Wednesday, December 30, 2009


BLM Photo - 2004 Warm Springs HMA Wild Horse Round Up

In January 2008, when the BLM Winnemucca Field Office approved the new grazing proposal for the Soldier Meadows Allotment, Western Watersheds Project filed an appeal and took BLM to court to challenge that decision.

As a result, extensive testimony from BLM personnel has been given about the Soldier Meadows Allotment and is now part of the public record, some of which included testimony from Glenna Eckel, BLMs Winnemucca Wild Horse & Burro Specialist on May 13th, 2009.

Ms. Eckel testified, under oath, in a court of law, about impacts from wild horses on the range in areas of the Calico Complex that she had been monitoring for the last six years. Below are some of the highlights of this testimony. To view the complete transcript, Click Here.

Page 818
Line 20, Answer from Eckel; “I’ve been assigned the Warm Springs Canyon Herd Management Area and the Calico Mountains Herd Management Area for the last six years. I have only been assigned to the Black Rock Range West for the last year.”

Page 796
Line 18, Answer from Eckel; “Well, I guess, honestly, I’m surprised that the number of horses that are out there, based on my monitoring data that I’ve done the last couple of years, that the monitoring data hasn’t shown a higher utilization than what I’ve read. So I guess what I am thinking is that I’m not sure it would change my conclusion.”

Line 24. Question; “Increasing the horses five times would not change your conclusion; is that right?”

Page 797
Line 1, Answer from Eckel; “Well, I think, again it boils down to that competition. And what I have seen, again based on the monitoring data, is that I would have expected different monitoring data than what I’ve collected, based on those numbers.”

Page 809
Line 22, Question; “Okay. I believe, in your testimony, you made a statement that you were surprised at the number of horses that were out there, that the monitoring data hasn’t shown higher utilizations than what you read?”

Page 810
Line 1, Answer from Eckel; “Correct”.

Line 2, Question; “Could you just elaborate a little bit more on what you meant by that?”

Line 4-16, Answer from Eckel; “Sure. I guess what I mean is, given the March ’08 census and the numbers we counted, I didn’t have that knowledge prior to March ’08. So the monitoring that I did and since the last gather, which was in 2004-2005, I was under the impression that we were at AML, those population estimates that we looked at earlier.”

And what surprises me is that now, knowing that we had – I can’t remember what you gave it, a certain percentage over. But there’s significantly more animals out there than what we thought were, so I would have expected the monitoring data to show higher levels of use than what I collected. And I guess I’m learning it’s a big country, animals move”.

Page 814
Line 18-21, Question; “What were the implications, in your mind, of the monitoring data that you collected? In other words, once you gathered it, what were your – perhaps “conclusions” is a better word.

Line 25, Answer from Eckel; “And at the time, again, like after the gather, I assumed that we were close to those population estimates of being under AML, and so the monitoring data was meeting management objectives that we had identified. And again, I was thinking we had a smaller population than I learned then in 2008.” (emphasis added).

To summarize, Glenna Eckle stated that, despite wild horse populations being five times over BLMs “established AMLs” in the areas she was monitoring in the Calico Complex, BLMs “monitoring objectives were being met”, that this significantly larger population was NOT evident in their forage consumption, that she had no idea they were so far over AML until they flew over the area and counted the horses, and that based on what she had seen, she was really surprised about what she was finding on the range regarding wild horse impacts.

To understand the full legal implication of what Glenna is saying here, it is also important to understand what the courts have already told BLM in the past about the legal criteria they must use to determine what is “excess” before they have any authority to remove wild horses and burros from the range.

“The test as to appropriate wild horse population levels is whether such levels will achieve and maintain a thriving ecological balance on the public lands. Nowhere in the law or regulations is the BLM required to maintain any specific number of animals or to maintain populations in the number of animals existing at any particular time Dahl v. Clark, supra, at 595. A determination that removal is warranted must be based on research and analysis, and on monitoring programs, which include studies of grazing utilization, trends in range conditions, actual use, and climactic factors". Michael Blake, supra: Animal Protection Institute of America 109 IBLA 112, 120 (1989); see Craig C. Downer, 111 IBLA 339 (1989)

The Calico Complex Environmental Assessments never mentioned Glenna’s testimony or what she found about “monitoring objectives being met” with five times the wild horses than BLM knew were out there before they counted them.

Instead, BLM buried the evidence and used old decisions to perpetuate the “Appropriate Management Levels” of wild horses in the area, some of which were set as far back as 1982.

So now, wild horses are galloping in the snow, down steep terrain, through rocky, icy, slippery paths on private land and being hauled to BLMs newly built Northern Nevada wild horse holding facility, not the publicly open Palomino Valley Facility, but a facility so new, BLM doesn’t even have a protocol established for public access yet.

There’s been a lot of speculation flying around the Internet the last few days about “why” the Calico Complex wild horses are being shipped to this facility instead of the publicly accessible Palomino Valley.

