLM sensitive species” and according to BLMs Land Use Planning Handbook, BLM is required to “re-initiate consultation in land use plans when there has been significant change since the original consultation was completed. Based on these criteria, consultation on land use plan and implementation decisions must be reinitiated if any new information shows that the plan decisions may affect Special Status Species or critical habitat in a way or to an extent not previously considered.”

One of the protest points submitted to BLM was the need to consider and incorporate the new August 2, 2007 ruling by the Interior Board of Land Appeals (172 IBLA 128) regarding wild horse management, as IBLA decisions are suppose to legally bind the actions of the Department of the Interior.

IBLA ruled there is nothing in the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act prohibiting BLM from augmenting wild herds to prevent inbreeding and bolster genetic viability in wild populations. Therefore, the premise that a herd could be zeroed out merely because of low population levels was thrown out by IBLA but yet again, neither BLMs own policies instituted for land use planning or the rulings of IBLA mattered as they continued their trek towards the managed extinction of America’s free-roaming herds.

In a 1998 Congressional Subcommittee Hearing held in Reno, Nevada(2), Lincoln County Commissioner Rey Flake shared his vision of the future for wild horse management as “having one or two herds of horses in each state”. It is worth noting that Lincoln County just happens to be part of the area found within the Ely District’s new Resource Management Plan.

The record shows Father Rhodes cast his vote for Commissioner Flakes vision by stating, “...we would probably put up some vistas and interpretive centers and so forth” then also added, “Then you could remove all the other horses from the west on much of our grazing lands.”


A "Prestige" is a term used by Magician’s to describe their top illusion, often coveted by others in the trade and saved as the shows Grand Finale. In what can only be considered the unfolding final act of the Magicians "Wild Horse Prestige”, many of the wild herds from the Ely area will soon join the ranks of tens of thousands like them, now potentially facing an authorized firing squad or if they’re lucky, perhaps they will come to live on Madeleine Pickens Wild Horse Sanctuary complete with vistas and interpreting centers, as the seeds planted by Nevada’s Sagebrush Rebels continue to ripen and bear their rotten fruit.

(1) Draft Nevada Wild Horse Management Plan for Federal Lands to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Nevada Ecological Consulting, Inc., August 1998.
(2) 1998 Congressional Subcommittee Hearing of National Parks and Public Lands held in Reno on July 13th titled, “Field Hearing on Range Issues and Problems with the Wild Horse and Burro Act and Its Implementation.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Magicians

This is Part V of a six part series on the newly approved Ely Resource Management Plan, which permanently eliminated almost 1.6 million acres of habitat and over a dozen wild horse Herd Management Areas in the Fall of 2008.

In the 2007 Ely Resource Management Plan (RMP), approximately 11.2 millions acres were reported by BLM as authorized for livestock grazing versus 5.4 million acres for wild horses (now down to 3.7 million acres after high ranking BLM D.C. officials gave the plan two thumbs up!)

BLM also reported there were 142 livestock permittees authorized for 234 allotments via 129 cattle operators and 10 sheep operators. Of these, 9 operators were reported as controlling 87 of the allotments totaling 204,225 Animal Unit Months (AUMs). This equates to 9 operators controlling 38% of the entire Districts livestock authorizations.

While BLM provided the summary statistics cited above, when it comes to how much forage is actually being allocated for livestock use, the numbers became just a tad fuzzy (okay, really fuzzy) as BLM reported a variety of livestock authorizations for the planning District.

In one section of the 2007 RMP, BLM reported forage issued to livestock ranged from 122k to 262k AUMs between 1992 and 2001 as illustrated here:

1992 194,823 AUMs…….............……….1997 173,152 AUMs
1993 168,620 AUMs…………............…..1998 271,354 AUMs
1994 165,649 AUMs……………..............1999 256,895 AUMs
1995 153,513 AUMs……………..............2000 258,496 AUMs
1996 122,204 AUMs……………..............2001 262,332 AUMs

Note: BLM reported the huge jump in livestock use between 1997 and 1998 was due to the transference of 98,000 AUMs from the Las Vegas Field Office.

