Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Mustang Meat Patties

While Madeline Pickens has been searching for a plan to rescue America's wild horses and burros, another plan has recently surfaced from the newly elected Wyoming State Representative, Sue Wallis.

In December 2008, The Horse Industry Policy, a resolution submitted by Rep. Wallis to the states National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) was passed after a vote session from the members of state legislators from all 50 U.S. states. The main focus of the resolution is to urge Congress not to pass federal legislation that would prohibit horse slaughter in the U.S. or interfere in the transport or export of horses to slaughter.

Prior to submitting her resolution of the Horse Industry Policy to the NCSL, Rep. Wallis first enlisted the aid of pro-slaughter state horse councils by asking them to provide letters showing their support for the return of horse slaughter in the U.S. These were then presented to the NCSL to substantiate the position that horse slaughter has broad based support in equine communities nationwide.

In case you are wondering what the heck the NCSL is, it is a self-described non-profit tax-exempt 501(c) 3 corporation that raises money to support the objectives and special projects of the States. Their mission statement includes, “…offers opportunities for business, national associations and unions seeking to improve the state legislative process and enhance NCSL’s services to all legislatures.” My guess is this is a generalized way of saying they are a lobbying firm that lobbies federal officials on behalf of state special interests.

While Wallis's plan for America's wild horses and burros is not revealed in the resolutions of The Horse Industry Policy, the first hint of what her intentions are behind the scenes begins to unfold with Wallis thanking the man she claimed was "instrumental" in getting the resolution passed, Conrad Burns.

Burns, a lobbyist who promotes the horse slaughter industry, is a former U.S. Senator from Montana responsible for sneaking an 11th hour amendment into the 2004 Agriculture Appropriations bill without review or a vote by either the people or Congress that was quickly signed into law by President Bush. The Burns Rider, as it became known, gutted almost forty years of wild horse and burro protections and now mandated their “unconditional sale until all excess horses had been disposed of”, including authorizing their sale for slaughter.

Even though his method to pass his legislation was both unethical and immoral, it was considered a triumph by the minority of elite public resource users who have long wanted wild horses and burros removed in favor of what they consider more profitable uses of public lands.

In addition to Rep. Wallis’s close relationship and mentoring by former Senator Conrad Burns, she has also began working with former Rep. Charles Stenholm, a lobbyist and spokesperson for the former Texas horse slaughtering facilities. It was this team that began coordinating what can only be described as full scale blitz to promote the return of horse slaughter facilities in the U.S.

Although the BLM has yet to implement the slaughter option granted by the Burns Rider, over the last eight years they have removed almost 80,000 wild horses and burros throughout the West, despite holding facilities being at or over capacity for several of those years.

As BLM has continued to pursue this irresponsible course of action (which has lacked any real accountability or oversight along the way), the inevitable consequences finally set the stage for their announcement last summer that they are now considering the option of killing or selling for slaughter those wild horses and burros currently held in the overflowing facilities - as well as all those BLM deems "excessive" in the future - in order to relieve their financial pressures.

Due to these aggressive removal policies, today there are over 33,000 wild horses now being warehoused in government pens and even BLM admits there are more horses in facilities than roaming free on the range.

While BLM has been busy creating this backlog of wild horses and burros and the eyes of the Nation have sat complacently waiting for Madeleine Pickens to single handedly save them from what many consider years of bungled management, hidden behind Wallis's Horse Industry Policy to slaughter America’s domestic horses is also several documents extolling the virtues of using this backlog of mustangs and burros to feed the worlds poor and hungry.

As Rep. Wallis parrots propaganda demanding “fiscal responsibility and accountability” through Power Point presentations highlighting how the selling of mustang meat to foreign countries is an appropriate way to solve BLMs financial crisis, she shows little interest in investigating the real root of the problem; specifically, she’s not interested in investigating the BLM for potential waste, fraud and abuse or possible legal violations within the Wild Horse & Burro Program itself. Instead, her focus is on grinding up the evidence under the guise of curing the worlds hunger problem – a gift from America wrapped in a cloak of benevolence to those who can’t afford to purchase meat.

In case you are wondering why Ms. Wallis is targeting only wild free-roaming mustangs and burros to feed to the poor, it’s because American horse meat is not subjected to the same standards other animals raised for agricultural food use are. Consequently, it’s only mustang meat that can be shared with the world “ethically” as it has not been tainted with hazardous-to-human drugs domestic horses are given here on a routine basis.

Here’s one of the ways Rep. Wallis pitches mustang meat patties in #9 of her talking points: “Remind them that 10 million people starve to death every year in this world…maybe our excess BLM wild horses could be put to much better use by providing high quality, nutritious animal protein, untainted by BSE-type disease concerns of other livestock to people who could never afford to buy it. Once again, Americans can use an abundant and sustainable resource to come to the aid of the poor and starving of the world.”

While making self-proclamations that her moral, ethical and compassionate cup overflows with humane considerations tempered only by “common sense”, notice how she sidesteps the fact it’s only the high-end foreign markets her new Horse Industry Policy aims to cater to at $25.00 per/lb.

It’s also interesting to note that Rep. Wallis finds nothing ethically wrong with sending the tainted domestic horsemeat to foreign consumers, it’s only the world’s poor she is concerned with feeding “high quality” meat too, which raises the question….If they are successful in getting horse slaughter reinstated in the U.S., will they build separate processing facilities - one for “organically raised free-roaming” wild horse and burro meat for the poor and one for industrial/agriculture drug filled race and quarter horses marked as “For French Consumption Only”?

State legislators from several states have now introduced resolutions based on her leadership urging federal legislators to not interfere with state rights by prohibiting horse slaughter in the U.S. or interfere with the transport and export of horses to slaughter. A few states have even passed legislation that allows for funding of feasibility studies on horse slaughter facilities in their state. Does anyone have any doubt what the outcome of these studies will be, studies that will then be used to substantiate an already forgone conclusion that “slaughtering America’s horses is good for business”?

