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“Rangeland Under Fire,” Under Fire: Editorial

Nevada's wild horses

Nevada’s wild horses

UPDATE 3/2015: The “NACO” legal action noted in text was defeated in federal district court. However the counties and ranching community is now appealing to the Ninth Circuit. We are still engaged in defeating this suit no matter how high a court it is appealed to.

In addition we now have multiple actions on the individual county level in both federal court and the IBLA (Interior Board of Land Appeals). These actions include the current move by Eureka county and a trespass rancher to stop the wild horses from Fish Creek from going home: https://wildhorseeducation.org/2015/02/22/standoff-obstructs-pioneering-effort-for-wild-horses/

Every two years the NV State Legislature is in session. Every session there is legislation trying to deny wild horses water in the state (this year the bill was pulled) or outright attempts to take control over federal, public resource. This year we have the “Bundy Bill” that needs your attention today! https://wildhorseeducation.org/2015/03/22/nv-legislature-ab-408-alert/

Note: We usually do not post “editorials” on our webpage (we reserve them for the blog) but in this instance felt it appropriate

“Rangeland Under Fire,” Under Fire

Editorial Review: Laura Leigh, Wild Horse Education

“Rangelands Under Fire” is the fourth installment of the “Stewards of the Rangeland” series produced by Dennis and Gabe Golden in partnership with KNPB Public Broadcasting. According to the press release the installment “documents the latest challenges faced by our open range food producers and land managers, due to wildfire, battle for resources from wild horse herds, drought, litigation, water and competition from foreign imports an increasing subject of conflict.”

The program begins as a piece describing recent fire events in Nevada. Personal experiences are recalled by ranching families. BLM comments on stretched resources fighting multiple fires.

The film then moves to the topic of wild horses. I expected perhaps a ten minute discussion. Instead the next 40 minutes were dedicated to blaming wild horses for the destruction of ranches, ranch families, even the beginning of famine spreading nationwide. Are you kidding me?

Water haul for cattle during drought in overgrazed area of Nevada, in drought years there may be a dozen water hauls for horses statewide compared to ten times as many for domestic livestock

Water haul for cattle during drought in overgrazed area of Nevada, in drought years there may be a dozen water hauls for horses statewide compared to ten times as many for domestic livestock

A closer look at this program appears in order.

The series is funded by the Nevada Rangeland Resources Commission (NRRC). The NRRC was created by the Nevada State Legislature and is funded by the livestock industry. Current Commissioners include: Hank Vogler (Rancher and an instigator in the introduction of SB329 to the state legislature that was designed to deny wild horses access to water in the state of Nevada), Ron Cerri (on the executive committee for the NV Cattleman’s Association that voted to support the current ‘NACO’ suit against wild horses) and Hank Combs (the President of the Nevada Farm Bureau, a co Plaintiff in the ‘NACO’ suit against wild horses).

So basically we have an hour long “commercial” funded by those that have made every effort to remove wild horses off the landscape, deny them water and are now actively engaged in federal litigation to remove wild horses from Nevada and actually destroy them.

The information was never presented in a balanced fashion. Many basic facts that would fully inform an interested audience were omitted.

PBS programming guidelines state: For the purposes of these guidelines, a program “funder” or “underwriter” or “grantor” is a third party that has voluntarily contributed cash (or substantial in-kind services) to finance, in whole or in part, the production or acquisition of a PBS program, and that may not, and has not, exercised any inappropriate influence over the content of the program it has funded. 

So who vetted this program? Either someone that did not know how to use common internet search engines or by someone that just does not care.

There are some serious flaws in editorial choices if the program was meant to resemble a “journalistic” piece. Many statements provided during interviews of advocates would have put the subject in a truthful perspective had they been used. They instead, became casualties of the editorial “cutting room.”

Cattle watching as wild horses are loaded for shipment to holding facilities

Cattle watching as wild horses are loaded for shipment to holding facilities

At the end of this piece one would believe that wild horses are running rampant, starving and bringing on the apocalypse.

