Sunday, May 24, 2009

Rounding Rock Creek

On April 23, 2009, the BLM Elko District sent out a public scoping letter requesting input about a upcoming plan to gather approximately 489 wild horses, remove 389 and return about 100 to the Rock Creek Wild Horse Herd Management Area (HMA). Out of the 100 they are planning on allowing to remain, 75 will be mares treated with the fertility control drug PZP with only 25 stallions. (Despite BLM’s ongoing concerns for high reproduction rates, it would appear they intend to stack the post-gather Rock Creek herd with a majority of mares and then will compensate for their gender manipulation by injecting those mares with PZP.)

Also, the round up proposals stated the majority of the wild horses BLM intends on removing are “occurring outside the Rock Creek HMA.” Click Here to view BLMs letter.


Wild horse capture from Rock Creek HMA - 2005

The Rock Creek wild horse Herd Management Area (HMA) is located in Northern Nevada near the Idaho border. It is adjacent to several other wild horse HMAs including Little Humboldt, Snowstorm Mountains, Little Owyhee and Rock Creek’s closest cousin, the Owyhee HMA.

This area is generally managed by BLM as a “Complex”, meaning they often issue round up proposals for several of these HMAs at once and consider the close proximity of the other HMAs as assuring the genetic diversity and stability of the herds in the area. Also, because of this “genetic interchange” (a.k.a., migrating wild horses), BLM targeted this area as a potential future candidate for returning castrated stallions (geldings) as a portion of the wild horses BLM will manage in the area in their Draft Report, “Options for Managing a Non-Breeding Component within Self-Sustaining Herds of Wild Horses” (July 2006).

Since the majority of the Rock Creek HMA is surrounded by other wild horse HMAs, we are only left to wonder what BLM means by gathering and removing wild horses “outside the Rock Creek HMA”. How far is “outside” and is this BLMs way of hiding removals from the adjacent HMAs to avoid public disclosure of what they really intend to do?

Generally, when BLM removes wild horses from “outside an HMA”, they usually don’t transport any of them back into the HMA with the reason given being, wild horses just go back to their “home range”, which is now located outside their legal boundaries.

Also, when wild horses are taken under an “outside HMA” heading, BLM usually fails to report WHERE they took the horses from: in their post-gather reports, in the numbers they send to the National Program Office and the descriptions they provide for the now captured wild horses offered for adoption. It’s a great technique to juggle numbers, hide populations and scramble reports….

Currently, BLM is reporting 511 wild horses have been identified in the Rock Creek “area” but this number continues to defy all logic as the Rock Creek wild horses were removed in 2005 and then again in the fall of 2006 during an emergency round up due to wildfires burning “nearly 1,480 square miles”, according to Willis Lamm of Kicking Back Ranch. (Perhaps this is why wild horses are now occurring “outside the HMA” – because their former habitat has been charred to a crisp and BLM offers no other solution but removals). For an in depth review of the stark conditions that sparked the Rock Creek emergency removals in 2006, Click Here.

According to BLMs 2006 Final Gather Schedule, only 52 wild horses were estimated as remaining in Rock Creek after the gathers despite a “high” established allowable management level of 250 wild horses. At that time, BLM reported it was necessary to remove so many more wild horses than normal in order to protect the range from further degradation and prevent wild horses from starving to death due to lack of forage.

If you are wondering if any other wild horses were also removed during this same 2006 round up, the answer is - yes they were.

BLM reported removing 247 from Rock Creek, 87 from Little Humboldt (with 25 wild horses estimated as remaining), 24 removed from Snowstorm Mountains (with an estimated 108 remaining) and 125 wild horses were removed from the Owyhee HMA (with 400 estimated as remaining). Click Here to view BLMs Final 2006 Gather Schedule and these gather statistics are located on the last page.

Because of the timing of the round ups, only two foaling seasons have transpired since BLM issued the population figures cited above (though by the end of June, it will be up to three foaling seasons.) Despite this, BLM now claims that the 52 Rock Creek wild horses of three years ago have now magically turned into over 500 wild horses – and this is before this year’s foals have actually arrived AND despite the fact that foals from the previous two years were generally too young to reproduce yet themselves.