Representative Wallis, who appears to be little more than a modern day mustanger in elected official clothing, has also begun a letter writing campaign kicked off in an Open Letter to the United States Congress and State Legislators. (See links below.)

It was this letter that revealed what she has really has in mind for America’s wild horses and burros, as well as her reasons for promoting a horsemeat market here in the U.S., a policy which includes allowing immigrant cultures the right to buy horsemeat right here at home.

Apparently, Ms. Wallis believes the tainted “nutritious” meat is also good enough for some Americans too - just as long as it’s only fed to the immigrant populations! (Or do you think mad cow’s disease is really a lot worse than they are telling us about and our own upper class is now angling to secure a new non-infected meat while still feeding beef, the real root of the world’s hunger problem, to the unsuspecting majority?)

Since I’m on the subject, pardon me if I digress a moment but there are some side notes about Rep. Wallis’s arguments I feel compelled to address. (Okay, there's actually a ton of her points I’d like to address but there’s just not enough space for them all!)

One of her arguments urging the continuation of horse slaughter is based on the far-fetched illogical assumption that caring for America’s horses as companion animals like we do for our dogs and cats is really a plot aimed at shutting down the beef industry.

Since American’s don’t eat horsemeat (and haven’t for a very long time), I’m going to make the same far-fetched illogical assumption that her promotion of horsemeat to benefit the immigrant cultures of America and abroad will soon include her support of dog and cat harvesting factories to please them as well.

When discussing the effects of banning horse slaughter in her letter to Congress, Rep. Wallis states, “…and especially how devastating economically, and socially, this has been to the admittedly small population of the country, like myself and my family and neighbors, who still make our living from animal agriculture”.

Though she admits she is a “small part of the country’s population”, she simultaneously insists the majority of the nation must be forced to tolerate this inhumane practice for the benefit of these few. Yet in classic hypocritical fashion, she is equally defiant at the thought of the majority of American’s who oppose horse slaughter (she calls them a “small group of radical animal rights activists”) now starting to stand up and demand this “small population” stop forcing our nation's horses to be subjected to such a brutal and inhumane deaths for their exclusive benefit and those outside our borders.

She also goes on to say that those who deny immigrant cultures the right to access horsemeat in America are “incredibly arrogant”. Thus, it would appear Rep. Wallis is again in the minority by standing with those who believe American’s should change our values to accommodate every culture who joins our melting pot versus the majority who believe those we welcome into our nation’s fold swear allegiance to our way of life, not theirs.

But back to the immediate issues at hand, Rep. Wallis, being the industrious gal that she is, has also been busy organizing and calling on a huge network of groups to follow her plan of action to bring horse slaughter back to the U.S. Some of these include the entire agriculture industry, horse-breeding organizations, rodeo and other horse industry associations including the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA). It also includes a full scale media blitz urging everyone in the network to write newspapers and submit opinion letters based on the talking points she has assembled to support her “humane but practical” plans.

As for the Wallis’s themselves, she and hubby Rod raise grassfat natural beef on the family ranch north of Recluse, WY with Mom & Pop Myrt and Dick and brother Frank, who also lives on the ranch but he raises Belgian and Haflinger horses instead.

Currently, we can only speculate as to why Rep. Wallis has decided to enter into the promotion of the horse-to-slaughter trade with mustangs on the side with such frenzied enthusiasm (perhaps she was tapped by former Senator Burns?)

Though Rep. Wallis attributes raising horses to the other side of the family, in her pro-slaughter talking points she examines how if the ban to transport horses for slaughter is passed, USDA officials will then be authorized “to inspect horses being transported anywhere”. She then goes on to say “…what a horrific imposition is just about to be foisted upon all of agriculture. If they can do this to me…let me assure you that we are one hair-breadth away from telling a diary man that he can no longer market his cows…” And just what exactly does Rep. Wallis mean “if they can do this to me” when she claims she raises cattle?

What makes this all the more irrational is when Rep. Wallis discusses the over 900 pages of violations found in the horse slaughter industry recently released by the USDA depicting hundreds of photos of horrific and brutal transport and slaughter practices, Ms. Wallis switches sides and states these only show the USDA was clearly doing their job by documenting the abuse. So this begs the question to Rancher Wallis, what part of USDA inspections do you consider an “imposition” to you and/or the agricultural community?

Throughout the Wallis literature and references, she makes various claims almost too stupendous to believe. Whether it is accusing those who have been exposing the dirty little secrets of the horse slaughter trade as exaggerating and fabricating evidence (like the USDA photos), attempting to re-brand the majority of American’s who advocate humane treatment for horses as “radical animal rights activists” or repeatedly issuing a hysterical battle cry that the demand for humane and ethical treatment of America’s horses is really a conspiratorial plot by a handful of Vegan’s, her surreal but all too real campaign to target the return of horse slaughter to America, now with the added bonus of BLM mustang meat patties, is no laughing matter.

Like the toned down but still despicable character Cruella DeVille in Disney’s 101 Dalmations, Ms. Wallis seems to be willing to go to any lengths to protect what she perceives to be her “beautiful coat”.

Whether you care about wild horses and burros or about how all horses are treated in America, you need to educate yourself NOW about Cruellas fast track to slaughter currently barreling at light speed through a multitude of state legislations and heading straight for your Congressional representative.

Wake up and smell the horsemeat…

Links to Representative Wallis Horsemeat Campaigns

Wallis’s Open Letter To Congress and State Legislators

NCSL – Power Point Presentation
Includes BLM statistics to support mustang and burro slaughter.

BLM Horses – Ashton Graham, New Mexico State Graduate Paper
Referenced by Rep. Wallis as support for mustang and burro slaughter.

WyoAg Coalition – Nation-wide Horse Industry Effort
Includes many links to pro-horse slaughter support efforts.

