Saturday, May 16, 2009

Show Me The Money

"You may be aware that the BLM’s inability to administer the budget of the Wild Horse and Burro Program with any trace of fiscal accountability is a long-standing concern…."
Congressional Representative Nick Rahall
Congressional Representative Raul Grijalva
July 9, 2008

Alright everybody, bear with me on this one as I’m going to jump around quite a bit here and cover a lot of ground….

So I’m reading Ted Williams recent rant on H.R. 1018 titled, A Bill That Absolutely Must Die”. He follows up his catchy title with the quote, “What a destructive, brainless piece of legislation. ‘Restoring’ an invasive exotic that destroys fish and wildlife habitat, then dies in agony. Nice!” Apparently, Ted hadn’t said enough so he went back the next day to add, “This kind of idiocy on the part of the House Natural Resources Committee almost makes me miss Don Young. What morons!”

So Ted’s reminiscing about the good ole days when Don Young was around reminded me of a government contract I meant to check out quite some time ago but somehow got pushed to the back of my ever expanding pile of projects.

It was a contract awarded through the Department of the Interior (DOI) for “Wild Horse & Burro Control Services” (Product Code F016) signed on September 7, 2007 and was good through 2008. $10,000 dollars was awarded to the Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges, A Cooperative Corporation based in Anchorage and funneled through U.S. Fish & Wildlife (USFWS). Click Here to view. Needless to say, I wondered what Alaska needed money for to control wild horses and burros.

Well, it turns out the $10k contract went to Don Young’s district in an non-competed and unsolicited bid because of its “unique services” for an organization just three years old - and that’s three years old as of this year. It was comprised of four people with an annual reported income of merely $12,000 when the contract was awarded and touts a recent membership tally of 210, members who apparently specialize in a "war on invasive species”.

According to the “Friends of Alaska” newsletters, they are very tight with USFWS because of their involvement with the Wildlife Refuge System. On the back page of their recently released 2008-2009 Winter Newsletter, they list all the projects they were involved in for 2008, which just happens to include “Unalaska Non-Native Horse Gelding Project”.

I’ll be the first to admit, the DOI funneling funds to a 501(c) organization in Alaska to handle “Unalaska Non-Native Horse Gelding Project” is a bit befuddling. My guess is this was how managers “found” the money to castrate the Sheldon wild stallions during last summers round ups. (However, perhaps I’m wrong and maybe someone with a little more clout than myself should look into why Don’s “Friends” are getting an unsolicited government award that is almost the equivalent of their entire reported annual income.)

So as I pondered this funding curve to the Friends, this led me to thinking about the budget BLM presented to the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board in February 2008 reproduced in the 6/24/08 post, “BLM Budgets”. Click Here to view.

It was here I noticed BLM was NOT crediting or reporting to the Advisory Board the money generated from adopting and selling our wild heritage and posed a question as to the whereabouts of this money. This in turn inspired someone to comment on the article, which went something like, “They were intrigued by my question so contacted Mr. Bolstad at the National Program Office and was told this funding was used to transport the horses and burros to the adoption events.” (I verified this myself and that is indeed what Mr. Bolstad stated.)

So in trying to get an idea of just how much money was being omitted from the credit side of the Wild Horse & Burro Program, I did some quick math, (which is included in the Mustang & Burro Report, pg. 35) and found this would amount to almost $600,000 for the 4,772 animals adopted in Fiscal Year 2007 at $125.00 each. Though I can attest to the fact that I’ve seen many wild horses go for much higher than this on BLM’s Internet Adoption Website, this base figure should be reasonably solid.

Well, I don’t know about you but I consider six hundred thousand dollars no small chunk of change and certainly not small enough for BLM to fail to report it to the Advisory Board, ESPECIALLY since the entire crux of killing 33,000 wild horses and burros is based on funding issues. After all, BLM reported the cost of the Adoption Program, why didn’t they report the revenue it generated?

So then my mind wanders to what Congressmen Rahall and Grijalva stated in their letter last year as quoted above about how BLM is notorious for not having a “trace of fiscal accountability” in the WH&B Program.

So off to Google I go to see if any recent audit of the WH&B Program has been done and I find this old article called, “Audit Critical of BLM Accounting Practices” detailing how a 1995-1996 audit of a “$16 million dollars wild horse adoption program uncovered no improper expenditures but criticized some accounting practices for inflating the amount actually being spent directly on the horses.”