In another section, which provided detailed information about each individual grazing allotment, BLM reported livestock authorizations had now climbed to a whopping 545,267 AUMs by 2007.

Yet in 2005, when BLM published the Preliminary RMP, only 501,405 AUMs was reported as authorized for livestock grazing, which also happens to be the current livestock authorizations obtained last week from BLMs Rangeland Administration System. (However, no current records were found for the Tippett allotment, reported in 2007 as authorizing 12,800 AUMs for both cattle and sheep, so this allotment is missing from the December 2008 total).

Notice too that BLM failed to report livestock authorizations for 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2006 despite the Proposed RMP being published in November 2007.

As only the masters of the shell game can do, while livestock AUMs were going up in 2005, BLM cut 2,880 AUMs of available forage for wild horse use in 2004.

Again, as BLM was reporting the highest livestock authorizations ever at 545,267 AUMs in 2007 (drought, what drought?), they were simultaneously planning another reduction of 5,352 AUMs for wild horses just four years after the last cut.

Livestock grazing allotments affecting the “old” wild horse Herd Management Areas prior to this new decision to re-shuffle, re-name and zero them out currently totals 288,353 AUMs. This is in comparison to the range of 9,720 to 20,340 AUMs now allocated for wild horses in their protected habitat.

Yes, this "range" means BLM has authorized removals until they hit as low as 810 wild horses over 3.7 million acres. This equates to approximately 3% to 7% of the available forage issued just for livestock, never mind the additional forage still available but reserved for wildlife. Including that forage would add about twice as much to the available AUMs BLM is authorizing for livestock use and cause the paltry percentages given to wild horses to plummet even further down the percentage scale.

However, these figures won’t exactly apply anymore as many of the 288k AUMs issued for livestock won’t show up in future comparison analysis between wild horse and livestock authorizations because so many of the “old” HMAs have now been zeroed out.

There was a whole host of other problems with putting together these statistics as well. A big one was the fact that BLM failed to include just what percentage each HMA actually overlapped the grazing allotments affecting it.

One would think after almost 40 years, this basic information would be available somewhere – but it wasn’t - not even in the Environmental Impact Statement that is suppose to provide detailed information for the planning area (you know, the kind of information needed to determine if an area really qualifies for zero wild horses).

So the only way to get a reasonable idea of what the available forage really is, was to find out how much BLM was authorizing for each livestock allotment that overlapped the wild horse HMAs. While I’ll be the first to admit this is not a perfect method, because of BLMs failure to provide such basic information about what is actually happening and affecting these HMAs, it was the best that could be done for now.

Also, it is important to keep in mind that BLM is legally required to formulate management plans that demand, “Wild horses and burros shall be considered comparably with other resource values in the formulation of land use plans” (CFR 4700.0-6) as well as being required to consider the relationships with other uses of both the public and adjacent private lands (CFR 4710.3-1).

In other words, they are suppose to issue relationship oriented decisions that take into account what is occurring both within and outside the Herd Management Areas when they are formulating these plans.

So while BLM failed to report the exact percentage of livestock allotments overlapping each HMA, maybe it’s better to see everything that is happening around the HMAs too. After all, BLM is suppose to evaluate and make decisions based on what is occurring within the entire area, not just cut off it off when they hit the HMA boundaries!

While the whole story has yet to be revealed, here are some other interesting facts and statistics found within the Ely District regarding livestock and wild horse management.

*BLM identified 3,438 miles of fencing erected in the Ely District between 1958 and 2004. The Wilson Creek grazing allotment had 20 springs targeted for fencing between 1993-1995 alone. (It is not known how many were actually implemented.)

