Saturday, March 27, 2010

Say Something!

For months now, American citizens of all ages, political affiliations, and backgrounds across the nation have been calling on President Obama to step up to the plate and speak out to rein in the government’s management of the Wild Horse and Burro Program and America’s mustangs and burros.

Despite campaign promises that he was squarely for protecting our wild herds, once elected, the President’s ongoing silence has become a deafening roar as concerns and pleas for intervention continue to be meet with nothing more than a Presidential cold shoulder.

Wild horse and burro advocates protesting Obama's silence
last month during the President visit to Las Vegas.
Photo courtesy of Arlene Gawne.

Mr. Obama is obviously capable of taking swift and decisive action to speak out on issues of national importance, such as his immediate confession that “he loves Las Vegas” to appease the political fallout out and media backlash resulting from his targeting of Vegas as the national Icon of Excess.

However, it appears the President’s compassion doesn’t extend as far for the ongoing plight of America’s mustangs and burros or their own national iconic status as it does for dinging the reputation of glitzy and glamorous fabulous Las Vegas.

While President Obama’s limousine cruised down the streets to make amends and present apologies over champagne, wild horse and burro advocates tracked his brigade in efforts to be heard.

Does the sign above the Presidential limousine accidentally capture the truth of President Obama's real agenda? Photo courtesy of Arlene Gawne.

Catapulted into office by a world hungry for change, Mr. Obama baited his audience with such promises as transparency, open government and giving the people a voice. Since his arrival at the White House, too often we have only seen more of the same!

In late January, 2010, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a long-standing organization developed and dedicated to protecting government whistle blowers who tell the truth about what is really happening behind the scenes, issued a news release detailing how the Obama administration planned to deal with the transparency issue and government workers.

The new release was titled, “Obama Gag Ordered On Federal Workers Like Those Under Bush”, and it summarizes the issues by stating, “Despite proclaiming new levels of transparency and accountability, the Obama team remains rooted in a ‘message control’ mentality that punishes workers for unscripted candor.”

Highlighting key issues and tactics being used to shut down government transparency, PEER outlines how, after President Obama issued a “signing statement” in March 2009, he authorized extending his control for restricting information and public access to even include restricting federal employees’ ability to provide information to Congress, [which includes] “his inherent authority to ‘supervise, control, and correct employees’ communication with the Congress”.

While I may not have the credibility or long-standing weight of PEER, since President Obama’s arrival on the American scene with his promises of transparency, open government and change, my own experiences mirrors PEER’s report as communications with government personnel have all but dried up.

As public affairs specialists have taken center stage to orchestrate spin, myths and continued propaganda, the agencies themselves are echoing the same deafening Obama silence that continues to ring across the nation and abroad as the war on America’s mustangs and burros continues, unabated.

On Thursday, citizens from across the nation went to Washington D.C. to "March for Mustangs", with support from simultaneous protests in Las Vegas, Los Angeles and London. It has been reported that the Washington protesters were met with mounted police, armed guards, had their photos snapped by some secret service type guy and were forbidden to set foot on the steps of the Department of the Interior.

Across the sea, London protestors raised their voices in support and unison demanding real change and a halt to the destruction of these - our national treasures.

Included in the protesters were singer/songwriter Maria Daines and guitarist Paul Killington, whose passionate words and praises for these fast-disappearing American icons show how these magnificent animals are loved throughout the world!

Below is a video of Paul Killington leaning against a monument to former President Dwight D. Eisenhower in front of the American Embassy as he joins the call to President Obama to SAY SOMETHING about the war being waged against America’s mustangs and burro.

I thought it would be appropriate to reminisce about what former President Eisenhower had to say before he departed from the American stage – since President Obama still has nothing to say….

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961

Friday, March 19, 2010

Two For One

While juggling too many things at once, time slipped by and I never even opened the proposals until two days ago. With only just days left, here is what I found….

The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) simultaneously issued two press releases and two proposals, both related but neither mentions the other.

The first is a proposal to ram through the establishment of Appropriate Management Levels for 11 Wild Horse and Burro Territories (WHTs) that will be used forever more to round up any wild horses or burros that exceed these levels. The second is a notice that they will be preparing an Environmental Impact Statement to evaluate and re-authorize livestock grazing for much of these same areas.