One source familiar with the Calico wild horses stated they were prone to strangles. This is being confirmed from another source that stated they have been communicating with BLM's John Neil, the man in charge of both the Palomino Valley Holding Facility as well as the newest one the Calico Complex wild horses are being shipped to. According to this source, John Neil stated, "Some of the horses coming in off the Calico Mountain Complex, particularly from the Warm Springs area, have contagious upper respiratory issues. As a result they are all being transported to BLM's new contract holding facility in Fallon."

According to a January 31, 2006 article in LA Weekly, Mustang author Deanne Stillman stated, “...46 wild horses at the BLM corral in Susanville, California, have died of strangles, an upper respiratory infection that can kick in after a horse is stressed — or after, for instance, being run too hard during a helicopter roundup.”

In Animal Welfare Institutes “Managing for Extinction”, a publication regarding critical issues found in BLMs management of the Wild Horse & Burro Program that continue to stay unresolved, it appears the issue of strangles is not isolated to just the Calico wild horses, as AWI has also reported:

In the fall of 2006, the Palomino Valley, NV and Litchfield, CA holding facilities suffered from outbreaks of strangles, a highly infectious and serious respiratory disease. During the past two years, practically every BLM facility has experienced similar disease outbreaks, leading to the confirmed deaths of scores of animals…..”

While BLM points to wild horses being “prone to strangles” as the reason for their isolation and why it is important to keep them far from the public eye, (and we can only wonder why BLM would want to expose approximately 2,500 wild horses to each other that are now at risk of catching strangles from their new exposure to each other), perhaps BLM should begin to reconsider their decisions to manage wild horses by running them in the winter, in the snow, like they did to Jewel, the beautiful wild pregnant mare run down during a BLM round up in 2007.

Was Jewel prone to strangles too?

No, she did not survive…

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Shepherd-ing The Future

They brought him in from Wyoming, where he oversaw BLM’s second largest wild horse operation in the West. He is the “lead” contraceptive guy, the “lead” guy in new census studies on the Adobe Town/Salt Wells Horses, and now has been brought in as the “Lead” Wild Horse & Burro manager for Nevada.

He was on the Team Conference Calls between July and September of 2008, after BLM announced they might euthanize tens of thousands of horses as he and others plotted “what to do”, which was finalized in the Draft Alternative Management Options Report (October 2008), so graphicly summarized by this recent Animal Law Coalition article by Laura Allen in, “BLMs Final Solution for the Wild Horses & Burros” and Equine Welfare Alliance's, “BLM Slaughter Conspiracy” by Valerie James Patton and John Holland.

Now he is outlining the future of our mustangs and burros with strategies supporting the Salazoos and feedlots masquerading as “preserves”, the long-awaited “private sanctuaries” where wild horses are turned into livestock - complete with interpretive centers describing how they use to be “wild” - with the added bonus of the public losing their rights to be involved in their management, preservation or protection (try filing a Freedom of Information Act request on a private company).

Finally, BLM will no longer have to answer to anybody about “where” the horses and burros are going any more....

He is Alan Shepherd and this could be the finest hour of his BLM career.

As Wild Horse & Burro Lead of Nevada, he now gets to rub elbows with “who’s who” in the state that holds the largest free-roaming herds still left on public lands.

He is BLMs lead guy to be called in by Nevada Senator Harry Reid if feedback is necessary on the wild horse and burro situation, who coincidentally, as Senate Majority Leader holds the keys to R.O.A.M and Congressional Hearings on their bungled management.

He is in line to discuss the wild horse and burro issues with former Nevada BLM Director Robert Abbey and now National BLM Director, who set in motion many of the wild horse and burro plans we are seeing come to fruition today.

He can hold private conversations with the folks at the Wild Horse & Burro Program's National Office sitting across the hall, which include ex-Nevada State Wild Horse & Burro Lead, Susie “Sunshine” Stokke, now in charge of writing BLMs Handbook on Wild Horse & Burro Management throughout the West.

Or he can get feedback from guys like Elko County Commissioner and rancher Demar Dahl, who submitted statements in 1998 to a Congressional Subcommittee Hearing about what to do with the wild horse problem who also had the gonads to turn around and tell a room full of advocates last month at the National Wild Horse & Burro Advisory Board Meeting what a great guy he is, how much he loves wild horses and everything he’s done for them.

Based on Mr. Dahl’s comments last month, apparently he has changed his opinion since the last time he was called in to support “the team”, as back in 1998, this is some of what he had to say;

We need I think to recognize that the horse is a resource. All of us love Bambi and all of us love deer, we all recognize that a deer herd has to be managed and we manage them and we control their numbers. And how do we do it? We eat them. The horse is a resource, there are horses that are good for companionship, good for pleasure riding, good for working cattle, good for jumping. There are some horses that I can tell you, and I have known horses all my life and I love good horses, but there are a lot of horses that are just to be eaten and that is their best use. And there are plenty of people and plenty of pets in this world that are willing to utilize that resource. And I think that common sense should dictate that we give the BLM sale authority and allow that to happen.”