*The Henrie Complex livestock allotment, which overlaps the now zeroed out Blue Nose Peak and Meadow Valley HMAs, had been cited for livestock trespasses since November 2004. This is one of four allotments issued to permittee Robert Lewis, all of which BLM filed livestock trespass notices on. It was also the same area BLM conducted Emergency Wild Horse Removals in 2006 due to wildfires. Yet, while livestock were trespassing for two years prior to the “emergency removals” and wild horses were removed to “protect the range”, BLM continued to renew grazing authorizations in all four of Mr. Lewis’s allotments with no suspended AUMs; BLM merely required Mr. Lewis to “keep livestock from the burned portions of the allotments.”

*The Henrie Complex, as well as Mr. Lewis other allotments, contains another very interesting feature; they are all part of multiple livestock allotments occurring just outside and around Areas of Critical Environmental Concern set aside for Desert Tortoise protection. Still, the new RMP continued to approve livestock authorizations for these allotments totaling 40,015 AUMs, enough to feed 3,334 wild horses year round.

Oh yea, one more thing; almost every single one of these allotments still hasn’t been evaluated by BLM for Rangeland Health Standards but rest assured, the Desert Tortoise is now safe because the real threat, wild horses, have been eradicated!

*The Little Mountain grazing allotment overlapping the now zeroed out Little Mountain HMA was reported by BLM as being “relinquished” due to Desert Tortoise issues in the 2007 RMP. However, BLMs current grazing authorizations downloaded just last week now show 399 active AUMs have been issued for 66 cattle between 5/01 to 10/31 (Authorization #2705049), the equivalent of 33 wild horses year round. The AML BLM had formerly established for the Little Mountain HMA was 15 wild horses.

*The now zeroed out Applewhite HMA corresponds identically to the Applewhite grazing allotment, still authorized year round for 47 head of cattle, despite it too failing to be evaluated for Rangeland Health Standards.

*While BLM was approving the removal of 65,500 acres from the former Highland Peak HMA due to its “unsuitability”, in March, May, June and December 2008, they were also busy approving 8,709 AUMs for livestock use in four separate grazing allotments that overlap it and permittees continue to run 6,652 sheep and 293 cattle at various times throughout the year.

*The now zeroed out Delamar Mountains HMA is currently authorized for 16,154 AUMs for exclusive livestock use and runs at least 464 cattle year round, despite it also failing to be evaluated for Rangeland Health Standards. While BLM did report forage, water, cover and space were adequate in the Delamar Mountain HMA for wild horses, the excuse BLM used to zero it out was the AML of 51-85 wild horses (set by BLM) failed to represent a genetically viable herd.

*The grazing allotments affecting the now zeroed out Jakes Wash (formerly approved for 31 wild horses) are currently authorized for 13,855 AUMs with a total of 2,075 cattle and 3,131 sheep being run throughout the year (enough forage to feed 1,154 wild horses) and allotments affecting the now zeroed out Seaman HMA (formerly approved for 159 wild horses) are still doling out a generous 17,182 AUMs for exclusive livestock use (enough to feed 1,431 wild horses).

*The Wilson Creek grazing allotment, which spans almost 1.1 million acres and affects both the Dry Lake HMA (now known as Silver King) and the Wilson Creek HMA (now known as Eagle) was such a complicated disaster, an entire report had to be prepared just to begin to get an idea of what might be really going on there. Though still incomplete, Click Here to learn more.

By the way, many of the Wilson Creek grazing allotments have now been bought up by the Southern Nevada Water Authority, so we can expect much of Wilson Creeks water to soon be piped to Las Vegas to support a new “thriving ecological balance” instead.

*In 1991, BLM issued a report for the Wilson Creek Allotment that established the current wild horse AMLs. With regards to the Patterson Seedings pasture, BLM stated this portion of the allotment was not within the Wilson Creek HMA and therefore all wild horses would be removed. However, in reviewing a map overlay of current allotments, approximately 50% of the Patterson Seeding pasture overlapped the Patterson/Eagle Herd Area, now known as the Wilson Creek HMA. (Do you think the name Patterson/Eagle Herd Area gave away the fact that wild horses were actually on the allotment in 1971 at the passage of the Act and that’s why BLM changed the name to Wilson Creek?)