If one believes the message of this documentary then the only alternative we have as a nation to avoid starvation and “taking a wheel barrel full of money to the grocery store to buy a loaf of bread,” (quote from cattle rancher JJ Goicochea) is to get those damn horses off the range. Our narrator cites a national increase in seafood imports as a reason to support cattle ranching on public land, yet he never mentions that as a nation we are eating less beef due to health reasons.

Let’s get some perspective (this list of resources is extremely abbreviated as a literal “novel” could be inserted here):

Public-lands ranching currently produces less than 4 percent of the nation’s beef. Yet it monopolizes 252 million acres supposedly managed for “multiple use” by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). (audubon, “Sacred Cows”: http://archive.audubonmagazine.org/incite/incite0603.html)

According to the General Accounting Office,10 federal agencies lost $123 million administering grazing in fiscal 2004.

The recently released Department of Interior Fiscal Year 2012 Economic Report shows that Grazing on BLM Public Lands Accounts for only 0.41% of the nation’s livestock receipts and only 17,000 jobs nationally.  In contrast, recreation accounts for 372,000 jobs and contributes $45 billion to the economy. (One casino in Las Vegas can easily create 17,000 jobs).

George Wuerthner writes for Western Watersheds: “According to the state of Nevada, the number of people employed in all agriculture totals less than 2,200 people. Some of the larger casinos in Las Vegas often employ more people than all the ranching operations in the entire state. Yet public policy in Nevada, as in the rest of the West, is severely skewed to favor these few ranching-dependent individuals at the expense of the general public and the land.”

The public lands grazing program among all agencies, according to a General Accountability Office report, cost $144 million in 2005 and received only $21 million in grazing fee receipts.

BLMs Total Livestock Authorizations for 2009: 11,063,926 AUMs* Total National Forage Allocations for Wild Horses & Burros: 304,482 AUMs. BLMs Total Livestock Actual Use for 2009: 5,992,392 AUMs* Total National Forage Allocations for Wild Horses & Burros: 304,482 AUMs *AUMs were taken from BLMs 2009 Rangeland Statistics available at: http://www.blm.gov/landandresourcesreports/rptapp/menu.cfm?appCd=6

In the documentary wild horses are also accused of destroying wildlife populations. Wild Horse and Burro AMLs: 26,831 2009 Elk population estimates: 950,000. 2009 Elk populations obtained from Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation at: http://www.rmef.org/NewsandMedia/NewsReleases/2009/ElkPopulations.htm

NV Wild Horse AML (2009): 11,672 NV Wild Burros AML: 706 NV Bighorn Sheep (2008): 9,350  NV Elk (2009): 10,900 NV Pronghorn Antelope: 24,500 NV Mule Deer: 106,000 NV Livestock Authorized Use/Cattle: 170,439 2009 Wildlife populations were obtained from Nevada Department of Wildlife except elk populations obtained from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation at: http://www.rmef.org/NewsandMedia/NewsReleases/2009/ElkPopulations.htm

In addition there are studies that have been published showing that no use is more detrimental to the health of the public lands than livestock grazing. The Center for Biological Diversity published: Cattle destroy native vegetation, damage soils and stream banks, and contaminate waterways with fecal waste. After decades of livestock grazing, once-lush streams and riparian forests have been reduced to flat, dry wastelands; once-rich topsoil has been turned to dust, causing soil erosion, stream sedimentation and wholesale elimination of some aquatic habitats; overgrazing of fire-carrying grasses has starved some western forests of fire, making them overly dense and prone to unnaturally severe fires. Thomas Fleishner wrote in an extensive scientific review at Prescott College: The ecological costs of this nearly ubiquitous form of land use can be dramatic. Examples of such costs include loss of biodiversity; lowering of population densities for a wide variety of disruption of ecosystem including nutrient cycling and succession,, change in community organization; and change in the physical characteristics of both terrestrial and aquatic habitat. Because livestock congregate in riparian ecosystem which are among the biologically richest habitats in arid and semiarid region the ecological costs of grazing are magnified in these site. Range science has traditionally been laden with economic assumptions favoring resource use.”

Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge has a wild horse population (to be removed this year) but no livestock. The eco-system is perhaps the last intact great basin eco-system left.

Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge has a wild horse population (to be removed this year) but no livestock. Sheldon has perhaps the last intact great basin eco-system left.

Interviewed in this documentary were four individuals identified as “wild horse advocates.” The onscreen time of the advocates combined was miniscule.

The question of inhumane was allowed but not explored

The question of inhumane was allowed but not explored

I know that much of the basic “facts” listed above were available to the editor in a concise fashion. I also did an extensive interview, however when I asked Golden what the purpose of the piece was so I could comment in a relevant fashion I was told that wild horses were a peripheral subject and I was not given much more than that. In my interview I gave site specific counter to many of the statements made in the piece that create a romantic, emotional notion of the “ranching family.” I have spent considerable time on Nevada rangelands including more observation of wild horse removals than any other individual in the state over the last four years. Several of the points I made that included discussions about humane care were allowed, as well as my statement that both uses must be considered on public land. However, although portrayed as “well-spoken” my responses are cut short of creating an alternate picture.

This piece is appropriate to be shown at an anti-horse, pro-livestock meeting, but not on PBS as a statement of fact. It is an opinion piece couched as a documentary, paid for by the interest it promotes.

Sadly, this documentary had real promise to educate the public to “fire on the rangeland.” Instead it turned into an anti-horse propaganda tool.

As someone that has worked most of my adult life in one form of media or another I have watched dramatic changes occur in my professional environment. As a child print media was a prevalent, a vital source for news coming into almost every home in our country. As times changed huge segments of those employed in print media became jobless. Their skills became worthless in a world gone digital. Those that could adapt found ways to stay in media, yet many had to find alternatives to feed their families and pay their mortgages. Yet the “hard nosed, sweaty t-shirt” newspaper editor sitting at the head of dozens of journalists hammering the news on typewriters and the “go get ‘em kid” that wants to write for the “Sun,” is now reserved for movie screens.

Perhaps we should recognize that the notion of the “Marlboro Man” carving out the “wild west” and feeding our country is a romantic notion that must begin to be seen through eyes that recognize the changing needs of our country? Perhaps we need to begin to realize that the ways we operated in the past created damages to our public resources that we can no longer afford? In order for public land ranching to continue perhaps we must begin to do so only in a way that is viable on our public land and preserves this notion as historically “dear” to our American history? Are wild horses and public land ranchers more similar than apart in our historic perception of the “American scene?”

Cattle grazing (at the very moment) wild horses were removed during a purported drought in June at Jackson Mountain

Cattle grazing (at the very moment) wild horses were removed during a purported drought in June at Jackson Mountain. Winnemucca District where Gene Seidlitz (BLM) says that he himself monitors “gathers” to make sure they are humane. Seidlitz was not present here, nor at the Owyhee Complex roundup where BLM received TRO’s for conduct from federal Judges.

It would have been wonderful if PBS raised a single one of those viable questions. Yet we are left with this unrealistic, emotional statement  that wild horses are responsible for the ills facing public land ranchers. This is perpetrated to the extent that unchallenged assertions are allowed that even have wild horses responsible for a fictional impending national famine. All this “documentary does” is claim the “salt of the earth” romantic vision of the family rancher suffers at great cost as they serve our country…  because of the wild horse. This piece is nothing more than inaccurate propaganda.

It was a disappointment to see this air, in the manner it aired, on PBS.

Around 19 minutes in the “wild horse” blaming begins.

To watch the program click the link or the Image Below :http://watch.knpb.org/video/2365179841/

Click Image to Watch

Click Image to Watch

And then watch this piece that we did a few years ago. Skip the first few minutes (this was a fundraiser two years ago) and excuse our “low budget” in the edit. We do NOT have the funding that the ranchers have. Part three (the solution based part and final edit of all three pieces ) is in edit stage. We do not have the resources need to complete all of our work (litigation, research, rescue, etc) and certain projects remain on hold.

We need your help to stay active in this fight: http://WildHorseEducation.org/donate

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