American Traditional Beef on HR 503
Cindy Schonholtz – PRCA Livestock Welfare
Includes Talking Points From WY State Representative Sue Wallis

Rodeo Attitude News – NCSL Supports the Horse Industry
A personal message from Cindy Meyers, CEO, Rodeo Attitude

Letter from ex Mayor Paula Bacon on Dallas Crown
What life is like after making a deal with the devil…

States Currently Pursuing Pro-Horse Slaughter Bills/Resolutions

Twelve State legislatures are now considering measures to express their support of or actively encourage the reestablishment of U.S. horse processing plants based on the Wallis Horse Industry Policy.

Arizona (SCM 1001)
A resolution urging Congress to oppose federal legislation that interferes with a state’s ability to direct the transport or processing of horses.

Arkansas (HCR 1004)
A resolution urging Congress to support the continuation of horse processing facilities in the United States.

Illinois (HB 0583)
A bill to repeal the state’s ban on the slaughter of horses for human consupmtion.
(ILHR 160) A resolution calling for the defeat of the pending federal anti-slaughter bill, HR 503.

Kansas (HCR 5004)
A resolution urging Congress to oppose federal legislation that interferes with a state’s ability to direct the transport or processing of horses. The state’s House Agriculture and Natural Resource Committee sent the bill to the full House for a vote.

Minnesota (SF 133)
A resolution urging Congress to oppose federal legislation that interferes with a state’s ability to direct the transport or processing of horses.

Missouri (HCR19)
A resolution urging Congress to oppose federal legislation that interferes with a state’s ability to direct the transport or processing of horses.
(SCR 8) – Unofficial Resolution
Includes references to competition in horse market with adoption market of 32,000 wild horses.

Montana (HB418)
A bill allowing a horse slaughter facility to operate in Montana that includes language prohibiting court action against a facility for filing for a permit, construction or operation of the facility. Already approved by Montana’s House and Senate and is currently awaiting Governor Schweitzer’s veto or approval.

North Dakota (HB 1496)
A bill directing the state’s Department of Commerce to conduct an equine processing facility feasibility study.

South Dakota (SCR2)
A resolution urging the reinstatement and funding of a federal inspection program governing horse slaughter and euthanasia facilities.
(SB 114) To provide for a study on the feasibility of establishing an equine processing facility and to make an appropriation for funding.

Tennessee (HB1361)
As introduced, deletes packaging and labeling requirements for horsemeat.

Utah (HJR7)
A resolution urging Congress to oppose federal legislation that interferes with a state’s ability to direct the transport or processing of horses. As of February 17, 2009, the Utah resolution has passed through the state House and Senate and had been sent to the lieutenant governor for enrollment.

Wyoming (HJR 0008)
A resolution urging Congress to oppose federal legislation that interferes with a state’s ability to direct the transport or processing of horses.

To learn more about the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), Click Here.

And, how can I possibly explain
that racing horseback
loose and wild through
treacherous enchanting terrain,
sail loops from
rope swung, weary shoulders
to catch wily mustang mares
is the most exciting,
and addicting occupation
known to

How Can I Explain
Poetry by Sue Wallis

May this raw land smell no more blood
or smother screams
of sundered souls.

Isolation Incantation
Poetry from Sue Wallis

Represenative Wallis College is just another photo created by a non-radical non-vegan designed to inflame passions, manipulate USDA images, and fabricate the obviously non-existent atrocities of horse slaughter in order to achieve the purpose of making absolutely no money whatsoever and who is solely compelled by conscience.

Mustang Meat photo courtesy of Terry Watt-American Horse Defense Fund

Friday, March 20, 2009


"We need good, scientific input………input beyond the emotional –something we can actually use in preparation of the plan."

Karla Norris
Renewable Resource Manager
BLM Las Vegas Field Office
Las Vegas Review Journal
by Keith Rogers, 7/08/06

It was this quote in the Las Vegas Review Journal’s July 8, 2006 story that changed my life and launched me into researching the Wild Horse & Burro Program. The purpose of the article was to cover BLM announcing their intentions to remove over 1,000 wild horses and burros from the Southern Nevada area and frankly, I was shocked at the sheer numbers they intended to remove.

I had grown up in a rural area of Southern Nevada where wild horses and burros were part of the landscape throughout all my “stomping grounds” for many years. We also had horse companions for several years, as did many of our neighbors, and I loved nothing more than to spend time exploring the vast, empty landscapes with my friends.

Yet as I grew up and grew away, so did the wild ones, gradually disappearing one herd at a time. Busy with getting on with the business of life, jobs, relationships and adjusting to “city life”, over time their disappearances slid into the background as necessity forced a change in my priorities as it has done for so many of us.

It was that Review Journal article that woke me up, reminding me how much I loved them, caused me to reflect on how long it had been since I had seen them and I wondered - how could there possibly still be 1,000 wild horses and burros still left in our area?

At that time, I was intimidated by that quote and looking back, I have come to the conclusion that this is exactly what it was intended to do – intimidate the public from getting involved. It almost worked on me too and I swear, I sat in front of that article for what seemed like forever trying to decide if I would merely turn the page or answer the call of the wild ones embedded so clearly between the printed lines of BLM’s announcement.

I took Ms. Norris’s quote to heart and began to review everything and anything that had to do with BLM, the Wild Horse and Burro Program, environmental studies, laws, websites, etc. As I have stated before, I felt sympathy for BLM for having to try and deal with just “emotionally based” arguments and worked to try and find the facts to increase my understanding so that I could then contribute positive solutions to help the wild herds I loved so much.

May I also add that since that time, I have concluded BLM telling the public they weren’t interested in emotional input was just as calculated to prevent people from speaking from the heart as was their request to provide “scientific input" only.

