Thursday, April 29, 2010

Calico: Past, Present & Future III

This is the third in a series of articles that attempts to disclose some of the known issues playing behind the scenes in the Calico Complex and beyond…


Sitting on the edge of the BLM managed lands of some of the wild horse Herd Management Areas that comprise the Calico Complex is the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge, also under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of the Interior but home to a very different set of rules regarding the management of horses and burros.

This home on the range where the antelope play calls wild horses and burros feral and sportsman openly lobby Congress to eradicate their populations completely. Click Here to learn more.

Public awareness of the Sheldon wild horses and burros sky rocketed after American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC) released an explicit and shocking undercover pictorial report of a June 2006 round up titled The Reality of Round Ups: Attempt At A Cover Up”.

Included were graphic photos of dead foals found littered across the landscape, hog-tied foals, dead and injured horses in the holding pens and a veterinarian report citing the extreme trauma documented to foals as a result of the gather; some of whom survived and some whom did not.

Questions also exploded around the methods used by long-time BLM contractor Dave Cattoor of Cattoor Livestock Inc., to drive wild horses and burros to the traps and again evoked controversy as to whether helicopter driving could ever be considered humane or safe considering it was outlawed before due to its known detrimental results. (Editor’s Note: Despite criminal charges filed against Dave Cattoor in 1990 for “conspiracy and use of aircraft to capture wild horses and aiding and abetting….”, which led to the “said wild, unbranded horses to be sold and shipped by truck to Great Western Meats in Morton, Texas, to be slaughtered and processed”, BLM has continued to insist he does excellent work for them and excuses AWHPC’s shocking Sheldon report by citing it didn’t happen during a BLM gather…)

As public awareness grew about the Sheldon wild horses and burros, so did the conflict. Between 2006 and 2008, comments and protests poured into Refuge managers about continuing plans to round up all of the almost 2,000 estimated wild horses and burros. Of additional concern was how the now captured horses were being disposed of as some of the 2006 Sheldon horses were eventually found in Canadian livestock auctions headed for slaughter.

2006 Sheldon Round Up
Courtesy of American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign


According to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), wild horses were documented in the area before Sheldon became a wildlife refuge in 1931. Local ranchers managed horses there by mixing domestic horses with the original Spanish horses of the area (who have a documented presence dating back to the 1600’s) as Sheldon became a stocking and Calvary Re-Mount location during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.

In 1971, when the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act was passed, Sheldon was co-managed by both USFWS and BLM. For a brief five years, the Sheldon wild horses and burros were protected from “capture, branding, harassment, or death” under the auspices of the Act until Congress amended the National Wildlife Refuge Administration Act with the Game Range Bill in 1976 and USFWS became the sole managing agency. As a result, the Secretary of the Interior and all subsequent USFWS policies deny any protections under the Act are entitled to these wild horses and burros.

In 1977, Refuge managers created The Sheldon Horse Management Plan, which still stands as the guiding framework for how wild horses and burros would be handled. At that time, a herd size of 75-125 horses was established. USFWS estimated approximately 800 wild horses inhabited the Refuge at the time but were initiating plans for the immediate round up of 700 wild horses due to officials stating they were causing severe impacts to wildlife habitat which required “emergency removals”.

USFWS also reported 3,600 cattle grazed the Refuge then and used about 24,000 AUMs annually. It is interesting to note that a letter submitted by Friends of the Earth during the public comment process stated, “Friends of the Earth support this proposal [the removal of 700 wild horses]. However, last year’s onsight tour of Refuge and Range confirmed our suspicions that the major problem at Sheldon is not caused by the wild horses but rather by the overgrazing of cattle, particularly on the range portion of the complex.”

Unlike the recent revelations by BLM in the Calico Complex EA last fall, which speculated on wild horses migrating back and forth between Sheldon and BLM managed lands, in 1977, USFWS wrote, “Nearly all of the exterior boundary of the Sheldon Range is fenced…so in all practicality, the horses found within the Range are separate and distinct populations.”

In 1980, USFWS issued their Renewable Natural Resource Management Plan and Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Refuge, which continues to be the guiding management plan for the Refuge in its entirety. Included within its framework was the approval of allowing a range of 75-125 horses and 30-60 burros to continue to exist on the Refuge in conformance with The Sheldon Horse Management Plan.

In 1982, the Secretary of the Interior approved a new policy outlining the role and management of “feral horses and burros” within the National Wildlife Refuge System, (7 RM 6.1). The policy specifically states that, “It is the policy of the Service that feral horse and burro populations will not be maintained on Sheldon, Hart Mountain, and Kofa NWR’s. Feral horses and burros on these refuges will be removed in accordance with the provisions of 50 CFR 30.12 and Section 6.9, below. Feral horses and burros shall not be introduced, established, or allowed to become established on any national wildlife refuge.”

However, due to the 1980 decision, prior officials had legally authorized wild horses and burros at Sheldon. Until a new Record of Decision is signed, management of the equids is in a legal quagmire as the current Service policy demanding wild horses and burros be totally eliminated on Sheldon conflicts with the 1980 decision to allow them to be maintained.