BLM stated Patterson Seeding pasture had been fenced prior to the passage of the Act and though four separate appeals were filed with the Interior Board of Land Appeals, IBLA specifically affirmed this would be a Horse Free Area (IBLA decision 89-206, 90-243), despite it sitting smack dab in the middle of wild horse territory on every side.

*Regarding wild horse utilization levels, in the same 1991 report BLM used a desired utilization rate of 30% for wild horses on riparian areas in the Muleshoe/Maloy/Fairview areas as the basis for determining the areas wild horse AML. Yet BLM also cited riparian “objectives” included, “limit[ing] use on wet meadows and stream riparian areas in less than good condition to 30 percent for grass and grass-like species by all animals yearlong….” BLM went on to add they would use the same 30% limitations within pronghorn antelope kidding grounds too.

So how does that work, wild horse AMLs being established for a 30% utilization level while simultaneously restricting utilization levels to 30% for all animals?

If anyone thinks Obama’s pick for our new Secretary of the Interior, Colorado Senator Ken Salazar, will be giving the Ely Districts wild horses and the new “thriving ecological balance” a fair hearing, think again.

Senator Salazar has a long and active history of supporting livestock domination on public lands (he accepted the nomination dressed in a cowboy hat and a bolero!) and we only have to look at what’s been happening to public lands in Colorado, as well as their wild horse statistics, to get an idea of what the future holds under Sala-Czar’s leadership.

He also enthusiastically supported former Secretary of the Interior Gail Norton, now known for leaving a legacy of corruption, political meddling and twisted policies that are still being exposed and under investigation today. So much for his ability to judge both character and sound public policy….

Sala-Czar can also be counted as one who voted against reversing the Burns Amendment to repeal the sale of wild horses and burros for slaughter and the grapevine reports ~ he HATES wild horses with a passion! Click Here to read more of Sala-Czar's checkboard past.

And so, in this promised time of “change”, the Magicians behind public lands exploitation are again poised in our “new” ObamaNation to continue practicing their art of deception on both the American people and our vanishing herds.

For a more in depth analysis of each individual HMA
and their overlapping grazing allotments,
Click Here.

The "New" Secretary of the Interior
Colorado Senator Ken Salazar

(1) Ely Proposed Resource Management Plan/Final Environmental Impact Statement, Table 3.16-1, pg. 3.16-7.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Nothing Up Our Sleeve

This is Part IV of a six part series on the newly approved Ely Resource Management Plan, which permanently eliminated almost 1.6 million acres of habitat and over a dozen wild horse Herd Management Areas in the Fall of 2008.

As the BLM Ely District was approving the elimination of wild horses within their jurisdiction, citing lack of “available” forage and water and scheduling emergency removals, they were also publishing an environmental assessment to analyze the impacts of adding 25 new water developments that would "especially benefit big game". (1)

Of these, 17 will be installed in wild horse Herd Management Areas (HMAs); Wilson Creek, Deer Lodge Canyon, Clover Mountains and Delamar Mountains, two of which BLM just zeroed out.

While BLM continually cites the need to reduce and remove wild horse populations to maintain the “thriving natural ecological balance”, that balance continues to be manipulated as BLM uses this logic to analyze and approve their partnership with Nevada Department of Wildlife.

Throughout the proposal, BLM provides various summaries of how these improvements will fence out wild horses but are necessary for continued expansions of big game range and populations, will allow them to utilize habitat they would otherwise be unable to occupy (non-naturally occurring), and how they will mitigate lost water sources from “other” human developments (that BLM is mostly in charge of approving).

While describing how expanding the big game populations will impact the area, BLM downplayed their impacts on available forage for wild horses as well as describing impacts to livestock grazing as “minimal”.

When it came to describing wild horse impacts to the expanding wildlife, BLM noted "the potential for increased competition" for forage due to wild horse presence, depending on the numbers and carrying capacity of the areas.