Emotional responses, input and connections definitely have their rightful place within the scheme of things and if we refuse to ever consider what our hearts say, we begin a downward descent on a dangerous and slippery slope indeed. Just look at the Nazzi philosophy of considering human beings as nothing more than livestock – to be bred and “utilized” as efficiently as possible for “superior qualities” (which of course they defined for us) – qualities lacking even the slightest considerations we attribute to the heart but instead glorified performance based machine-like goals to the exclusion of all else that help define the essence of what it means to be "human".

But getting back to the subject at hand, I knew absolutely NOTHING about this issue – other than having developed a deep connection to both the wild horses and the burros of my own home range. It was never foreseen by me or for that matter, anyone else who knew me, that making the decision to not turn the page that day was going to begin such an incredible journey into the issues of public lands, resources and America’s wild free-roaming horses and burros.

Throughout this journey, I have found the issues fascinating and to my surprise, have turned into a giant nerd! As I poured over thousands of pages of “paint drying” documents, I wondered at the part of me that had stayed hidden all those years who now became so engrossed in learning about how insects affect forage production, how a poppy had evolved to grow in only gypsum and how BLM had been charged with trying to manage it “all” for our benefit – both now and for future generations.

It was this fascination, a strong sense of curiosity and a life-long love of learning that caused me to find and absorb more and more information on every subject that could possible effect these issues – and that’s a LOT of information – trust me!

It was never my intention to become “an expert” or any sort of authority but only to learn as much as I could (later, this blossomed into wanting to share with others what I found). In fact, before I had ever seen an environmental assessment, my stomach actually did flip flops in wondering how complicated and “scientific” it would be.

When the first one arrived, I could hardly believe my eyes as I found it unbelievable general, full of copy and paste kinds of formatting, often contradictory from one section to the next and very little “scientific input” comprising it at all. I later learned this was often the standard and as it turned out, BLM was not so interested in scientific input after all – at least from the public!

Now, don’t get me wrong, there were definitely things over my head at the time and even now, occasionally there still are, but I refused to let that intimidate me and just keep plowing ahead, reading more, asking BLM questions about this, about that (yes, I have most likely driven them crazy over the years!) and as a result, I have grown to understand more and more. I also want to say with absolute sincerity, I work really hard to make sure the data and facts are correct as well as trying to provide as many actual documents as possible so people can read them for themselves, do their own research and/or form their own conclusions about the subjects.

However, I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t think I’ll ever understand “it all” but I love to learn, try, explore and research the proposals in my continuing efforts to educate myself and understand the issues to help our wild herds.

Yet in this journey, I have also made some mistakes, mistakes that I want to take a moment out to correct so people will know about them because I believe trying to get the facts straight, continuing our education and having the freedom to get information about the issues is integral to everyone as we all try to find the best solutions to live in a very complex world.

One of my “sayings” is, “If you don’t know what’s wrong, you can’t fix it. It’s like trying to get your vehicle running by changing the tires when the real problem is in the carburetor”. I think it’s pretty obvious that the first step to getting things running right is to track down what the problem is before going out to buy the parts – otherwise, you are just spinning your wheels!

I have been meaning to write this post for a while but it always seemed like something more important kept popping up and becoming the priority. Even while all hell is breaking loose (again or is it still?) in the equine world these days; with states now on the fast track to slaughtering America’s horses – both wild and domestic, Madeleine Pickens sanctuary plans running into roadblocks and a host of other smaller but still important problems springing up all over the place, I just decided this shouldn’t be put off any longer.

There are three specific issues that I want on record that need to be corrected.

In the post 11/01/07 post, “Getting Burned”, I reported that BLM had left out the Mount Airy grazing allotment in their list of livestock allotments affecting the New Pass/Ravenswood HMA. The first mistake was, I had been looking at the gather area map, which did include the Mt. Airy allotment. Wild horses were residing in it and were removed but the truth is, it sits right outside the HMA and therefore, BLM was correct in not including it in their livestock allotment report.

The second part of that story is an update that I never went back to add, which involved BLM issuing a proposal to approve 2,500 AUMs of temporary forage grazing for the Mt. Airy allotment a few days after they sent out the gather plan to remove the wild horses. At the time the article was written, BLM had initially planned on approving the TNR grazing - but about a month or two later, they sent out the final decision to NOT authorize that grazing after all. (It took a few months after that post to discover this and it seemed pretty minor, so I let it slide - but I believe it is still important enough to update people about).

The second issue is found in the Mustang & Burro Report regarding the Callaghan Complex Case Study (pg. 34). In it, I state that BLM applied a 35.8% reproduction rate after the last recorded census. After review, this was incorrect as two years had passed since the census was done, not one as I had originally thought. Therefore, BLM was correct in their statement of a 17.8% reproduction rate.

The third and final issue and the one that is the most important for people to know about, at least to me is, Appendix VI in the Mustang & Burro Report regarding questions and case studies on Population Modeling.

This Appendix was originally created for and submitted to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) last spring and was intended to provide them with case studies and examples of BLMs application of the software so the GAO could investigate its use on their own (Ha - What a waste of time THAT was!).

“Population Modeling” refers to a computer program used by BLM to examine proposals that use simulated trial runs to see if their removals or the use of fertility control will crash the populations. It is always include in the back of each environmental assessment they publish to remove wild horses.

I hadn’t found a advocate yet who knew anything about it and while I had submitted multiple questions to different BLM offices trying to learn more and increase my understanding of it, in some instances they never responded and in others, it took months to receive their replies.

Anyway, while some of the stuff is still valid (as it really does pose more questions than answers), one of the premises I was operating on I later found out may be incorrect. Unfortunately, at this time I don’t know for sure which way it goes and until I do, I wanted people to know this Appendix may have errors in it. Since then, I found the software and downloaded it so I can learn how to use it myself and do my own trial runs.

So there you have it, my "confession" and thanks for sharing this journey with me as we all strive together to learn more in our struggle to protect America’s wild horses and burros – both now and for future generations.