In 1982, USFWS also developed policies for management of wild horses and burros in areas where animals may wander back and forth between refuge lands and public lands. Some of these policies state;

a) “In the case where horses and burros wander back and forth between refuge lands and public lands, cooperative management planning will occur with the appropriate agency (e.g., BLM) and a joint management plan must be developed".

b) "Close coordination with the Bureau of Land Management is necessary to assure refuge objectives receive consideration when population goals are set on adjacent public lands".

c) “Appropriate population levels are to be determined by the following criteria: vegetation conditions and trend; availability of water; degree of conflicts with all wildlife forms; compatibility with refuge objectives; and BLM horse/burro management policy on adjoining lands” and,

d) USFWS is required to “comply with the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971, where applicable.”

In 1994, USFWS officially closed the Refuge to livestock grazing as a result of the private purchase of the grazing permits, which were then donated to the USFWS for retirement.

In 1996, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed with BLM regarding cooperative management of wild horses and burros that range between BLM and USFWS managed lands. The MOU stated that, "BLM State Directors and FWS Area Managers will develop agreements and, as appropriate, joint plans for the management of wild horses and burros which range interchangeably upon the lands of the other".

The question now becomes, how do officials determine which wild horses stay exclusively on Sheldon to be managed solely under USFWS regulations and those who “range interchangeably upon the lands of the other”.

In 2001, USFWS issued a Memorandum, which gave them authority to contract out or broker the disposal of horses and burros removed from the Refuge. The Memo stated that, “The chosen contractor will be required to arrange for adoption or otherwise provide for disposition of the horses captured in a manner that prevents slaughter for the meat market to the maximum extent possible and also prevent humane on-site euthanasia except in cases of debilitating injury or disease.” Prior to this, removed wild horses and burros were disposed of via auctions and any unsold animals were destroyed.

Since then, USFWS has been working on an adoption program for horses and burros removed from Sheldon and coordinates with “organizations or individuals acting as adoption agents for the refuge.” However, currently horses and burros are not required to be branded upon leaving the Refuge nor is there a system established to track them or follow up with adopters.

Capture horses from Sheldon's 2006 round up.
Courtesy of American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign


According to USFWS records, approximately 3,000 horses and 300 burros have been removed from the Refuge between 1980 and 2006.

A population graph provided by Sheldon officials reports horse populations were kept relatively stable between 1979 and 1996 but due to funding limitations, removals stopped and managers claimed populations exploded from 600 to 2,200 in just eight years when 772 horses and 99 burros were finally removed in 2004.

In 2006, the Service went back for more with over 330 horses being captured and removed. This round up became the source of AWHPC’s “Attempt At A Cover-Up”, a story that first broke by a Special Research Group who uncovered a slew of disturbing information, some of which included:

> 16 to 18 mares were found in the pens showing signs of recently giving birth but had no foals with them. Despite USFWS requiring the public to stay at least two miles away from the gather operations, it is estimated at least nine foals died or were aborted in the pens and about fifteen foals were probably left to die a slow death in the high desert. Three of these foals survived days of abandonment, and one foal that arrived with the adults survived trampling in the pens.

> USFWS “adoption program” prohibited individuals or organizations from adopting directly from the Refuge. Only three “carefully screened” contractors were allowed to take the horses and only in mass truckloads. USFWS also paid the contractors $300.00 p/horse to haul them away.

> Two of these contractors, Forever Free Mustangs and Gary Graham, caused serious concerns as to what was happening to the horses once they arrived. Background checks revealed the Graham address was virtually a Grand Central Station of horseslaughter while Forever Free Mustangs were able to unload truckload after truckload of horses to “local adopters” that defied even the best sanctuary’s adoption average. To learn more, Click Here.

In response to the disastrous June 2006 round up, Congressional Representative Nick Rahall wrote USFWS Director Dale Hall on July 19, 2006, requesting a “cease and desist” on any further horse and burro removals and cited 26-year old management plans that failed to even remotely provide current information on the Refuge. Click Here to view Representative Rahall’s letter.

In April 2007, Sheldon released a Preliminary EA proposing to remove horses and burros from the Refuge “at the fastest rate possible”. A fire storm of protests from wild horse and burro advocates flooded the desks of officials due to what many considered a less-than-honest evaluation and continuing concerns for safe and humane treatment of the horses; both during the round ups as well as where they would end up.

Two months later, Refuge managers issued their final decision in June with virtually no changes to the original proposal and little concern for addressing Rahall’s requests.

In response, on July 18th, In Defense of Animals (IDA) and attorneys at Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal, a Washington D.C. based pubic interest firm specializing in environmental litigation, sent an urgent letter to USFWS warning of several documented NEPA violations in the proposed removals and warned USFWS that pushing ahead with the round ups would violate federal law.

So in September 2007, USFWS issued a new EA and a new plan to manage horses and burros until they completed their Comprehensive Conservation Plan, which is projected for release sometime in 2010.

The crux of September's new plan centered around aerial surveys USFWS and Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) conducted in June of 2007, which found 50% less horses on the Refuge; USFWS now reported horses magically dropped from the April estimate of 1,500 to just 800 horses two months later.

USFWS then told the public they could only speculate as to where the horses had gone but theorized approximately 700 horses had “migrated” to BLM lands over the winter and fence repairs completed in the spring prevented their return to Sheldon.