Of course, no information was provided as to what these numbers are or will be or just what the carrying capacity actually is but asking them to publicly report this information, they just fall back on the old trusty "we don't manage wildlife" excuse. Really....

BLM also stated wild horses may be displaced, experience a disruption of normal behavioral patterns during the construction, implementation, or operation of some of the developments within the project area.

And what exactly does that mean? They may be displaced from implementation or operation of adding water to an area, water they are not allowed to access….

BLM also noted under Wildlife that “Some of these projects and actions could increase….competition for habitat niches” as well as, “[also] decrease forage quality, quantity, and composition.”

The first question is, increasing competition of habitat niches for whom? (Something BLM fails completely to address). And then there is this little gem “…forage quality, quantity and composition may decrease but BLM goes ahead and approves the proposal anyway?

What a fabulous double standard these mammalian money trees seem to be privy too and what a difference between this and how BLM writes a wild horse and burro proposal!

Then BLM states, “According to the new Resource Management Plan (RMP), resources management would occur by watershed.”

Watershed, huh? So the RMP zeros out areas for wild horses because there is no water and once they have been officially approved for elimination, BLM turns around and approves adding water developments for big game to expand. BLM also reported that “in the past 25+ years, over 100 small game guzzlers and more than 76 big game guzzlers [have been] constructed throughout the Ely District”.

Anyone know how many water developments BLM provided in these same 25+ years for wild horses and/or burros? (Excluding the troughs in the long and short term holding facilities….)

Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) was quoted by BLM regarding the 2008 big game populations as;

“pronghorn antelope are currently at record high populations but “NDOW continues to augment populations and develop reliable water sources through their available habitat.”

Rocky Mountain Elk were cited as "...increasing marginally in 2007 with populations increasing during the past 10 years” but “NDOW estimates that less than half the potential elk habitat…is being utilized, owing in part to the lack of, or improper distribution of water sources.”

Remember the response issued by BLM Nevada State Director Ron Wenker on June 13, 2007, when wild horse advocates tried to sponsor a similar water development deal for wild horses?

In that response, Director Wenker stated, “Providing water (on either a temporary or long-term basis) is not a substitute for lack of forage.”

He went on to add, “BLM generally avoids developing artificial water (such as wells) for wild horses and burros. We try to rely on naturally occurring water instead. When we establish the appropriate management level (AML), we carefully consider the amount of forage and perennial water which is available. We attempt to achieve the goal of establishing a thriving natural ecological balance at the minimum feasible level of management. While we recognize that wild horses and burros do utilize artificially developed water sources, we try to make sure the animals are not dependent on these waters as their only source. This is because if horses depend on artificial water and that source should fail, their lives could be at risk.” Click Here to read Director Wenker’s letter in full.

Apparently, water developments for "wildlife" aren’t at risk of failing like they are for wild horses and burros. Additionally, their water developments allow big game to expand due to the “now available forage” that simultaneously isn’t available if they were installed for wild horses or burros. Also, while this same habitat is considered “unsuitable” for wild horses, turns out elk can potentially expand by over 50% of where they are currently found.

So does anyone else find BLMs management standards for wild horses and burros a tad hypocritical in comparison to big game species?

Yet isn’t BLM just doing what they are told after President Bush signed yet another Executive Order on August 17, 2007 mandating all agencies place hunting as a top priority, on Order that was blasted by Jeff Ruch, Executive Director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) who stated, “This is political meddling posing as a conservation policy and reads like it was written by a lobbyist”. (2)

Now rumors are surfacing that President Elect Barack Obama may be leaning towards Mike Thompson, Safari Club Internationals top pick as our new Secretary of the Interior as the big bucks of big game continue to climb the public lands priority ladder.

For those of you interested in only the financial side of management, as this is the reason over 30,000 wild horses and burros lives are now at risk, listed in the May 2008 Agenda for the Nevada Board of Wildlife Commissioners was the sum of $15,864 for “Elk Damage Payment” to Double U Ranch.