Both are presenting skeletal information and ancient data at best and I have worked unsuccessfully for hours trying fill in the mountains of gaps these proposals are omitting from the public.

Before getting into the few specific details about the area I was able to glean during my research, it is imperative to explain how they are manipulating the public process here.

We have laws that mandate how the agencies must conduct themselves; laws that mandate quality data, accountability for agency actions, specific guidelines about what and how they must review proposals and how they must involve of the public in order to ensure our Nation doesn’t evolve into a dictatorship of secrecy and tyranny.

With that said, this is how they are trying to get around these laws….

First off, when the government proposes to do something, they must make an announcement in the Federal Register. This is the equivalent of the government’s newspaper and serves to conform to the requirements that the government must notify the public of an action. The Federal Register also serves as a legal record of the agency’s actions and establishes the legal parameters for the project.

Secondly, when a proposal is announced, the agency is suppose to follow set procedures on how they process the proposal, which include adequate opportunities for public involvement, honest evaluations of what they are about to do and must publish as current as information and data as they have available for sincere analysis.

Lastly, they are NOT suppose to issue proposals to the public that already contain foregone conclusions and completed decisions. In other words, the “evaluation process” is suppose to be just that: an ongoing analysis that includes public input and looks at options, tries to find alternatives that serve the greater good and reach decisions after they have analyzed all the data and input.

How this process evolves goes something like this…

First, they issue a notice to the public called a “Scoping Notice”. This is a very loose based overview of what they are going to do and they ask the public to provide comments to determine the scope of what the agency should consider, look at, include and develop alternatives in their preparation of the next phase of the process, which is the environmental assessment (EA).

From here, the agency collects everything they gathered during the scoping process and now assemble it in a more organized format that includes alternatives, what the issues are and - if there are problems - how to fix or mitigate them, as well as outlining as best they can the foreseeable consequences of what implementing these different alternatives will do.

Once assembled, the agency releases what is called a “preliminary EA” so the public has a more detailed document to review about what the proposal will really cover and how the different alternatives will achieve different results. The public is suppose to be provided another opportunity to provide input and comments, which generally extends for 30 days.

After the agency receives more public comments on the preliminary EA, they go back and write a “Final EA”, based on that input, and tweak the proposal further with the goal of refining it and making it the best possible plan they can. Again, the Final EA is released for public review, another round of comments and input is requested and finally, the agency, after having looked at all angles and incorporating as many concerns, finding solutions to problems that may arise, yada, yada, releases the final decision.

Now from here, there are two things that can happen. The first is, after all this review, the agency determines if the EA adequately addressed the action and concerns. They are required by law to go down a checklist of items of what has been deemed “significant”. If it is determined that the proposal will not significantly affect “the quality of human life”, they stop the analysis process and issue a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), which essentially states the EA covered everything and its time to move on.

However, if this process revealed that the proposal was going to have a larger, more significant impact than they first suspected, then they are required to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) to examine the proposal more in depth.

The agencies loath to create EIS’s because they require a lot more data, analysis, take more time to prepare and grant the public even more time to review, ask questions and provide feed back in a mandated time frame of 90 days. Also, once a decision is issued that an EIS must be performed, the whole process starts again with a Scoping Notice, a Preliminary EIS and a Proposed EIS – all with adequate public involvement - and issuing a final decision is only possible after all of the requirements of the law, as described above, have been followed.

So with that background, here is what USFS is trying to do….

They issued two proposals, one for the WH&B AMLs and one for the livestock grazing.

The livestock grazing is being issued under a Scoping Notice to prepare an EIS, the big daddy of the proposals.

The WH&B proposal is being issued under a Scoping Notice to prepare an EA, the more minor version of analysis.

From this point on, they deviate from these legally mandated processes, as they blatantly announce in the WH&B AML proposal that:

Preliminary analysis, displayed below, indicates that impacts to affected resources would be minor and short-term in nature (Table 4). The final results of the analysis will be displayed in the Environmental Assessment (EA) being prepared. If there is no potential for significant impacts, that finding along with the environmental assessment and a decision notice will be released for public information. If any comments are received on the proposed action then a 45-day appeal period will be provided after release of the environmental assessment and Decision Notice/Finding of No Significant Impact. If the environmental assessment concludes that there is a potential for significant impacts then an environmental impact statement would be prepared. Your comments will help us prepare an environmental impact statement

The short version of this bureaucratic language is:

-Before USFS even released the very first Scoping document to the public, they have already made a decision that a decision will be issued at the same time the first preliminary EA is released.