According to Jim Nelson, then President of Nevada Bighorns Unlimited (NBU), both the aerial surveys and fence repairs were paid for by NBU, who refer to wild horse and burro advocates as “the opposition”, despite NBU Board Member Larry Johnson still currently serving on the National Wild Horse & Burro Advisory Board. Click Here to learn more.

As a result of so many horses now reported as missing from the Refuge, USFWS postponed all further round up plans for 2007.

In an attempt to discover where the Sheldon horses may have “migrated too”, follow up emails were sent to Paul Steblein, Supervisor of Sheldon, BLMs National Program Office Wild Horse & Burro Lead Dean Bolstad and BLM Wild Horse & Burro Leads from Nevada, California and Oregon on 9/14/07, 9/18/07 and 10/26/07 requesting where officials believe the most likely places the Sheldon horses had gone too. To date, not one of them ever responded….

In April 2008, a revised EA was released as Sheldon officials proposed an interim management plan for horses and burros until the Comprehensive Conservation Plan was finalized. The proposal was to allow the population to stay stable at about 800 horses and 90 burros with round ups only conducted to remove the equivalent of the projected foaling increase at about 140-180 horses and 15-20 burros a year.

Sheldon managers also approved utilizing fertility control at the request of advocates. However, officials did not go in the direction advocates had assumed, specifically, by using reversible pzp on mares. Instead, they began implementing permanent sterilization measures.

According to a BLM Team Conference Call Report in 2008 obtained via FOIA, Sheldon managers began spaying mares and currently, we can confirm at least 30 mares were permanently spayed with 3 dying in the process. Geldings of stallions returned to the range has also been reported but Sheldon Supervisor Paul Steblein has so far refused to provide any further information about what has been happening at Sheldon over the last two years.

Round ups have transpired with little to no public notices and no information provided as to how many have been removed, when they were removed or how many have been sterilized. Questions to Sheldon officials continue to go unanswered.

On September 2, 2009, a lawsuit was filed by Laura Leigh and Cowan Law Offices against continuing Sheldon’s horse and burro management plans, which also requested an injunction to halt any further round ups or shipments of horses. Some of the issues listed in the complaint included sordid histories of contractors, lack of tracking systems such as brands or microchips on horses, horses previously removed found headed to slaughter, illegal seizure of Nevada State property and illegal transportation of horses across state lines. Click Here to read the full complaint.

On April 15, 2010, Equine Welfare Alliance (EWA) issued a press release titled, In The Spirit of Compromise, which stated that Laura Leigh had dropped the lawsuit “in a gesture of support for the concept of cooperative dialogue” with hopes of being able to move forward in a constructive relationship with officials after announcing they are in “the planning states of creating a two million acre management complex for wild horses in Southeast Oregon, Northeast California, Northwestern Nevada and the Sheldon NWR located in Northeast Nevada”, currently coined as the Tri-State Mega-Complex.

While Steblein, the current Complex Manager for the Sheldon Refuge was saying, “In general I am very happy about this. This is an opportunity to create constructive ways to manage horses across the landscape” to EWA and, “This is the time where we stop pointing fingers and figure out how to solve this”, he continued to stonewall questions about what was happening on the ground.

First, early this year, questions were submitted to USFWS's general website requesting numbers about horse and burro removals over the last two years – but no one responded. So, a month later on February 26, 2010, I called the office and merely left my first name requesting Mr. Steblein call me back. And what do you know? He did!

I asked Mr. Steblein questions about gathers, removals, contraceptives, and census methods, all of which he kept stating that since he didn’t have the records in front of him, he couldn’t quote exact numbers. He promised to follow up via email with both numbers and reports so, I sent a follow up email repeating the same questions I asked him via phone. And it went unanswered. So I asked again on April 10, 2010, and it too has gone unanswered.... (Apparently, it's important to not identify yourself completely or what you are interested in talking about or you won’t receive a reply.)

If Mr. Steblein is really interested in creating constructive ways to solve problems, why isn’t he or anybody from USFWS for that matter, answering questions about what has been happening to the Sheldon wild horses and burros for the last two years?

Well, my guess is because there is a plan in the works….

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Calico: Past, Present & Future II

This is the second in a series of articles that attempts to disclose some of the known issues playing behind the scenes in the Calico Complex and beyond…

Calico Complex Wild Horse Captures - 2005
BLM Winnemucca Field Office Photo Files

When BLM released the first environmental assessment (EA) to remove wild horses from the Calico Complex in late October 2009, they didn’t even bother to address – much less try to explain - how the wild horse population shot up 500%, increasing from 575 estimated horses still remaining after the early 2005 round up (and all released mares treated with fertility control drugs) to a whopping 3,000+ in just five years.