Photo of Red Rock Wild Burro #8262 removed in January 2007.

Friday, March 13, 2009

New & Improved

Photo of New Pass/Ravenswood wild horse gather, November 2007
Courtesy of BLM WH&B Specialist, Shawna Richardson

In American Herds last article, “Breaking Through Del Rio”, BLM’s Pre-Closeout Report for the New Pass/Ravenswood wild horse gather in November 2007 was referenced due to age class compositions possibly revealing true wild horse reproduction rates.

However, there was something else in that report of equal interest regarding genetic testing and the genetic lineage of the New Pass/Ravenswood wild horses.

Now first off, this is the only Pre-Closeout Report I have seen from BLM regarding such a detailed breakdown of age classes, gender ratios, lactation status of mares and color compositions of the gathered wild horses, so I don’t know if all BLM offices do these close out reports, if it is a relatively new addition to BLM management or if this is just a result of BLM WH&B Specialist Shawna Richardson’s long-time involvement as the specialist for the Battle Mountain Field Office in Nevada. A request is in to BLM for more information on the subject….

The specific issue is that genetic testing was done for the first time on the New Pass/Ravenswood wild horses during the November 2007 removals and it appears there were some interesting issues brewing.

First, if you go back and read the Pre-Closeout Report, you’ll notice that BLM was embroiled in a brouhaha with the Nevada State Brand Inspector. Apparently, some trespass horses with various brands were mixed in with the wild ones. Here is what was said-

Trespass horses
“At trap 3 located on the east side of the HMA, a total of 12 mares and 11 studs were captured with various brands belonging to Ellen Blair, sister of Jimmy Williams, and Ben Williams, Ellen’s son. One un-weanable foal was with one of the branded mares. The presence of these horses had been known for a few years. Several of them were observed during the September 2005 census flight. Subsequent conversations with Special Agent Brian Richards confirmed that the BLM knew of the horses and had been documenting them. Unfortunately, disagreements between the BLM and Nevada State Brand Office resulted in the horses needing to be held at the Holding Corrals until November 15, when they were all shipped to the Fallon Livestock Exchange. Evidently, because the BLM did not have a criminal trespass conviction on the owners, or an order from a Judge for removal from public lands, the Brand Office would not sign the horses over to the BLM for impound. Nevada State took possession of the animals, and planned to give proceeds from the sale to Ellen Blair. Ellen requested that a mare and foal, another mare and a palomino stud be returned to her, which the Brand Inspector granted.” (Pg. 6)

In addition to these trespass horses noted above, a local permittee also told BLM that, “Recently (within the last year), the permittee reports an influx of “light” colored horses such as grey and palomino.”

Now to provide some historical information on the New Pass/Ravenswood herds, BLM describes the “typical” wild horse color composition as primarily solid colors of sorrel, bay, brown and black. Here is what BLM said specifically about the “old” herds.

“During past gathers of this HMA, census flights and field observations, the general description of the wild horses from this HMA have been of primarily solid colored horses including sorrel, bay, brown and black” and, “The conformation of the horses within this herd has historically been average, with most horses reaching 14 – 14.2 hands.”

From this description, it sounds to me like they are a generally small horse typical of the American Mustang with the possibility of strong Spanish Mustang characteristics due to their size and predominate color patterns.

BLM also went on to say-

“The typical colors of the New Pass/Ravenswood HMa include primarily solid colors such as brown, bay black and sorrel. This has been noted within the last two gathers conducted in 1995 and 1999. Since 2005, colorful horses such as pintos and palominos have been identified within the southeast portion of the HMA. Reports from the permittee in spring 2007 indicate the influx of lightly colored horses such as palomino and grey horses.”

So pintos and paints showed up in 2005 and greys and palominos showed up sometime in the last year before the round up. Pardon me if I digress for a moment but I can’t help but reflect on Janet Little’s public statement in the Mustang & Burro Report, Appendix III – (Click Here to view) that said BLM told her the 40 horses they dropped off in the area in the spring of 2008 about a year after the gather were “for color”. (Then of course comes the questions of “influx”? From where, who and why weren’t these also considered trespass horses if BLM suspected they didn’t belong to the known wild horse herds of the area?) However, moving on….

So this is what BLM had to say about these various kinds of herds they captured at the trapsites during the gather and what they chose to do about them.

First, there was these “typical” captured New Pass/Ravenswood wild horses- “During the 2007 gather, approximately 206 wild horses captured from the northern portion of the HMA (traps 1 and 2) were removed and shipped as a result of the acreages that burned in July 2007. These animals were typical of the NPR HMA, and consisted of smaller animals that were bay, brown, buckskin, and black (Refer to data analysis) Many of these animals were also in poor condition. None of these animals were released.”

Let’s repeat that. None of these “typical” NPR wild horses were released back into the management area due to the burned area of the range they were captured near and due to their poor body condition.

Then, this is what BLM said about how they chose to manage these new introductions, a.k.a., trespass and suspected illegal horses recently introduced into the Herd Management Area.

“At this trapsite, (trap 3) 23 branded horses were captured that included a bay paint stud, palomino stud, and sorrel paint mare. It is thought that these branded animals contributed to the colorings of the horses captured from this site, in addition to other unbranded suspected domestic paint horses, but released illegally onto public land. All horses selected for release from this area were released with the rest of the wild horses in the central portion of the HMA. It is assumed that some of these horses will move back to the east portion of the HMA, but also hoped that they will mix with the other horses captured from the rest of the HMA, and influence traits of the future herd.”

Horses selected for release included some horses with inconsistent markings from the typical NPR horses (refer to data analysis). These horses included pinto colorings, and some grey and palomino horses.”

Apparently, BLM couldn’t release those “typical” NPR horses into a central portion of the HMA like they did with the “new” horses they released, as they hoped to influence future traits with “healthy” paints, pintos, greys and palominos instead.