-They have already decided that when it comes to establishing the WH&B AMLs, it is not a significant action and they will issue a FONSI – before the public ever even gets to see what they put together for the preliminary EA – the decision will already be issued.

-They have already decided that if the public has a problem with this, our only recourse is to take them to court during the appeal process. (And then they will cry later about how they are always getting sued by the “environmental fringe”, never mentioning how - if they weren’t riding roughshod over the laws they are suppose to be following - they might be able to cut down on these lawsuits significantly.)

Meanwhile, while analyzing wild horse and burro management and their impacts to the range is deemed insignificant and only worthy of a pre-decided EA, when it come to livestock grazing management, they are going to prepare a full blown EIS.

However, they are NOT going to consider both wild horses and burros and livestock in the same proposal. The current plan, as written, will ram the wild horse and burro AMLs through before they even look at the livestock grazing and so, the decisions on "appropriate" use by wild horses and burros will already be a done deal.

The reason they are doing this is so they won’t have to provide a document that analyzes wild horses, burros, wildlife and livestock grazing side by side - because if they do this, it provides two, very real problems they don’t want to have to address.

The firstproblem is, they don’t want a comparison document to show that livestock are getting the lions share of the resources while in many cases, wild horses and burros are being given only enough forage to cover “incidental use” (this means they 1-3 animals can be sighted occasionally on the livestock allotment but if any band tries to set up camp, they will be removed).

The second problem is, if they examine wild horses and burros in the same document as livestock, then they have to examine and develop an alternative that sincerely looks at and considers reducing livestock grazing to support sustainable wild horse and burro populations – and we can’t have that, can we?

What else are they trying to do to circumvent laws and public involvement?

Here are some other things I noted during my research of the Wild Horse & Burro AML proposal:

-They only offer two alternatives; not setting AMLs, which is illegal, and setting the AMLs they have already proposed based on input from BLM.

-They clearly state that, “Monitoring and management of the wild horse resource is outdated or non-existent”. Setting AMLs without monitoring and resource information is also illegal but that doesn’t seem to concern them here.

-The AML established in 1983 for the Little Fish Lake Wild Horse Territory and co-joining BLM Little Fish Lake HMA was “mistakenly” interpreted to only include horses" (not burros) and there is NO effort to remedy this mistake in the current proposal!

For extra added intrigue, USFS states the current AMLs for the Little Fish Lake have already been established in 1983 at: “Minimal AML” 64; simmer and winter occupancy by at least 16-28 wild horses”. However, they are proposing to INCREASE the AMLs to 80-139. Except, they also state that these wild horses interact with BLMs North Monitor and Little Fish Creek HMA and they want to limit wild horse populations from “overstocking” the BLM HMAs in the winter. What makes this kind of funny is, BLM has a maximum AML of 47 wild horses for these two HMAs, so is the numbers USFS proposing now at these much higher levels really correct?

-In some cases, the AMLs they propose are pathetically low such as 15-30 wild horses on 144,599 acres for the Toquima WHT, 3-8 wild horses on 13,025 acres in Northumberland (yes, 9 horses will be considered an “overpopulation”) or 8-16 wild horses on 20,902 acres in Kelly Creek.

-The map they provide to the public of the proposal area is so old and outdated, it included a Herd Area once known as Willow Creek that was re-zoned and incorporated into the Stone Cabin HMA years ago - as well as entirely omitting North Monitor and Hickson HMAs.

-During removal operations, public notices will only be provided in Eureka, Austin and Tonopah as to the dates of the removal operations and where public access will be restricted, which will be limited to roads near corral sites and within areas where horses are actively being gathered (no mention of burros made even though one of the areas they are setting new AMLs on contains only burros).

There’s a lot more information I would like to tell people about but the bottom line is, they just aren’t including it for public review and truly, this is a travesty of the system and processes established to prevent just this sort of thing from happening!

With that said, the public has three days to try and change the course of history here and whether they are going to get away with this or not.

First, public comments need to be submitted to the USFS about their livestock grazing proposal. Quite simply put, we need to demand that they set the wild horse and burro AMLs in the Livestock EIS so that we can compare the forage allocations between livestock, review rangeland health data, see how much water is in the areas and look at alternatives that would manage the wild horses and burros in equal consideration.