Eight to ten thousand public comments later, many of which questioned how BLMs population estimates could even be remotely correct, BLM was finally compelled to at least GUESS how this happened. Specifically, the Final round up EA stated:

The discrepancy between the expected 2008 wild horse population and the actual wild horse count in March 2008 may be due to several factors. First, inventory data used to estimate excess wild horse population prior to the 2004-2005 gather was potentially incomplete due to poor weather conditions during the population inventory, which could have contributed to horses being missed and a population estimate that was lower than actual. Second, it is likely that more horses than anticipated were actually left in the Complex post-gather in 2005 due to the under-counting of horses prior to the gather. Third, movement has been documented between the Complex and HMAs administered by the BLM Surprise Field Office, CA and the Sheldon Wildlife Refuge. Data compiled by the Surprise Field Office during the March 2008 inventory of those HMAs also revealed higher populations than anticipated in the adjoining HMAs. Overall, the population levels of the Surprise Field Office HMAs exceeded natural recruitment by more than 400 wild horses (representing approximately 80% more wild horses than anticipated).”

A BLM footnote also stated: “10) The March 2008 population inventory included both the Calico Complex HMAs and HMAs managed by BLM’s Surprise Field Office in California. The horses counted in the Complex were separate and distinct from those simultaneously counted within the adjoining Surprise Field Office managed HMAs.”

While In Defense of Animals (IDA) and attorney William Spriggs filed a request for an Injunction in federal court attempting to stop the Calico Complex round up, another legal challenge was quietly filed by The Cloud Foundation, Bob Bauer and myself with the Interior Board of Land of Appeals (IBLA).

It arrived on the BLM’s Winnemucca Field Offices desk on Christmas Eve and targeted a completely different set of legal arguments than what IDA and Mr. Spriggs presented to the federal judge in their now pending lawsuit.

Specifically, this legal appeal focused on:

a) The wild horse AMLs set so long ago had no rangeland or monitoring data to support them – including recent court testimony from their own Wild Horse & Burro Specialist stating “monitoring objectives were being met” at the reported “high” population levels and therefore, the wild horses could not be deemed "excessive" - or at least not nearly that many of them! (for more detailed information on this part of the Calico Complex issues, Click Here to read, "Calico: Past, Present and Future, Part I – The Past") and,

b) That BLM had presented so much new information in their Final EA in their attempts to explain away all the questions, (which only raised more questions) that requirements of the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) mandated BLM must make an attempt to reasonably answer these questions by preparing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before they were allowed to proceed.

Wranglers Bring In a Separated Foal From Its Mother
Calico Complex Capture, Black Rock Range West - 2005
BLM Winnemucca Field Office Photo Files

An agency must prepare an EIS if the environmental effects of a proposed action are highly uncertain. See Blue Mtns., 161 F.3d at 1213. Preparation of an EIS is mandated where uncertainty may be resolved by further collection of data, see id. at 1213-14 (lack of supporting data and cursory treatment of environmental effects in EA does not support refusal to produce EIS); or where the collection of such data may prevent “speculation on potential . . . effects. The purpose of an EIS is to obviate the need for speculation by insuring that available data are gathered and analyzed prior to the implementation of the proposed action.” Sierra Club v. U.S. Forest Serv., 843 F.2d 1190, 1195 (9th Cir. 1988).”

As a result of what BLM published in the Calico Complex Final EA, some of these new "unknowns" now include:

> The possibility that wild horses from five additional Herd Management Areas (HMAs) managed from the Surprise Field Office, which are Bitner, Massacre Lakes, High Rock, Wall Canyon and Fox Hog HMAs AND the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge, were affected by the round up - since BLM couldn’t explain where exactly all the wild horses had come from.

Would the Calico round up inadvertently gut migrating wild horses from these areas too and leave populations so low they might now be at risk of crashing or left incapable of being self-sustaining herds as required by law?

> BLM added almost a million more acres potentially affected by the removal operations than they had originally projected or told the public about (and the corresponding wild horse populations), which was never analyzed at all.

> BLM has for the first time ever, suddenly stated that wild horses may be moving back and forth between “protected” BLM lands and the “non-protected lands” of Sheldon managed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Unlike BLM, USFWS is not bound by the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act. Their policies regarding “feral” horses allows for, “§ 30.12 Disposition of feral animals; Feral animals taken on wildlife refuge areas may be disposed of by sale on the open market, gift, loan to public or private institutions for specific purposes, and as otherwise provided in section 401 of the act of June 15, 1935 (49 Stat. 383, 16 U.S.C. 715s)”

If what BLM was suddenly claiming about “migrating horses” between the Sheldon Refuge and BLM HMA’s is true, how many BLM wild horses have been or will be rounded up in the future when they are on non-protected land and “disposed of” through this feral animal policy?

Wranglers Bring In a Separated Foal From Its Mother
Calico Complex Capture, Black Rock Range West - 2005
BLM Winnemucca Field Office Photo Files

On top of this, large-scale plans are currently in the works throughout this entire area. Due to the questions BLM themselves have now raised, getting answers before they take any further action has become critical. Some of the publicly known plans include:

> U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) for the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge scheduled for release in 2010, which will address all future management plans on wild horses and burros residing in the Refuge.

> The Ruby Pipeline Project, which has already been asked by the Federal Regulatory Commission to discuss how they propose to address appropriate mitigation measures to protect wild horse and burro populations within the area.

> The establishment of Appropriate Management Levels for wild horses in the Massacre Lakes HMA managed by the Surprise Field Office, also included as one of the six wild horse areas that might have been affected by wild horses “free-roaming behaviors” and the Calico Complex round ups.