So after all these minor points above, here are the two main points of this subject that deserve more attention.

The first is, though these “colored horses” were inconsistent with the typical markings of the NPR herd and included influences of known trespass horses or those suspected of being illegally released on public lands, BLM went ahead and released some of these same horses in order to “influence traits of the future herd.”

Why? My guess is because the historical, cultural and unique adaptations of the NPR wild horses take a backseat in priority to BLM being able to adopt them later after future round ups; a management view that is little more than considering the Herd Management Areas as “public lands breeding farms” (thanks, Constance!) versus wildlife management for a uniquely adapted and specialized species in a particular ecological niche.

But the second point is the kicker….

As stated in the beginning, the New Pass/Ravenswood wild horses were finally sampled for genetic testing to determine the herds lineage and genetic characteristics. Here is what BLM said about those chosen for genetic sampling of the New Pass/Ravenswood herds-

The samples taken were representative of the animals released back to the range.” (pg. 7)

BLM didn’t pull samples that reflected the “old” herds, they pulled samples on the horses they released! That means that when the genetic tests come back, they are going to show a higher percentage of the new breeds BLM allowed to remain “for color” and therefore, they will fail to reflect just what the actual true genetic lineage of the New Pass/Ravenswood wild horses were before all the “influxes”.

Just how much did BLM alter the true genetic composition and historical lineage by their selective sampling of those released? Can’t say as the Pre-Close Out Report only lists “an estimate” of those sampled and released - whatever that means.

Again, the public is only left to wonder how BLM can fail to fully identify and commit to what horses they sampled for the genetic tests of the NPR herds. BLM also made sure we can never find out either as they stated they didn’t mark any of these sampled horses or identify them in any manner for future reference. If you’d like to see BLMs “sampled estimates”, the charts can be found on pages 7-9.

So I suspect that BLM deliberately diluted the genetic lineage of the New Pass/Ravenswood wild horses in order to show a higher percentage of “other breeds” to help cover up possible strong genetic markers of predominately Spanish Mustangs.

Why? If those tests came back showing a high percentage of Spanish mustang lineage as indicated by their relatively small size and historic color patterns, BLM might be more open to public outcry and legal challenges to preserve the NPR herds for their “historical traits”.

By performing the tests on the horses they released, which incorporated the “new” characteristics, now the New Pass/Ravenswood genetic tests will come back showing markers for horses that had been in the area less than a year or in the case of the paints, two years. This also means it will be a lot easier to replace any ole horse with any ole horse than to try and replace an American Spanish Mustang.

So how many wild horse and burro herds has BLM done this too over the years? When BLM pulls out genetic tests in the future, can the public trust those tests accurately reflect the true genetic make up of the historical herds? Is it any wonder BLM can say with confidence, “There’s nothing special about this herd” during proposals to round them up, zero them out or add a few new horses of “similar herd characteristics” to counteract inbreeding and population crashes at the current allowable management levels of so many of our remaining herds.

With little differentiation between a majestic historical icon and a cereal box at the grocery store, have our herds merely become "new and improved"?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Breaking Through Del Rio

“Free-roaming horses and burros are not considered endangered species. These animals reproduce quickly with herds increasing by up to 20% per year – herds can double in size every 3-4 years. Also, as a species, there are millions of these animals domesticated by man. Selected individuals could easily be turned loose and the herds would reestablish very quickly. Under population is not the current problem.”

Photo of BLM Poster at Palomino Valley Wild Horse & Burro Holding Facility, 2007.
Courtesy of Wild Horse Spirit, Ltd.

The four-year grand jury investigation of the Wild Horse & Burro Program and the over 3,000 pieces of evidence it accumulated that was slammed shut in 1996 (without any of this evidence ever being heard) is often referred to in wild horse circles as “Del Rio”.

Does anyone remember what the final straw was that broke the back of the Del Rio grand jury's investigation? It was a subpoena issued to BLM demanding an “inventory” of a 1,200 capacity long-term holding facility in Osasge County, OK, - a legal subpoena BLM refused to grant.

Let me repeat this so it is crystal clear…

Because a subpoena demanded an accounting of the number of wild horses in a BLM holding facility, the BLM successfully shut down a grand jury investigation of the United States of America rather than comply and allow independent law enforcement to verify the number of wild horses BLM said they were holding in the facility. (To be fair, this wasn’t the only reason BLM didn’t want the mountain of evidence assembled against them to ever be heard but it was the subpoena that forced their hand to dismantle the investigation through a variety of tactics).

The key word was inventory - meaning numbers - and anyone who takes a little time to research this issue quickly realizes this is a “numbers game”. As the lives of America’s wild horses and burros continue to tip precariously closer to execution and/or slaughter, the future they are facing is a result of only one thing - numbers.

Whether discussing the financial numbers, the numbers in long and short term holding, the numbers on the range, population censuses numbers, reproduction numbers, forage or water utilization numbers or the allowed population numbers BLM has set in relation to the “numbers” of everything else in the thriving natural ecological balance, every act, decision and proposal finds its roots in numbers. Yet despite this, why do the numbers so often fail to add up?

BLM leans heavily on numbers to manage our wild herds, a management that has resulted in the current crisis of over 30,000 American mustangs and burros possibly facing their untimely deaths. But when confronted with the wide discrepancies and gapping holes serious scrutiny reveals, they often answer with what I call “no answers”; bureaucratic double-talk that never actually answers the questions.

If pressed, they can line court halls and committee meetings with experts to testify on their behalf, counting on most advocates and members of the public having little stomach for the numbers thrown out, much of which could be challenged, refuted or disproved if those testifying for wild horses and burros were given a fair shake.

However, our current legal system defers to the “experts” if all evidence given is equal. Such was the case when “Dances With Wolves” author Michael Blake commissioned an independent census in 1992 conducted by the Public Lands Resource Council of the wild horse population in Nevada.