However, we can be assured that BLM will blame yet again either “poor census methods” or wild horses migrating from other HMAs to explain this astonishing population explosion – just like they always do.

Except the world is getting smaller and what use to occur in the vast expanses of solitary rangelands, unseen and unknown by only a few, is becoming more and more public as eyewitnesses are reporting what they find in BLMs “management areas” that just doesn’t jive with the official reports.

In this case, a eyewitness account during a recent field trip of the Owyhee livestock allotment taken in early December 2008, (which encompasses most of the Owhyee wild horse HMA and is adjacent to Rock Creek) reported an “astonishing lack of wild horses in the area” or any recent signs of wild horse use at all (they only saw 3 really spooked wild horses during the entire trip).

They also expressed concerns about BLM closing gates they weren’t suppose too, which could potentially entrap or exclude wild horses from much needed critical resources, as well as noting a mysterious horse corral set up in the middle of one of the grazing pastures whose purpose could not be immediately explained.

The questions raised by what they saw and the detailed accounting of what they found leave no doubt that something really fishy was going on in the area at the time. Because of their concerns, shortly after returning from the area they officially submitted many questions to BLM and I have summarized this in a Field Observation Report you can view by Clicking Here.

It took BLM 3 months to respond in any manner to their questions and when BLM finally did, they reported a March 2, 2009 census found 510 wild horses in much of the same area field trip observers were going through just a few months before.

While I don’t have any doubt that indeed, 500 wild horses are now in the Rock Creek HMA as BLM is reporting (or in the adjacent “outside areas” – including the Owyhee HMA), the questions now become: Where were they in December? How can they now be occurring by the hundreds in just a little over two months and only after serious questions were raised about these same vast expanses being completely devoid of wild horse populations?

In trying to find answers, I found a very interesting article on the Nevada Commission for the Preservation of Wild Horses website titled, "A Long Way From Home". It is the story of a rare “perlino” foal with a peach colored mane and tale, darker peach/dun color hocks and knees and frosty peach fuzz color body. He was later to be named Mister and sprung from a wild mare named Pumpkin. However, as adorable as little “Mister” was, it wasn’t his story I found so interesting but Momma Pumpkin’s story that really caught my attention.

In describing Momma Pumpkin’s background, writer Jan Davis (Editor/Member of Western Writers of America) stated: “Pumpkin (91531736, signalment HF1AFAEIE) was born April of 1991 in Palomino Valley Facility (NV53F) in Washoe, Nevada. She remains a bit of a mystery horse because she shows up on the BLM records through 5/16/91 and then was unaccounted for until she showed up in the wild horse gather 2/15/02 in Rock Creek HMA Nevada….” Click Here to view the complete story.

That’s right, Pumpkin was 11 years old when she was “found” in the Rock Creek HMA during a 2002 round up. So how did Pumpkin disappear from BLMs watchful eye for 11 years only to re-emerge as a “wild horse” in Rock Creek? Perhaps this can provide a clue about the mysterious horse corral the eyewitness had noticed in the middle of the Owyhee allotment pasture last December.

In my research, I have now found several accounts of wild horses being dropped off in HMAs by BLM for a variety of reasons, including testimony as far back as 1998 from Dale Tunnel, head of BLMs Special Agent Law Enforcement Division (Click Here to view “The Horse Rustlers”) to the most recent report of wild horses taken from Utah’s Sulphur HMA last November and then returned to the range after being held for over a month for “fertility control treatments” as well as citing they were returned for their exceptional conformation, color and spanish mustang characteristics. Here is BLMs actual statement regarding their return – “There are 29 head of horses that will be returned to the Sulphur HMA on 01/16/09.” Click Here for BLMs Post-Gather Report (pg. 2 under Comments).

While again we can only speculate as to what is really going on out on the range, what we do know for certain is – these days, BLM has a lot riding on the line in the Wild Horse & Burro Program….

Somehow they must convince Congress that their management of the Wild Horse & Burro Program is reasonably well grounded in legitimate data while simultaneously convincing them that the scores of testimony, evidence and proof showing their utter lack of knowledge, abysmal failures in population reporting and general mismanagement (with some of this testimony coming from BLM themselves), is only to be considered when things aren’t “adding up”. Any other time, they assure us they completely know what they are doing.