But of course, BLM wasn’t worried about having to answer any of these questions because the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) had their back!

After BLM received our Appeal, they submitted a request for an extension to file their response, which IBLA finally granted to them – but not until AFTER the required 10 day deadline had passed!

Turns out, the legal requirements the Department of the Interior has set for itself allow for zero penalties if they fail to meet the deadlines; that only applies to the public. My appeal of the Soldier Meadows Livestock Grazing Decision back in 2008 was thrown out by IBLA because it arrived on the judge’s desk one day late.

When IBLA finally did rule in favor of BLM's decision to remove the Calico wild horses almost two months later, despite the fact that we filed an Expedited Emergency Request for a Stay, the judge cited the issue of granting a Stay as “moot” since the round ups had already begun and coincidentally, the judge issued his decision the day before BLM announced the round ups were now over. Hmmm...

What was taking IBLA so long to rule on the case was, the BLMs attorney submitted an affidavit from Winnemucca Field Office employee Amanda Deforest, who swore under penalty of perjury that fellow appellant, Bob Bauer, never submitted comments to BLM about the Calico Round Up.

So we had to submit extensive evidence time and time again to prove Bob did submit comments, which IBLA finally ruled in our favor and agreed, yes, Bob had submitted comments.

I guess that was the only victory IBLA would allow “we, the people” and never mind that Ms. DeForest lied under oath - as we all know, there seems to be no consequences for what BLM says or does. What would have happened if we could not have proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Bob did indeed submit multiple comments and phone calls to BLM? To learn more about this phase of the legal battle, Click Here.

To back up for a moment, I want to explain another legal ruling IBLA slapped me with early on in my “Wild Horse & Burro” legal challenge adventures - because it has relevance.

One time, I tried to file an appeal of a round up before BLM had issued a Final Decision as, just like the Calico case, it was a god-awful mess right out of the gate. IBLA shot back the public cannot appeal a decision if a decision hasn’t been issued and threw it out. In retrospect, I have to agree with this as it makes sense - because no one can know what BLM is going to actually do until they do it – anything else is just speculative. So, with that former ruling in mind, check out what they did in the Calico case…

First, BLM only allowed the public to comment on the PRELIMINARY EA.

However, it was the Final EA BLM added all kinds of speculative stuff about where the wild horses may have come from and all these other areas that may be affected by the round up. Except, NO PUBLIC COMMENTS WERE ALLOWED ON THE FINAL EA.

Then, while IBLA finally ruled that Bob did indeed have a right to appeal because we proved he submitted comments, the judge limited his considerations and based his decision ONLY on the issues Bob raised in his public comments during the Preliminary EA – not anything that was submitted in the appeal after BLM issued their Final Decision.

The judge refused to address any of the questions raised in the appeal about what BLM had published in the Final EA - which never allowed any public comments – and the judge justified these limitations because Bob’s public comments never addressed those issues.

Why didn’t Bob’s comments ever address those issues? Because BLM only publicly published those issues AFTER the public comment period had closed on the Prelimary EA but never allowed any public comments on the Final EA.

Furthermore, IBLA refused to acknowledge or address the full scope of the appeal because it was collectively filed, even though Bob's signature was on it, Bob filed no separate appeal of his own, and Bob submitted extensive follow up evidence, affidavits and declarations during the appeal process.

Obviously, the judge accepted the appeal as Bob's because he didn't throw it out. Yet while the judge acknowledged Bob did file an appeal (after all, what other document could the judge rule on?), the judge simultaneously excluded almost everything presented in the appeal and only addressed the statements submitted by Bob to BLM during the Preliminary EA's public comment process.

So bascially, "we, the people", can't appeal a decision before it is issued and we can't appeal any issue that we haven't already submitted comments to BLM on. As a result, BLM can present any new information they want to "after the fact" and by just refusing to allow the public the opportunity to comment, they get to circumvent any legal challenge - because no one could possibly comment on information they didn't know about!

Finally, the judge refused to consider the appeal in context of the National Environmental Protection Act’s mandates and to paraphrase here, ruled that once BLM stated the wild horses were excessive, there were no further requirements they had to adhere too. Pretty sweet, huh?

Close Up: Wranglers Bring In A Separated Foal From Its Mother
Calico Complex Capture, Black Rock Range West - 2005
BLM Winnemucca Field Office Photo Files

Except, BLM and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service might now have a bit of a problem...

Even if IBLA, which is an Administrative Court under the Department of the Interior, was able to squash this information and refused to demand a sincere NEPA review this time, a federal judge might not see eye to eye with IBLA’s unconditional support for BLM’s actions sometime in the future.

The agencies also know they are in the clear as far as the In Defense of Animals and Mr. Spriggs lawsuit because the currently pending legal challenge never touches these issues (at least this time).

But while BLM has been able to string the public and courts along for 27 years with promises of monitoring, evaluations, and still not having a clue about what is really going on with the wild horses and burros throughout the entire area – with a large stack of evidence now assembled to prove this - BLM is running out of excuses and out of time.