The independent census only found 8,300 wild horses actually on the range even while BLM continued to report Nevada was home to 33,000 wild horses. Dr. Richard McClellan, spokesperson for the Pubic Lands Resources Council stated, “Somebody is lying about the number of wild horses in America”. Click Here to view full story.

While BLM’s expertise on counting (or should I say reporting) wild horse and burro populations stood up back then, today BLM claims much of their funny numbers are a result of the erroneous census methods practiced for the last 40 years, despite using peer-reviewed methods approved by the National Academy of Science and verified in the Journal of Wildlife Management 55(4):641-648 in 1991, both of which maintain BLMs census methods are accurate by a margin of +/- 15% in most instances. Click Here to view.

The new drumbeat of inadequate counting techniques has been recently used to explain why 700 wild horses showed up in the Jackson Mountains or disappeared out of Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge. It has been used to explain why removing almost 80,000 wild horses over the last 8 years failed to finally get wild horse and burro populations under BLM’s national allowable management level and why there continues to be a “perpetual 33,000 wild horses and burros” still left on the range demanding BLM continue the removals - only to be “disposed of” in all those un-inventoried long-term holding facilities.

It was used to explain why BLM Wyoming unrelentingly went after the Adobe Town and Salt Wells Creek horses as each round up only brought new rounds of BLM announcements that more round ups were being scheduled. Still BLM continues to tell the public and the media they are working on new census methods to finally resolve this issue through “better techniques”.

Yet behind the scenes, the last report the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) issued regarding those very same techniques BLM is referring too stated, the “adjustment factor” is currently projected to be +18.7% to the actual censused population. (1) This is only 3.7% more than the methods BLM has already been using. (It is interesting to note that unlike USGS’s results, BLM’s current method actually acknowledges their method can over count horses too!).

In true irony, these “new” census techniques involve flying fixed wing aircrafts in a grid pattern over the area being counted. When the independent census was conduct by Michael Blake and the Public Lands Resource Council back in 1992, BLM argued the independent census lacked “accuracy” due to its use of a fixed wing aircraft flying in a grid pattern. Back then, BLM maintained using a helicopter provided a more accurate method.

The Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) recent report on the Wild Horse & Burro Program firmly asserted BLM always undercounted wild horse and burro herds, never over counted them, an assertion they failed to present a single shred of scientific proof or references to support - with the notable exception of the GAO using the surveys they sent to BLM during their ?investigation? as “proof” this is fact.

What makes this new drumbeat exceptionally odd is, Australian studies on counting wild horses through aerial census determined every time wild horses were counted, they were always over counted, not undercounted, due to their running to and fro from the aircraft disturbances. (2)

It’s also rather odd that no one seems too concerned with the fact that the issue of woefully inaccurate aerial census methods only applies to wild horses and burros. When was the last time anyone heard hunters screaming that wildlife populations were being under or over counted? Everyone seems reasonably content in the knowledge the wildlife populations reported by state Fish & Game Departments are accurate enough to provide stable management of those species – it’s only counting wild horses and burros that seems to be so incredibly elusive.

Can anyone tell me why Fish & Game can report with reasonable confidence that the elk populations in five states totaled 675-700k elk, a population estimation gap of 25,000 equal to less than a 5% margin of error while counting wild horses and burros is now estimating a margin of error hovering near 20% - despite being one of the biggest animals on the North American Continent?

If one tries to bring up these points, BLM or other experts will often switch the focus to reproduction rates instead, another numbers game with little evidence to support much of what is said.

The BLM uses a “standard” 20% reproduction rate applied to all wild horse and burro populations but how are other wildlife population reproduction rates calculated? Do wildlife agencies also apply a “standard” reproduction rate for the species they manage to come up with their population figures? The answer is no, they don’t.

As near as I can figure, those who track other large ungulates, a.k.a., big game species such as pronghorn antelope, elk, big horn sheep, etc. do an annual census of a population in a “hunt unit”, kind of like a Herd Management Area but on a larger scale.

Wildlife agencies do an aerial census to count populations in the hunt unit and then determine a sampling rate of adults to the number of newborns. For example, let’s say they are counting big horn sheep. They will break it down to, let’s say, 14 rams, 28 ewes, and 13 lambs for that year. By using this technique, they have a better idea of how the animals are doing based on the number of babies born that year and from these snapshots, they then multiply this sampling rate across the entire hunt unit to determine the total population.

While it is obvious that using a reasonably accurate population estimation technique is essential in sustainable wildlife management, those who manage hunting species are under a great deal of pressure to “get it right” as managers need to determine how many hunting tags they can issue without disrupting the population and causing it to decline.

The reason wildlife agencies use this kind of population estimation technique is, they know reproduction rates aren’t a constant, they fluctuate depending on the environment, the availability of resources (i.e., food and water) and that in good years, more babies are born than in bad. So far, it seems to be working pretty good for them…

Also, it’s not like BLM is unaware of this method either. In fact, BLM dusted it off to try and calm down Nevada hunters in 2003 when they were screaming at the Nevada Wildlife Commissioners regarding the perceived decline in mule deer populations by blaming “large numbers” of wild horses as the cause.

According to the The Animal Welfare Institute, BLM distributed a hand out to the Commissioners at their April 2003 meeting in efforts to try and ease concerns of wild horse populations causing further declines, which stated, “Census data suggests that continuing drought conditions are resulting in reduced reproductive rates for many wild horse herds throughout Nevada” and that, “Many of Nevada’s herd management areas (HMAs) are currently below appropriate management levels (AML) due to lower reproduction and the removal of excess horses since FY2000”. Click here to view.

For me, further substantiation of the issue of annual reproduction rates being tied to resource availability came from a Nevada resident that has monitored a herd for years. She told me, “no foals were born in 2003” (at least for that herd). That’s right - zip, zero, none – no foals.