Second, we need to tell USFS the same thing regarding their proposal to set the AMLs for the wild horses and burros; that this needs to be done in conjunction with the livestock grazing EIS, not separately.

It is also very important to remind USFS that it is not appropriate (or legal) to already have reached a decision about what they are going to do before they even release the first EA to the public. At the very least, they need to provide an additional 30-day comment period after releasing the EA to allow the public to see some relevant information and sincere alternatives before they issue the Final Decision.

Here is the contact information and deadlines for public comments for each proposal.

Livestock Grazing EIS
Hot Creek-Monitor Rangeland Project
Deadline: Monday, March 22, 2010, 4:30 p.m. pst.

Submit comments to:
Austin/Tonopah Ranger District
District Ranger Steven Wiliams
Email at:

Wild Horse & Burro AML Proposal
Deadline: Friday, March 26, 2010 4:30 p.m. pst

While an email address was provided for the livestock grazing proposal, USFS didn’t extend this courtesy for the WH&B Proposal (imagine that….) However, Barbara Warner of American Horse Defense Fund tracked down an email address for the responsible officer at:,

Heather Mobley
Or Fax: (775) 964-1451

Links to the relevant USFS Notices/Documents:

Hot Creek-Monitor Rangeland Project

Wild Horse and Burro Appropriate Management Levels

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Tidbits & Toadstools

While Congress ponders how much money to give BLM for their administration of the Wild Horse & Burro Program, here are a few stories I wanted to share about what is going on in the wonderful world of wild horses and burros as well as a link HERE to my letter to the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources regarding continued funding of the Program.

While the rest of Las Vegas was holding up protest signs for Obama’s limo brigade, I was taking notes at the RAC meeting held in BLMs Las Vegas office.

Led by Chairman John Hiatt, Representative for Wildlife, most Board Members engaged in a lively conversation about wild horses and burros with a special emphasis on the advocates themselves. Generally denigrating, commentary was peppered by such choice tidbits as, “There’s no use talking to these people as they have already made up their minds” and “They don’t understand the problems”.

Following a general round of back patting and self congratulations for the Board helping to get letters of support submitted for BLMs removals in the Calico Mountains, Chairman Hiatt waved around a glossy, colored postcard of Pryor Mountain mustang Cloud on one side and captured wild horses on the other as Mr. Hiatt extolled upon the nature of ungrounded propaganda organizations use to excite ignorant horse and burro lovers across the county.

Not to be left out, a variety of BLM personnel ranging from National Program Office Chief Communications Office Doran Sanchez and District and Field Office Managers such as Mary Jo Rugwell, Thomas Seley and Rosemary Thomas, were also in attendance.

Rosemary reported to the Board that the Eagle HMA’s removal operations had been postponed due to guidance from the national level encouraging BLM to follow public processes instead of issuing Full Force and Effect decisions to remove the animals. No mention was made that safety considerations had been cited in BLMs press releases.

Chief Communications Office Doran Sanchez also reported that BLM was initiating a campaign to counter all the misinformation being spread by “bad blogs”.

As a result, last week a request was sent to Mr. Sanchez as well as National Program Office’s Wild Horse & Burro Lead Dean Bolstad to supply more information about what exactly that entails, what is the current allocated budget to launch and sustain this campaign, what is the projected time frame BLM will engage in this effort and will it be done “in house” or is BLM hiring a marketing firm to handle the efforts. So far, no response has been received but will keep you posted if BLM clears the questions through Public Affairs….

Currently, BLM has posted two sets of Holding Facility numbers on their website with remarkably different results. Posted on the Monthly Gather, Adoption, Holding, and Sales Statistics webpage, no amount of flattery or coaxing could convince the calculator that the numbers were suppose to equal 36,186 as BLM reports HERE.

Here’s what EWA researcher Valerie James Patton had to say when confronted with the “numbers”.“The preparation subtotal is correct, but I added up all the individual maintenance facility numbers, and the correct subtotal for the maintenance facilities is 10,604. Whether or not they meant to state the long term facility subtotatal was 36,186 or if they meant that to be the total number for all the facilities, after I added up all the individual long term facility numbers, the subtotal is 22,575. Even if you add up all the subtotals that BLM had listed, it still doesn't come out to 36,186, but the correct total number of all the facility horses is 37,892.”