(Note: This website actually has a TON of information on what was going on back then and I couldn’t help but feel I was somehow trapped in a real ground hog day nightmare. The articles covered a wide array of subjects, most exposing some really dirty dealings. These included how wild horse and burro advocates were given a heads up back then of how the 1998 National Parks and Sub-Committee meeting in Reno was revving up for wild horse slaughter as well as shopping the idea around over ten years ago to sell our “excess” wild horses to third world countries for agriculture use. If that sounds familiar, check the Advisory Board’s recent recommendations about what to do with all our excess animals. Click Here to view these archived articles.)

Well, as rewarding as it was finding all those old articles, Google couldn’t find any recent financial audit of the WH&B Program so I contacted various wild horse advocates and they weren’t aware of a recent financial audit either.

So out comes the October 2008 Government Accountability Office (GAO) Report to see if they had any significant financial information or requests for an audit of the Wild Horse & Burro Program.

Not surprisingly, just like all the other information this “Slaughter-On-A-Silver-Platter” report produced, the financial information is just regurgitated budgets, projections and numbers spoon fed to the GAO by BLM.

As I’m re-reading the GAO Report (and trying to keep my lunch down), I notice that:

*BLM was suppose to have a report out in March 2009 providing a breakdown of all the acreage in the Wild Horse & Burro Program and why it was zeroed out, a report that hasn’t materialized yet.

*BLM was also suppose to release their National Policy Handbook on the Wild Horse & Burro Program by March 2009 to establish consistency with how our mustangs and burros are determined “excessive”, which hasn’t been published yet either (though I’ve been assured that Susie “Sunshine” Stokke is diligently working to crank out the very best policies her oversight has to offer).

Meanwhile, the GAO actually reported that, “...field offices are losing the experienced personnel most familiar with the informal practice of determining AML”. (And there’s still not a whimper from the big dogs about this blatant admission that arbitrary decisions issued from these “informal practices” are what landed our wild horses and burros in this mess to begin with!)

By the by, BLM has confirmed that when this National Handbook is finally produced, it will be open to comment and input from the Advisory Board but NOT TO THE PUBLIC, despite it probably being the most significant document to oversee every detail of on-the-ground management affecting the entire Program, all remaining habitat and every herd still standing. My guess is this little piece of unofficial legislation will weigh in HUGE on the Program for the rest of its days but no, the public is not allowed to participate in something that might really matter in how our wild herds will be managed, protected and preserved.

And finally,

*The GAO actually had the audacity to regurgitate, “According to BLM data, the population now exceeds the upper limit of AML by an estimated 5,886 animals. BLM attributes most of the increase in population to more accurate population census counts(pg. 32).


How in good conscience could the GAO just throw this out there without challenge, without question, without proof? Is anyone else aware of BLM implementing nationwide changes in how they counted our mustangs and burros on the range, a technique they used all across the West prior to the release of the GAO report to justify this completely unfounded statement?

So what gives? While the rest of the GAO report beats the drum of how the current method is flawed and has ONLY been under counting populations, as far as I know THIS IS THE SAME METHOD BLM used to justify how they “found” 5,886 more animals nationally.

Did BLM discover some amazingly superior technique and secretly conducted a national census all across the West with no one knowing about it right before the GAO released their report? And how exactly was this national census funded – with more donations to Friends of Alaska or others like them?

But finally, back to the point of my ramblings…

Rahall and Grijalva asked for answers almost a year ago. They were well aware of prior budgetary issues with the Wild Horse & Burro Program – the very heart of why BLM insists they must have the authority to kill and slaughter our reportedly “excessive” mustangs and burros forevermore - yet....


At the Wild Horse & Burro Summit last October, BLM Deputy Director Henri Bisson told a packed room that, at the very latest, BLM would give our wild horses and burros until the end of Fiscal Year 2009 (that’s September 30th of this year folks - just a measly three months away) to find solutions to their budget problems or they would be forced to take “drastic measures”.

Drastic measures based on a “budget” we have never seen for “excessive” wild horses and burros that keep materializing - from where?

Think about it.

Photo of wild horses being removed in 2006 from the now zeroed out Ely District.
Source: Government Accountability Office Report,
Effective Long Term Options Needed To Manage Unadoptable Wild Horses,
GAO-09-77, October 2008.


Anonymous said...

You forgot to mention George Knapp catching BLM lying about adoption budgets in Nevada too. Here's the link:

water_bearer said...

See this? Wondering what to think of this. Sort of seems like a "fire sale" on BLM mustangs.

Glad to hear that they're still very interested in Mrs. Pickens' plan though.

Unknown said...

Letter to BLM re: Helicopter round-ups has high praises for American Herd blog!! Please read!