So why doesn’t BLM apply this same method to wild horse and burro reproduction instead of this straight-across-the-board 20%?

If you go back and read the quote at the top of this post, notice the glaring discrepancies about reproduction rates. First, BLM states, “These animals reproduce quickly with herds increasing by up to 20% per year.” It clearly states, “by up to 20%”. Doesn’t this indicate BLM is acknowledging that 20% is the highest reproduction rate wild horses can achieve while simultaneously suggesting that reproduction rates can definitely be lower than 20% too?

But then BLM immediately follows this up by stating “herds can double in size every 3-4 years”. Well, in my book that translates to a 25% to 33% reproduction rate, not “up to 20%” like they originally stated. So which one is true?

In trying to find answers to these questions, I ran across a very interesting find in a BLM document courteously provided by BLM’s Battle Mountain Wild Horse & Burro Specialist Shawna Richardson. It is an extremely thorough report titled, “Pre-Close Out Report” compiled after the New Pass/Ravenswood wild horse round up conducted in November 2007. Check this out…

The following chart is an age class breakdown of the wild horses gathered during the round up. Now keep in mind, these numbers were based on all the wild horses gathered, not just the ones they released or shipped to holding facilities. I’m only going to list the age class structure up to six years old because records indicate the last time wild horses were removed in the New Pass/Ravenswood was 1999. Click Here to view report- full chart available on pg. 11.

Logic suggests going back six years would show a true age-class representation of what was born each year because BLM had yet to re-arrange these age classes due to removals disturbing the true numbers. I think these age class structures show the true rate wild horses were really reproducing at each year, just like the wildlife species reproduction techniques referenced above. (Note: They may also be reflecting a combined reproduction/mortality rate, meaning, a lot more wild horses may have died after they were born to drop each years age class so low, which would also refute BLM’s common assurance to the public that mortality rates for wild horses and burros are extremely low).

If the foals born in the spring of 2007 before the November round up are excluded, look how low those age classes are. 3.1%? 4.5%? 5.8%? Not a single year exceeding 13%? This would seem to indicate reproduction rates are a far cry from BLMs “standard” 20%, much less a 25% or 30% reproduction rate.

It’s also interesting to note that the New Pass/Ravenswood had more mares than studs – 56.6% mares vs. 43.2% studs, which would actually contribute to slightly higher reproduction rates than if the mare/stud ratio was equal or less mares than studs were present. (And then out of the blue, the 2007 spring foals shoot up to a 20.8% reproduction rate with the largest foaling increase of the whole six years happening right before the gather. What happened here? I don’t have an answer yet but couldn’t help wondering out loud…)

And what about the burros? In another BLM report received from BLMs Las Vegas Wild Horse & Burro Specialist Jerry Bertola regarding the Gold Butte Herd Management Area, an aerial census done between December 12-13, 2007, counted 80 burros but only 3 foals.

Only 3 foals?!? Since BLM just lumps in wild burro reproduction rates with their standard 20% wild horse reproduction rates, what are their true reproduction rates of wild burros if, out of 80 burros there were only 3 foals to be found? Click Here to view.

So what I’m getting at is, if a 20% reproduction rate is high and the method used in the Mustang & Burro report, which gave every possible advantage to BLMs numbers (i.e., such as allowing the first analysis to apply a 20% reproduction rate on almost the entire 2001 population which in turn affected every years analysis after that) and that method still found a range of 13,500 to 16,800 wild horses and burros still remaining nationwide as of February 28, 2008, what would the numbers look like if a 15%, a 10% or a 5.8% reproduction rate was applied as evidenced by the New Pass/Ravenswood age-structures?

BLM claims wild horses and burros are not an endangered species. That’s not what the numbers say…

So what about the truth of BLM’s other significant statement in the poster highlighted at the start of this article, when they were so quick to say, “Also, as a species, there are millions of these animals domesticated by man. Selected individuals could easily be turned loose and the herds would reestablish very quickly.”

BLM law enforcement ranger Lee Kilman seems to have a very different opinion of BLMs reassurances as he so clearly expressed to Idaho news reporters on February 5, 2009, during a recent story about dead horses being dropped off on public lands that had numerous references of how domesticated horses were unable to survive “in the wild”. Click Here to view the article and video in full. Here are a few quotes from BLM’s Ranger Kilman.

“Someone is leaving domestic horses on public lands, without a way for the animals to eat or survive”.

“The horses are domesticated and cannot fend for themselves in the wild”.

“A lot of these horses aren’t use to living in the wild and they are likely to starve.”

And what does all of this have to do with Del Rio?

If a subpoena was issued today to “inventory” the almost 33,000 wild horses BLM reports are now in holding versus the measly 1,200 of yesteryear, would BLM give the American people the same response? Would they again refuse to comply with a grand jury subpoena, which only asks to verify the wild horses and burros BLM reports are in holding are indeed - in holding?

If a truly independent census count was conducted today on America’s remaining free-roaming wild horse and burro populations after their massive cleansing campaign during the Bush years, could BLM continue to plaster posters at their holding facilities professing wild horses and burros are “not an endangered species”? And if an independent census found BLM had removed most of America’s wild horses and burros after all, can we really just dump domestic horses on public lands to replace the American mustang and burro and their unique adaptations?

Or would a serious, independent "inventory" of the numbers break Del Rio’s back again and show the American public what BLM really thinks of the laws or our herds they are charged with to protect and preserve....

(1) Lubow, B.C., and J.I. Ransom. 2007. Aerial population estimates of wild horses (Equus caballus) in Adobe Town and Salt Wells Creek Herd Management Areas using an integrated simultaneous double-cout and sightability bias correction technique: U.S. Geological Survey Open File Report 2007-1274. 13 p., available at:
(2) Advances in New Zealand mammalogy 1990-2000: Feral Horse, Clare J. Veltman, Journal of The Royal Society of New Zealand, Volume 31, 2001, pg.219-224