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Broken Arrow, Broken Heart

Fish Creek

Fish Creek “hostages” at Broken Arrow, aka Indian Lakes

Editorial by Laura Leigh, President of Wild Horse Education (WHE)

(UPDATE bottom of this posting in BOLD print)

I am just in from the last round of tracking wild horses and roundups. Ten weeks on the road and all the ups and downs of the emotions of what I witness on the range, to all that transpires in the political drama storm in which our wild ones are thrust through no doing of their own, all takes a toll. Trying to do a simple report on the tour of Broken Arrow (aka Indian Lakes), the Bureau of Land Management facility in Fallon Nevada is almost an impossibility for me right now. So I gave it up and instead am going to write simply from my heart. If you do not like that idea and want a dry, “nearly-3000-wild-horses-in-the-facility, and-where-they-came-from” report, simply don’t read this editorial.

After the 2009/2010 roundup at the Calico Complex in NW NV, I saw a foal lying in a pen at Broken Arrow (Indian Lakes) whose feet were literally beginning to fall off. The foal died of hoof slough weeks later. That experience changed my life forever. I had been an equine advocate for decades prior to this, but a shift happened and I was now on a daily quest to bring the voice of these overlooked “beating hearts” into the public sphere with a relentless passion… one as relentless as the machine removing them from public land.

Humbolt HA

Humbolt HA “zero out” 2015. Wild horses being driven past domestic cattle

In the days since then I have watched more wild horses removed from the range with my own eyes than any living observer, private or government. Literally tens of thousands of faces torn from everything they know and sent into government warehousing. All of what I have witnessed, except for three minor events, were for the benefit of other uses and not in the best interest of the wild horse. Removal is not a management strategy.

Every step of the way there is a fight. From gaining access to observe, to the actualization of a humane handling policy, to making progress toward any conversation toward equitable range management, you feel like Rocky going 15 rounds against Apollo Creed.

However, the people in Rocky’s corner recognized each victory and achievement (and we end up with sequel after sequel). In any corner of wild horse advocacy you can be expected to need to go another 15 rounds of pounding. There is progress on these issues, largely unrecognized and unsupported; instead, we see any progress dismissed by propaganda storms that come at you from every side.

I was once told that “wild horse advocates eat their young.”  Someone from the ranching community told me long ago that they did not directly address advocates because advocates would simply take each other out of the fight. That was an understatement. However, that part of this political puzzle is also changing with a viciousness I have not seen before. Ranchers are having to address advocates directly because of progress that is made but largely unrecognized by other advocates as the intensity in advocacy also heats to a boiling point.

Borba in trespass 2014

Borba in trespass 2014

I have been writing for well over a year that we are entering into a new conversation pushed largely by the larger “sage grouse” issue compounded by drought. We now sit at a time in history where it is “make or break” on policy to actually begin to protect wild horses and burros. This year is going to be a key time. PLEASE know in your soul that an educated, nonreactive advocacy is needed more than ever and become accountable to that statement… or you are part of the problem, not the cure.

Now back to Broken Arrow.

Pregnant curly mare awaits her fate in Broken Arrow

Pregnant curly mare awaits her fate in Broken Arrow

The reason we were allowed the tour was because of a four-year fight in Federal court on access. We won victories in the Ninth Circuit and had to go up and down the court system more than once, as the issues are very complicated. Part of our agreement was that if that “closed door” facility was used as intake, the public gets a “timely tour” to observe. The agreement has multiple other components that are being addressed that include observation during capture… but you must begin to understand the complexities and that the issues will all be resolved IF we can stay on track.

The “intake” that triggered the tour was for the wild horses from Fish Creek. The operation at Fish Creek was designed to try to “balance” the current needs of the range and create a management strategy to enable the evolution of actions that could truly be grounded in all the best available science for the welfare and preservation of the herd. It was not “perfect” to the ideal vision that every advocate holds in his or her heart of wild horses simply running unmolested on a healthy range. However, it was created based on the reality of the range and utilizes all the current tools available in compliance with the law:  please understand that this plan is truly a corner being turned.


“Julia,” a beautiful palomino mare free on Fish Creek with her family coming to water

However, we have a serious problem. The problem is not unique to Fish Creek. Federal land, BLM land, is to be managed in a “multiple use” fashion according to mandates from Congress. In truth we have seen attempts at this premise, but it has never really been actualized. In order to understand that, you need to know the history of the laws we have in place and why they are there.

Julia at Broken Arrow, a hostage of Eureka County and a trespass rancher

Julia at Broken Arrow, a hostage of Eureka County and a trespass rancher

One example is the Taylor Grazing Act. This Act was put in place to stop the literal war on our western ranges happening among livestock producers and to begin to create an avenue for actual federal management. However, since then, all we have seen is political pandering to livestock that continues to allow our American western rangelands to be pounded into dust by cloven hooves by those that have historically ruled our public land through bully tactics.

In the reality of today we must find a way to preserve and protect our wild horses, and the rangeland they rely on, as these serious issues are addressed. The issues involve not just public land ranching but also the green light given by Congress to massive extractive industries.

Fish Creek was a beginning.

Newborn separated from it's family at Fish Creek

Newborn separated from it’s family at Fish Creek

I sat there and watched the removal, my gut knotting with every run of these wild horses I have documented for years. As I watched newborn babies hit the trap we addressed the issue directly with the BLM. The roundup stopped, shy of the targeted goal of 500 gathered, for humane reasons. (Removal targets, set by limitations created in Congressional budgetary laws had also been met. Continuing to remove the horses (at that time) would not permit more removals. A manageable number of remained unmarked and untreated with fertility control. All objectives could still be met the following fall through field darting. There was no reason to continue with such small babies present).