Mr. Dahl also threw in the suggestion of, “I think that if we were to remove all of the wild horses from the ranges but establish horse reserves where people, as John Carpenter talked about, could come and visit and see the horses, but keep all of the horses off of the other areas, I think that would be a step in the right direction.”

But for now, it looks like Alan has set his sites for rubbing elbows with Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar by drawing up a pretty, bullet point paper about the “future” of our mustangs and burros titled, “Nevada Wild Horse & Burro Strategy Update – NV Tri-RAC” that seems intent on totaling supporting and doing whatever it takes to move Secretary Salazar's plans forward.

As I read what Mr. Shepherd was outlining, I wanted to ask him how he knows the current population in Nevada is 21,000 wild horses and burros or that 31 HMAs are above AML (165%), when part of the outlined strategy is to “increase accuracy of populations”.

Or why BLM believes they need to reduce reproduction rates when they are having trouble figuring out how many horses are really on the range to begin with.

But since Alan arrived in Nevada, he hasn’t responded to a single question I've posed or email sent. As a result, I’d also like to ask Mr. Shepherd what “develop a public participation and outreach strategy” means, but since he doesn’t respond to my current efforts of “public participation”, it doesn’t look like the chances are very high I’ll get an answer on this question either. Maybe this is a precursor to BLMs new vision for public involvement...

According to Alan’s Plan, “Discussions are ongoing with KEY Congressman and Committees”. Apparently, the rest of Congress hasn’t been invited to the elbow rubbing sessions or else fail to hold the “keys” to the solutions BLM is looking for.

I also thought the comment made by Eileen O’Conner with respect to the "BLMs Final Solution" article referenced above was very revealing too, about how Congress was now identified as a “stakeholder” in public resource management, as the definition of a stakeholder is usually reserved for private interests, not public.

Alan outlines how BLM is busy drafting a new Wild Horse & Burro Management Plan that must be submitted to Congress by September 30, 2010. Its primary focus is on what to do with all the wild horses and burros BLM has captured while simultaneously focusing on the need to improve all their deficiencies in monitoring, census methods, and lack of personnel that caused them to be removed in the first place. But nobody trying to ram these new proposals through wants to bring these issues to the table, do they?

Mr. Shepherd ends his strategic outline with a painted pony running free on the range and titles it, “Questions?”

Yeah, I have a lot of questions.
When are you guys going to start really answering them?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

What's Left?

As the united call to stop BLMs unchecked assault on the American mustang & burro continues to gain momentum, with over 180 organizations and celebrities now supporting a moratorium to halt any further removals until key issues can be resolved, here’s one more reason to demand a “cease and desist” until a full scale investigation can be conducted on the Wild Horse & Burro Program to determine what’s really left out on the range.

Since 2001, BLM has reported removing over 80,000 wild horses and burros at an average of 10,000 animals per year. Despite these aggressive efforts, they continue to report little to no impact has been made on reining in their “excess” populations, a nebulous term BLM continues to define and an even more elusive goal they never seem able to achieve.

According to BLM, their target is a maximum national population goal of 26,578 wild horses and burros, a target that BLM has cut by over 2,000 animals just in the last five years, and BLM intends on spending approximately $32 million dollars to remove over 12,000 animals this year to reach it.

In the spring of 2009, BLM reported over 37,000 wild horses and burros still roamed free on public lands throughout the West but if you look at the numbers, serious questions arise as to the validity of these claims.

For example, in 2002, BLM removed 12,029 wild horses and burros equating to 31% of those reported on the range; despite this high percentage, BLM reported it only reduced the national totals by a mere 1,600 animals. In 2003, BLM removed over 10,000 more (26%) but still the removals seemingly made no impact as BLM now reported national totals declined by only 51 animals.

In July 2008, an independent analysis examined BLMs statistics and found a very different scenario than what BLM continued to report regarding the number of animals still remaining on the range published in, “America’s Mustangs and Burros: What’s Left, The High Cost of Miscalculating and Will They Survive?”

Using the same methods BLM uses to manage the Wild Horse & Burro Program, an alternative population emerged that concluded, as of February 28, 2008, BLM had already removed between 11,000 to 14,000 more animals than necessary to achieve their national population goals.

Still, the round ups continued….

Today, American Herds presents the updated numbers of what may be all that’s really left of America’s free-roaming herds as of September 30, 2009, now hovering between 22,000 to 26,000 less than BLM continues to publicly report.

In addition to graphically illustrating the annual population declines, at least 52 Herd Management Areas have been found to have extreme jumps in annual population reports that were key in supporting BLMs national “excess” with 25 of these occurring between 2007/2008 and 16 between 2008/2009. To learn more, Click Here.

Until Congress demands an independent count of the populations BLM has been reporting, both on and off the range, the evidence continues to mount that “What’s Left?” has reached critical levels of concern.