Yes, that’s over a 1,700 animal discrepancy.

Fortunately, BLM posted another set of numbers HERE. Well, I guess that solves the mystery of which set of numbers is right, doesn’t it? Or does it?

Note: The BLM has recently responded that the Monthly Report was in error and will be corrected by tomorrow. In order to preserve the integrity of what they originally posted, a pdf verion of their Facility Chart numbers have been uploaded for public review HERE.

Public Scoping Period
The BLM Southern Nevada District Office opened the public comment period regarding issues relating to the preparation of a new Resource Management Plan and Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the area. With a main focus on Renewable Energy, BLM provided various Summaries of the issues HERE.

Information made available regarding this process through the Federal Register Notice and online at BLMs websites made no mention of wild horses and burros impacted by the planning process, failed to identify wild horse and burro Herd Management Areas in any of the maps associated with the planning documents and failed to identify Wild Horse & Burro Specialists as being included in the consulting process.

However, in the February 5, 2009, Southern Mojave Great Basin Resource Advisory Council Meeting Minutes, a presentation was given to RAC Board Members by Pahrump Field Office Wild Horse and Burro Specialist Jerry Bertola and Southern Nevada District WH&B Specialist Krystal Johnson that stated, “There are five Herd Management Areas (HMAs). The proposed solar projects are located in the middle of the burro area.”

There are multiple HMAs in the planning area that contain wild burros, which include the Johnnie, Red Rock, Wheeler Pass and Gold Butte HMA. None of the HMAs are publicly identified on the maps for the affected regions of the LVRMP Scoping Process. The potential of the general public not even knowing these areas exist is high due to this omission.

There is no way to identify what “burro area” Ms. Bertola and/or Ms. Johnson were referring to in the RAC meetings, no way for the general public to identify what areas involved in the planning processes that are up for consideration for reclassification and how their input may impact the HMAs, what impacts other multiple uses will have to the HMAs, etc., and as a result, will potential significantly reduce the opportunity for public involvement, input, concerns, suggestions for potential mitigation measures, and support for successful management of the Southern Nevada District’s wild herds.

This leads to the question, how will BLM remedy this omission so that the general public is aware of the Herd Management Areas within the planning area and what proposals may impact them so that they can provide comments on the proposals?

But that’s not all the questions that surfaced. When it came to the comment deadlines and where the comments should be submitted too, apparently there was a great deal of confusion by BLM personnel as to just where and when public input would be accepted.

On BLMs website, the first public notice listed the public comment deadline as February 4, 2010, and stated, "All comments on issues to be addressed in the RMP must be received by the BLM Southern Nevada District Office by 4:30 p.m. February 4, 2010, to be considered for incorporation into the Draft RMP/EIS." Click Here.

The second public notice listed the comment deadline as February 28, 2010, and stated, "Public comments must be provided to the BLM by February 28th in order to be formally analyzed and included in the Scoping Report”. Click Here.

The Federal Register notice dated 1/05/10, stated, "To be most helpful, you should submit comments within 60 days of the last public meeting".

The LVDFO's last listed public meeting date was February 11, 2010. Based on the information available in the FR, the LVDFO will be required to accept comments through April 6, 2010.

So this leads to even more questions, such as:

a) By posting the comment deadline of February 4, 2010, in a prominent location, how many public comments failed to be submitted because the general public thought the public process was already closed?

b) Why didn't the Las Vegas District Office publish the same notice as was posted in the Federal Register, that public comments could be submitted up to 60 days after the last public meeting and still be included?

c) Which public notice is the highest legal notice that BLM and the public are bound too? The FR Notice or what BLM posted on their website?

d) How can BLM remedy these confusing multiple posts of comment deadlines for public involvement?

The BLM LVDFO provided two different addresses to send public comments to. The first was and the second was .

And so this leads to even more questions, such as, why were two different addresses versus one provided to the public depending on which version they accessed of the public notices available for the RMP process? Will public comments for this proposal be accepted through both addresses and if so, for how long?

An inquiry has been submitted to the BLM with these exact same questions and I am currently waiting on their response.

And so it goes, a behind the scenes look at how the Wild Horse & Burro Program turns…..