So not only does Nevada Department of Wildlife have the funding to install 25 new water developments to expand big game populations, some of which is in now zeroed out wild horse territory, when it comes to managing elk, they don’t remove them, they just pay for damages - yet another perk of being on the right side of the “environmental” fence!

Trivia Question
While stories of our spiraling downward economies are dominating the news and Nevada continues to cut budget after budget in efforts to juggle statewide revenue shortfalls, how much was Nevada Department of Wildlife’s budget cut for fiscal year 2009?

(1) Big Game Wildlife Water Development Sites, EA NV-045-08-009, August 2008
(2) Environmental News Service (ENS)

Monday, December 8, 2008

For Our Next Trick

This is Part III of a six part series on the newly approved Ely Resource Management Plan, which permanently eliminated almost 1.6 million acres of habitat and over a dozen wild horse Herd Management Areas in the Fall of 2008.

Formerly known as a Deer Lodge Canyon wild horse -
now known as an Eagle wild horse.

No one seems to be really clear as to just how many acres were truly occupied by wild horses and burros in 1971 at the passage of the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act, especially after Congress gave BLM, U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and local ranchers a year to remove any “non-wild” horses and burros, aka, those under private ownership.

This “transition period” is reported to have resulted in yet another round of mass carnage for many of the free-roaming herds with U.S. Forest Service taking the lead role. USFS recognized every horse or burro left standing would require preservation and protection, something the agriculturally dominated agency wanted nothing to do with in the years to come!

According to records released by BLM in 2006, wild horse populations only totaled 17,300 across the entire West when they became “protected”. Yet between 1972-1973, BLM failed to report any populations at all and we can only speculate as to the grisly scenes being played out in the back woods and pastures of America as yet another mass cleansing ensued, this time under an official umbrella.

By 1974, over 42,000 horses were reported on public lands but according to BLM, they weren’t all wild and free as over 17,000 were reported as “private horses claimed”. For the next six years, BLM reported almost 70,000 horses disappeared under this clause as they were turned over to private individuals by the agency themselves. No records have yet been found as to how many disappeared on USFS’s side of the tracks…

Old time advocates have recounted this great “culling” being only part of the problem as BLM and USFS also failed to identify the full range of migratory routes the herds routinely used, preferring instead to just jot down where they found them on any particular day or deciding merely where they would like to manage them instead.

But records indicate by 1981, things seemed to have settled down, protected habitat was finally identified and so were the herds that somehow managed to survive, at least that’s how the story goes.

And then came Phase II, the culling of habitat, as BLM began a steady march to reduce the Herd Areas into Herd Management Areas all the while maintaining these Herd Areas are preserved in perpetuity - no matter if wild horses and burros were removed and haven’t inhabited these areas for decades.

While other public lands withdrawn by Congressional law such as National Parks, National Recreation Areas, Wildlife Refuges, etc. continue to be honored and protected under the mandates of why they were principally withdrawn, not so with wild horse and burro habitat or their populations.

Federally controlled land dedicated to “other” uses continue to have inherent appurtenances honored in their transfers such as; right of ways, easements, mineral, water, grazing and hunting rights while the appurtenances bestowed through legal conservation areas set aside for wild horse and burro preservation are placed as one of the lowest priorities of all dedicated public land uses.

Without acknowledged conservation rights aimed toward real preservation and protection, wild horses, burros and their habitat are managed more like public land feedlots and they have little chance of ever getting to live their entire life in a natural free-roaming state before they are culled for the domestic pipeline.

Re-branded, re-named and re-shuffled, here is what the wild herds and their historical ranges will now look like in the Ely District due to BLMs newly approved Resource Management Plan.

1,225,000 Acres
AML 250 to 518
Formerly known as Buck and Bald, Butte and Cherry Creek.
Former Buck and Bald wild horse -
now known as a Triple B wild horse.