Of course, their well oiled and well grounded wild horse management machine is why BLM continues to claim they need the For Sale Authority option to sell all those “excess” wild horses for commercial exploitation and slaughter (and why they need Congress to finally release their reins and allow those sales to be “unconditional”), why they need to kill tens of thousands of now captured wild horses sitting in holding pens and why they need millions more to continue funding wild horse and burro removals – despite not being able to even marginally explain who, what, how, why, where and when. (It does make it much easier on BLM to talk out of both sides of their mouth since no legitimate independent investigation is being called for to sincerely review the reams of fantastical claims BLM continues to make about their wild horse and burro management.)

However, setting aside all the speculation as to “how” all these wild horses mysteriously keep being found in the HMAs shortly after huge removal operations, what I can say with absolute certainty is, by the time the round ups are conducted, the wild horses really are there and this brings me to my immediate concern.

According to a fellow wild horse advocate, Barbara Warner from American Horse Defense Fund, recent communications with the BLM Elko Field Office has them on record stating they are going to postpone the Rock Creek round up until the fall of 2010. While all round up postponements are usually cause for relief (ESPECIALLY THESE DAYS!), in this instance, I’m very worried about the wild horses themselves.

If hundreds of wild horses are now out on the range as BLM is reporting, there is NOT sufficient forage and water to support them – period, the end. With such past tragedies as the known deaths of the Jackson Mountain wild horses and recently, “large numbers of dead horses” found on the range in Oregon during a round up last fall, there is the very real possibility that when summer hits, these horses are going to struggle, starve and die because there is just too many of them for the range to support in its current condition.

So I’m wondering….

Is BLM planning on letting them just sit out there and starve to death to get their photos to show Congress WHY they need funding and to continue round ups? Will these wild horses be martyred to show waterholes beaten to a pulp to illustrate the continued “severe overpopulation of wild horses” used to justify BLMs ongoing actions?

From here, will BLM then blame wild horse advocates for being an impediment to their “sound rangeland management” just as Advisory Board Member Dr. Spratling did after the Jackson Mountain fiasco when he exclaimed, “The very people that claim to care the most about those horses were actually the ones driving the death nail in their coffin”.

Or will BLM finally find their hearts at the last minute and sweep in to do yet another “emergency” round up to save them from this fate, (which they unequivocally know is coming) while conveniently circumventing any further public notice, deny the public opportunity to comment or provide input (such as stacking the herd with mostly mares and then giving them PZP to compensate) as well as using this move to prevent any opportunity for the public to legally appeal their actions such as they did with the Nellis wild horses last summer.

BLM knows their actions cannot be publicly appealed to the Interior Board of Land of Appeals if no signature is provided to authorize their actions – they get around this lack of signature by giving a “verbal order” that the court does not recognize – even if BLM then submits evidence of their actions to the court after the fact.

Furthermore, once the wild horses have been taken (and could we possible advocate leaving them out there to die?) IBLA has and will rule the removals of wild horses by “emergency” renders the objections of taking them as “moot” because: 1) they are already gone and, 2) despite being captured, they still retain their wild horse status as long as BLM holds title to them. (Just ask Pumpkin!)

So, while BLM is still “legally accepting public input”, I would like to highly recommend the public ask them a few questions about what is REALLY going on in the Rock Creek HMA and the surrounding areas. Additionally, since BLM has reportedly cancelled the round up, what do they plan to do about hundreds and hundreds of now present wild horses trying to survive on drought and fire stricken ranges and are pasture fences closed throughout this area like they were in the Owyhee allotment last December.

Comments and input will be accepted through
Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Please address your comments to:

BLM Tuscarora Field Office
Attention: Bruce Thomson, Wild Horse Specialist
3900 Idaho Street
Elko, NV 89801
Phone: (775) 753-0286
Email Address:

Please be aware that any personal information and comments submitted to BLM become part of the public record. If requested, BLM will try to withhold personally identifying information but cannot guarantee this. Also, be sure to include Rock Creek Wild Horse Gather Scoping Notice in the title of your comments.

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