So with plenty of opportunities for legal challenges looming on the immediate horizon, such as the Ruby Pipeline, the soon to be released US Fish & Wildlife Services Comprehensive Conservation Plan and issuing AMLs for the Massacre Lakes HMA, what can the agencies do to try and cover their butts now and are they scrambling to come up with a plan to do just that?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Calico: Past, Present & Future

With the death toll still rising from the now captured Calico Complex wild horses while a bereft public stands outside locked gates, plans have been laid and continue to be made to perpetuate the crimes against these wild ones that began so long ago.

To understand the magnitude of what has occurred here – as well as to grasp where it is going and why – first, we must travel back in time to witness what BLM did, how they got away with it and how they plan to continue harvesting the bitter crops they began cultivating over two decades ago.

This is the first in a series that attempts to disclose some of the known issues playing behind the scenes in the Calico Complex and beyond…


In 1993/1994, BLM issued Final Multiple Use Decisions (FMUDs) for the Buffalo Hills, Leadville, Paiute Meadows and Soldier Meadows Livestock Allotments. These FMUDs established initial levels of use for livestock and some of the wild horses or burros found within the Calico Complex.

On December 10, 1993, the BLM issued a Full Force and Effect Decision to implement the FMUD for the Soldier Meadows Allotment. This decision received multiple protests by concerned members of the public and various organizations including the Nevada Commission for the Preservation of Wild Horses, Dawn Lappin of Wild Horse Organized Assistance and the Nevada Department of Wildlife.

On January 24, 1994, BLM responded to the Protest Points filed against the new Soldier Meadows decision, some of which have been highlighted below.

The Commission for the Preservation of Wild Horses and Wild Horse Organized Assistance (WHOA) asserted the BLM arbitrarily allocated forage to wild horses and livestock - an allegation BLM did little to dispute.

BLM’s response to the Commissions/WHOA’s Protest Point #4 stated that “It was recognized in the Management Framework Plan (MFP) that the forage allocation made for livestock and wild horses/burros was only a starting point and that numbers would be adjusted to appropriate levels based on monitoring”. (emphasis added)

BLMs response also stated, “The 1988 evaluation for this allotment documented that livestock numbers were too high so they were adjusted downward, but wild horses/burros numbers were not addressed. The re-evaluation for this allotment established the total carrying capacity for livestock and wild horses/burros based on monitoring data. The AUMs were then divided between livestock and wild horses/burros on a proportional basis (based on the ratio established in the Management Framework Plan-MFP) in accordance with MFP decision Range 1.1 and Wild Horse/Burro 1.1. I felt this was the appropriate and most equitable way to divide the total carrying capacity between livestock and wild horses/burros. We will continue to monitor to determine if these new stocking rates are appropriate, and if not make future adjustments”. (emphasis added)

Of additional relevance and concern are the issues raised in Protest Point #1 by the Commission/WHOA, which stated, “The Proposed Decision extends the land use plan short term objectives in excess of 14 years. Range Management-Management Framework III Decision RM-1 set a five year schedule to accomplish wild horse herd management area plans, and other approved activity plans, to establish appropriate management levels to assure viable herds in balance with their habitat by 1987. Short term objectives of the Proposed Decision adjusts the land use plan short term objectives to the year 2001.”

In BLMs response to Protest Point #1, BLM stated that, “Objectives are developed in site specific documents that implement the goals of the MFP. The short term objectives…were established in 1988 in the Livestock Agreement with the permittee. We look at the short term objectives in our re-evaluations and if our monitoring indicates we are not achieving these, then we conclude that we will not be able to achieve our long term objectives, so adjustments must be made. A new decision is issued with the necessary changes and we continued to monitor to see if those changes allow us to meet our short term objectives….This is a process”. (emphasis added)

However, once those initial starting point AMLs were set, BLM has never again revisited them nor continued to pursue the “process” - despite their admission that these goals were short term and required additional review to determine if they were appropriate or not.

Furthermore, no separate NEPA analysis of those AMLs has ever been produced. When BLM has done Final Multiple Use evaluations, officials just continued to reaffirm and perpetuate those initial stocking rates; no actual analysis or NEPA review of their appropriateness for wild horse or burro use required - even though BLM also admits wild horse populations have never actually been within the established parameters of these same AMLs since they were first set.

As noted above, the current wild horse AMLs for these areas are a perpetuation of general objectives established 27 years ago that had no site-specific public NEPA process, have continued to evade appropriate data collection, monitoring, analysis and/or reporting and in at least one known instance, BLM officials buried recent monitoring data that indicated wild horse AMLs could be adjusted upwards by a large margin. (Click Here for BLM Winnemucca Field Office’s Wild Horse & Burro Specialist court testimony regarding wild horses being five times over the established AMLs but Rangeland Health Objectives were still being met.)

Rock Spring Meadow Area. According to BLM Winnemucca file photos
obtained via FOIA, this area of Rock Springs is used exclusively by wild horses.