855,000 Acres
AML 240 to 493
Formerly known as Monte Cristo and Sand Springs East.
Former Monte Cristo wild Horse -
now known as a Pancake wild horse.

670,000 Acres
AML 100-210
Formerly known as Deer Lodge Canyon and Wilson Creek.
Former Wilson Creek wild horse -
now known as an Eagle wild horse.

606,000 Acres
AML 60-128
Formerly known as Dry Lake, Rattlesnake, and Highland Peak.
Former Dry Lake wild horse -
now known as a Silver King wild horse.

Here is a map of the Nevada Ely District's New
Wild Horse Herd Management Areas.

The new HMAs in relation to the old Herd Areas.
The Herd Areas are outlined in the darker gray patches.

For a Summary of the New Wild Horse Herd Management Areas

To read of true life accounts of what was done "officially" to wild horses during this era, Click Here to read American Horse Defense Funds Hooflinks blogpost, "History Repeats".

Here are a few notable excerpts....

"According to the accounts of those there, 4 of the trapped horses by then had fallen over the cliff to their death's and 3 others had wedged horses so deeply in rock clefts they could not be freed. The throats of the 3 animals were cut with a hunting knife and their legs cut off with a chainsaw so the carcasses could be pushed over the cliff."

"According to the BLM-Forest Service report, 34 of the horses surviving the whole roundup were shipped to Robinson on March 1, 1973, to North Platte, Nebraska to be slaughtered for dog food. The animals were cleared for shipment from the stockyards at Rexburg, Idaho by a state brand inspector even though they were not branded and Robinson had no bill of sale to show he had acquired them from private owners. The inpsector said he was not familiar with the state law dealing with unbranded livestock."

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Watch The Rabbit Disappear

This is Part II of a six part series on the newly approved Ely Resource Management Plan, which permanently eliminated almost 1.6 million acres of habitat and over a dozen wild horse Herd Management Areas in the Fall of 2008.
Wild horse from the now zeroed out Jakes Wash Herd Management Area in BLMs Nevada Ely District.

So how exactly did BLM determine twelve former wild horse Herd Management Areas (HMAs) and 169,000 acres from four other HMAs were no longer suitable for wild horse management after at least forty years?

In the old days, BLM used to try to put on a pretense of sincere rangeland evaluations. The most accurate techniques previously used began with determining forage production for an area, which of course is subject to environmental conditions and fluctuations such as drought.

First BLM would clip, cut and harvest many varieties of plants and key forage species, dry them, weigh them and then determine about how many pounds per acre the evaluation area would yield. This method is a foundational rangeland management tool called forage production, something you will almost never hear BLM discussing these days as it is an extensive and time consuming process they rarely have the funding or personnel to commit too.

After determining what the areas forage production yielded, BLM would then calculate how many acres it would take to produce the amount of forage necessary to feed a cow and her calf for a month; this is known as carrying capacity. It was from these two base figures that BLM (or other agencies involved in land management and conservation practices) could determine about how many animals an area could support.

From here, the general rule of thumb was not to authorize more than 50% of the available forage for multiple use such as livestock grazing in order to allow a sufficient amount of forage to still remain to support wildlife.

But then a significant change was made back in the early 90’s and BLM began leaning heavily on a technique that measured utilization levels instead. This method is generally accepted as a fair monitoring tool for determining how heavily grazers are impacting key forage species and if necessary, to make adjustments based on these monitoring results.

Yet evidence suggests BLM began using the utilization technique to establish management levels on areas that never had forage production or carrying capacity calculated. The evidence also suggests BLM began re-affirming grazing use and wild horse and/or burro populations in decision after decision based on data that may have been twenty years old or older or were established in former land use plans as initial levels but were approved with the promise to measure forage production and carrying capacity at a later date, which of course never arrived.

One a side note, for those areas that BLM did analyze forage production and carrying capacity at some point in the distant past, it’s hard to determine if their grazing authorizations have had an impact over the years if they never take measurements again to compare the data too.

Regarding utilization levels, recent information from Western Watersheds culled from a collaborative monitoring effort with a reluctant BLM in Wyoming’s Green Mountain Allotment revealed some very interesting findings.

One of these included exposing the standard utilization “wheel” BLM uses to calculate utilization levels based on stubble height. It was proven to be highly inaccurate and “low-balled” the rating, sometimes severely! Another factor that emerged was the higher the actual utilization levels were, the more inaccurate the “wheel” became.

However, when it comes to wild horse and burro evaluations or establishing their allowable management levels, BLM has even more leeway!

While the Interior Board of Land Appeals issued a ruling mandating BLM must determine wild horse and burro “appropriate management levels” (AMLs) based on the productive capacity of the habitat, since BLM so often fails to measure what that capacity is, how then do they determine and authorize what appropriate wild horse and burro use is?

A new method was approved for wild horses and burros allowing BLM to “rate” five essential habitat components as the basis for their management decisions. Often times, there is little to no supporting data to back up these ratings besides an old fashion “trust us” statement that continues to be upheld by the watchdogs of the Wild Horse and Burro Program.

Oops! My bad as there is no watchdog for the Wild Horse and Burro Program, which demands BLM actually support their findings with real data! And so, they continue to get away with zeroing out herd and habitat alike, unchallenged and unperturbed.

And now we come full circle to the new Ely Resource Management Plan’s recent elimination of all that “protected” habitat and wild horse herds in their jurisdiction.

Despite reporting many of the livestock allotments have yet to be evaluated for their conformance with Rangeland Health Standards in several of the overlapping Herd Management Areas being zeroed out, BLM did not consider the utter lack of data to support their decisions of any significant concern.

Not that it would have made any difference if they had done the evaluations, as BLM would have stated like they always do that wild horses were found to be a “contributing factor” in failing to meet those standards without actually having to provide any evidence as to how they determined this or at what level wild horses were found to be "contributing".

The reason BLM didn’t need to worry about the lack of Rangeland Health Evaluations is because they don’t need any data to support zeroing out a herd anymore.

The only “comprehensive” information provided in the Proposed RMP was found on Table 3.8-2, where BLM used their rating system of the five essential habitat components; forage, water, space, cover and whether their previously approved wild horse AMLs were genetically viable.

In making their determinations to zero the herds out, little to no information, data or analysis was provided as to the number of water sources, water or forage production rates, carrying capacity, utilization levels, fencing, current livestock authorizations or wildlife populations as related to wild horse use in the Herd Management Areas.

The BLM Ely District only presented an “adequate” or “inadequate” rating as the basis for their recommendations. They then expanded their authority to remove these areas from future wild horse use using the following explanation;

“An “inadequate” rating in one or more of the five essential habitat suitability components was considered to render the HMA unsuitable. In several such cases, full evaluations of other components was either not conducted or not considered essential in the management decision.” (1)

Another illusion used in the show included citing an HMA failed to have “year long suitable habitat” like the Clover Mountains and Blue Nose Peak or Little Mountain and Miller Flat Herd Management Areas. BLM admitted knowing these HMAs actually provided habitat for the same herd as they exhibited that age-old wildlife pattern of summer and winter migration routes between each HMA.

Yet BLM reached into their trusty bag of tricks by stating the HMAs failed to have “year long suitability” and before anybody even had an opportunity to question or challenge the legality of this, less than a month before BLM went public with their final decision to approve zeroing out the herds, an emergency gather was initiated. (Click Here to learn more).

And so with a wave of their magic wand ~ Poof!

Watch the rabbits disappear…..

Wild Horse from the now zeroed out White River Herd Management Area
in BLM's Nevada Ely District.

To view a more comprehensive analysis of each Herd Management Area in the Ely District and the factors cited in their HMA ratings, Click Here.

(1) Ely Proposed Resource Management Plan/Final Environmental Impact Statement, Table 3.8-2, Footnote, pg. 3.19-6.