A Protest was also filed by the Nevada Division of Wildlife (NDOW) and in Protest Point #5, NDOW asserted, “The Proposed Decision establishes a carrying capacity by flawed assumptions without consideration of critical wildlife habitat.” and, “The Proposed Decision carrying capacity computation is based upon Example C of Appendix 2 of the "Rangeland Monitoring Analysis, Interpretation and Evaluation (TR 4400-7)'·. Example C assumes rangeland production is not uniform and utilization is uniform. Utilization data confirms the conclusions of the Re-evaluation that livestock distribution problems are causing heavy and severe utilization of critical wildlife habitat; thus the Proposed Decision's use and rationale for Example C is flawed for a carrying capacity computation.” (emphasis added)

BLMs response failed to address NDOWs wildlife and rangeland specialists concerns regarding errors and flaws they found within BLM’s carrying capacity computations.

BLM evaded addressing the flaws and errors noted by NDOW rangeland specialists by switching the focus too and agreeing with NDOWs assertions that poor livestock distribution was the primary cause of concern through heavy and severe riparian degradation noted throughout all years of monitoring at key sites.

Under NDOWs Protest Point #3, BLM responded to concerns regarding management plans and actions that continue to be fluid and without accountability through the year 2024 by stating, “The evaluation of monitoring identified livestock distribution as the primary management action to improve resource conditions; not a carrying capacity problem.”

BLM then referenced a new modification technique to former rangeland carrying capacity methods, which they began to explore in 1992, that omitted slight and light utilization categories and only considered moderate, heavy, and severe utilization categories to determine carrying capacity instead. BLM went on to state, “We felt this would cause the calculations to better emphasis the problems of poor distribution and over stocking. Using this modified technique for calculating carrying capacity and requiring the movement of livestock based on acceptable utilization limits we feel we will solve the problems identified in this re-evaluation”. (emphasis added)

This “modified technique” to measure grazing distribution patterns was then implemented as a new standard and BLM began substituting a monitoring technique for the original methods used to determine total carrying capacity, which is a critical method and tool to provide valuable data for areas in their entirety, not just at a few key or selective sites.

While this modification technique may be appropriate for monitoring grazing distribution patterns in order to make adjustments to livestock authorizations and/or seasons of use, it fails to address the entire scope of rangeland productivity for all multiple users by eliminating data on the full range of forage production.

Specifically, total carrying capacity computations are essential for determining forage available for wild horses, wild burros and wildlife species as their migratory distribution patterns and forage utilizations are often much wider in scope than domestic livestock. This data is necessary to adequately determine appropriate stocking levels for use outside the “poor grazing distribution” livestock zones and variances in utilization patterns from other grazers such as wild horses, burros and other large wildlife species.

These errors and flaws in carrying capacity computations noted by NDOW range and wildlife specialists in 1994 have never been addressed. Neither has the effectiveness or accuracy of substituting this technique to determine rangeland health been revisited, especially in context with its ability to appropriately designate the “optimum number” of wild horses and/or burros.

The BLM has substituted a monitoring technique used to identify poor grazing distribution as the primary tool to allocate forage, a technique that has an inherent biased towards forage utilized by wild horses/burros who historically demonstrate wider migratory and grazing distribution patterns than domestic livestock.

In the 2009 Calico Complex Wild Horse Capture Preliminary EA, BLM shows a photo of Burnt Springs (photo 8) titled, “Heavy riparian utilization”. Yet photos obtained from the Winnemucca Field Office via FOIA show this same photo in BLMs photo log but with the additional title of “Several spring sources, riparian/meadow complex, heavy horse and livestock use”.

The exclusive use of monitoring techniques that focus solely on utilization levels can also be affected by and/or used to manipulate data to support a foregone conclusion include the following factors: 1) location of monitoring sites; distance to water, terrain, near rockier areas, etc., 2) Key species (grass types) being monitored, 3) Difficulty of separating wild horse and/or burro use from livestock use, and 4) Trespass by livestock attributed to wild horses due to BLMs predominate reliance on grazing permit dates to distinguish impacts versus timely physical site-specific monitoring.

Also remember that in BLM’s response to the Commissions/WHOA’s Protest Point #4, BLM stated that adjustments to forage allocations between livestock and wild horses and burros were required by the Management Framework Plan to be “on a proportional basis based on the ratio established in the Management Framework Plan-MFP”.

So had BLM been allocating resources on a proportional basis since 1994?


While the 1982 Management Framework Plan required forage allocations between livestock and wild horses/burros be based on proportional ratios, it doesn’t look like recent managers are familiar with this requirement.

In BLMs response to the 1994 Protest Points for the Soldier Meadows FMUD, BLM stated that stocking rates of livestock, wild horses and burros were being established as initial levels contingent on future monitoring and rangeland health data collection.

Yet in the Calico Complex Preliminary Capture EA, BLM reported that all wild horse/burro Herd Management Areas within the Complex have yet to be assessed for conformance with Standards of Rangeland Health. (Calico Complex Wild Horse Capture Plan, Preliminary EA, Section 1.5, Conformance with Land Health Standards pg.6)

The fact that no Rangeland Health Assesments have still not been done over 15 years later hasn't stop BLM from increasing livestock authorizations. Since the initial 1994 decision for the Soldier Meadows allotment affecting three of the HMAs within the Calico Complex, BLM has changed the livestock authorizations for Soldier Meadows at least twice, and Paiute Meadows at least once.

The most current Final Multiple Use Decisions (FMUD), which continued to re-affirm the initial AMLs for wild horses and burros that were originally set by an agreement between BLM and the 1988 livestock operator were re-issued for the Soldier Meadows Allotment in 2003, Paiute Meadows Allotment in 2004, and the Pine Forest Allotment in 2005, which established a 0 AML for wild horse use.

Summit Springs Wild Horse Area dated 7/29/08.

In the Calico Complex Preliminary EA, BLM shows a photo of Summit Springs in the Black Rock Range HMA (photo 7) to indicate low water flow and heavy wild horse use (above). Yet photos obtained from the Winnemucca Field Office via FOIA show the Summit Springs “Pipeline” leading to the Pine Forest Allotment contains a full reservoir and troughs – no wild horses allowed (below). The decision to issue an AML of 0 for wild horse use in the Pine Forest Allotment was implemented by BLM on 9/30/05.

Summit Springs Pipeline-Pine Forest Allotment dated 7/29/08.

In November 2005, Kudrna, Ltd. purchased the Soldier Meadows Ranch and acquired the grazing privilege for the Soldier Meadows Allotment. Kudrna then requested BLM modify the existing grazing system in order to acquire and maintain a stable herd size. In response, BLM issued a new grazing decision on January 14, 2008, for the Soldier Meadows Allotment, which adjusted cattle authorizations upward from a former initial stocking rate of 7,680 to a new initial stocking rate of 8,784 AUMs to support 800 head of cattle with a season of use authorized from 1/16 through 12/15. This authorization also included increases up to 12,168 AUMs for livestock consumption based on two year monitoring intervals as well as authorizing 3,092 AUMs of “suspended use” for temporary non-renewable grazing permits for a total of 16,070 AUMs - the entire AUM amount BLM had determined was available for all grazers in the area.

The January 2008 Final Decision for the Soldier Meadows Allotment also combined two key elements from different Alternatives evaluated throughout the public consultation process, that being; the Proposed Action to increase livestock allocations based on a 30% utilization level and the No Action Alternative, where no increase in livestock allocations would be authorized but would maintain a 50% utilization level.

Specifically, BLM chose to combine two of the most controversial components of both Alternatives into one, which were; increasing both livestock numbers and utilization levels simultaneously. No evaluation or analysis was ever done with respect to combining these two factors into one proposal or their potential impacts.

In 2004, BLM authorized an increase in the Paiute Meadows Allotment for exclusive livestock use by an additional 750 AUMs. (To learn more about the Paiute Meadows, Click Here to read, “Katie on Calico”.

Fenceline between Soldier Meadows and Pine Forest Grazing Allotments.
Soldier Meadows side (left) is cited as used exclusively by wild horses
while the Pine Forest side (right) is grazed by livestock only. BLM
Winnemucca photo file dated 7-29-08 obtained via FOIA.


To recap what BLM did in the past to determine the current wild horse and burro AMLs for a portion of the Calico Complex:

> The 1988 allotment evaluation and Livestock Agreement failed to analyze or include wild horse/burro populations and/or their impacts in any manner. However, this was the basis for determining the initial wild horse and burro AMLs that are still being perpetuated today.

> In 1994, in response to accusations that the BLM arbitrarily allocated forage to wild horses, burros and livestock, BLM did not dispute the initial forage allocations were only starting points and made no claim that these levels were actually appropriate until monitoring validated them.

> The validity of continuing to support the current wild horse/burro AMLs as appropriate were contingent on proportional allocations between livestock and wild horses/burros and monitoring data to determine class use. In other words, they had to determine who was eating what.

> The BLM implemented a new technique in 1992 that substituted a monitoring technique used to determine grazing distribution patterns to replace total carrying capacity evaluations. The exclusive incorporation of this new technique has never been re-evaluated for accuracy or appropriateness and may be especially relevant towards those rangeland users who exhibit wider distribution patterns such as wild horses, burros and other wildlife.

> BLMs recent authorization of increases in livestock authorizations in the Soldier Meadows and Paiute Meadows Allotments, despite well known drought conditions, indicates available forage has been re-allocated for exclusive livestock use and failed to conform to requirements outlined in the 1982 Management Framework Plan that specified all future forage allocation adjustments must be done in a proportional ratio between wild horses/burros and livestock.

> Based on BLMs reported wild horse populations from their March 2008 aerial census, wild horses exceeded the current established low AMLs for the Black Rock West, Warm Springs Canyon and Calico HMAs by at least 1,000 wild horses at the same time BLM was authorizing the increase of cattle use in the Soldier Meadows Allotment. Despite these "high" wild horse populations, BLMs monitoring information supported increased livestock use indicating impacts by wild horses were still marginal even at these high population levels - though BLM refused to publicly disclose or admit this fact in the 2009 Calico Complex Wild Horse Capture EA.

> Current wild horse AMLs within these areas fail to accurately reflect “excess” populations. Many of the Calico Complex wild horses were removed merely to support an AML goal that has never been seriously reviewed since the initial agreement was made between BLM and the livestock operator in 1988.

Calico Complex Wild Horse Captures - 2004

Photo from BLM Winnemucca Field Office photo files obtained via FOIA dated 2/13/2004.

Associated Links
BLMs Response to 1994 Protests of SMA FMUD