The BLM has operated with no comprehensive policy for humane care. WHE has gained multiple court orders on inappropriate handling including the first in history under the Act to humanely manage wild horses and burros. These orders triggered a “Comprehensive Animal Welfare Plan” (CAWP) team creation toward implementation of an actual policy to be included in contracts with those people or organizations that handle our wild horses and burros. Yet with any policy creation in the federal government, you have committees and subcommittees and contracts and subcontracts… that all move at a pace slower than watching a glacier inch forward.

Members of the UC Davis contract team for CAWP were present at Fish Creek. They were attempting to create mechanisms for assessment (that is my understanding). However, they were not the ones that engaged as newborns hit the trap: we [WHE] did. We will continue to engage, with hopes that the days of litigation are behind us, to address these issues. But we will take whatever steps are needed to ensure that government constipation does not create a stall on getting humane handling active on the ground.

WHE wants to thank the BLM on the ground for engaging the conversations, that at times were not easy, to address all concerns immediately at Fish Creek.

Fish Creek 2015

Fish Creek 2015

Wild horses were sorted; those three years old and under that were most suitable for the possibility of adoption were sent to holding. Mares were treated, branded, and extensively documented prior to release and subsequent tracking. Stallions were going to be documented in the same manner for tracking.

On the day of the first release, Eureka County and a handful of ranchers filed a “stay” petition with the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA). The operation was being done under a full force decision by BLM. An IBLA claim should not have stopped it. However, as we try to move this program into this century, we are going to face multiple obstacles such as this one.

Eureka County was also the birthplace for the Nevada Association of Counties’ (NACO) litigation that calls for removal of wild horses, and even their destruction in holding. This suit was brought by what can only be seen as retaliation for livestock restrictions at the Diamond Complex (wild horses) during drought. Yes, we were there, too, and are Interveners in that case in federal court to speak for the horses. We are awaiting the Judge’s ruling on motions to dismiss.

Now the County is relying on using ranchers in the area to stand this appeal on. Most of them do not have allotments actually in the Fish Creek HMA. The one that has the largest allotment in the area is Kevin Borba. Borba is a rancher with a four-month permit that ignored his four-month limitation and ran livestock all year last year, hence the name “trespass” rancher. There are multiple other issues with this rancher who has stepped in front and center on this attempt to stop the horses from going home, and if things progress we will bring those to your attention.

Trespass Livestock in Fish Creek 2014

Trespass Livestock in Fish Creek 2014

The county is also regurgitating the NACO claim and adding assertions about PZP (a temporary fertility control vaccine) in this appeal. Nothing in the appeal is valid to Fish Creek. If you are one of the people that read and track what is on our website you caught the nuance. Yes, they are asking that horses be removed and destroyed if there is no place in holding. Yes, they are using propaganda on PZP to forward their agenda. They are also using propaganda perpetuated in social media to try to hurt our efforts and credibility within the local political machine in the ranching community and further up the chain.

We need a precedent. Trying hard to see the glass “half full” I do realize the bigger picture. At some juncture we must turn a corner to move out of the black-and-white old westerns and into full color, high definition, of today. Unfortunately, the Fish Creek wild horses are literally held hostage by the “people problems” that are threatening their future.

Fish Creek mares at Broken Arrow

Fish Creek mares at Broken Arrow

So, yesterday, after the Fish Creek saga and the other operations witnessed this winter and the last 5 years in tow, I boarded the “wagon” at Broken Arrow to go see the mares held hostage, with the same banter and confusion about policy hanging in the air. Advocates are confused as the vast majority of what they read is in tag lines on social media or skewed news reporters looking for a fast story. BLM personnel also seem to have difficulty with quoting policy and law accurately. It makes for a very frustrating experience that is a huge component to the inability to move from the past and create progress.

As the squeaky wagon rolled through the gates I tried to engage in conversations and at the same time tried hard to ignore the comments grating on my already worn senses. I was determined to simply document the Fish Creek mares and then compile the images into the data folders on each. I failed.

Face after face... row after row

Face after face… row after row

Face after face, row after row, I was transported in time. I went back to Jackson Mountain, Calico, Owyhee, Triple B, Eagle, Antelope… and on and on. Fat horses standing on bad feet that have been in that facility, some for years and years, with very little chance for adoption broke my heart.

If this is not resolved very soon these babies will be born in a dirt pen, not free as intended

If this is not resolved very soon these babies will be born in a dirt pen, not free as intended. These older mares deserve to give birth on the range and live out their lives free. (UPDATE: More than 5% of the wild horses slated for release died prior to the courts decision to allow BLM to return them to the range. It cost the tax payer in excess of $25,000 to house these horses as the court ruling was pending. It cost some of the horses their lives).

Then I saw the hostages. These mares so magnificent on the range stood bedraggled in a cage. Heavy with foals that should be born free as planned instead stood in prison. I documented them. Each one I was able to catch a fast snapshot of before the wagon squeaked down the next row of pens. I could not get off the wagon, it is not allowed. I could not sit with them and “just be” as we could on the range. Off we went down the next row of familiar faces…

I turned my back to the others on the wagon and just sat at the end. No sound came out of my mouth as the tears just streamed down my face, ache in my chest making it hard to breath.

None of this is “ok”: not the wild horses in cages; not the high calorie cheap feed, without shelter and good hoof care in this facility which is off limits to regular visitation that could lead to a chance for adoption, this facility that was nonetheless just approved to take in more horses that will remain hidden from view; not the lack of proactive action to create on the range management; not an advocacy stuck in a world of sound bytes fed by those whose job it is to know the laws; not the entitlement-addicted bullies of public land that are supported by a Congress too dense or indifferent to recognize that the rights of other Americans are being trodden upon. None of it is ok.

“Playing” with the Fish Creek wild horses before the roundup.

And at the center of it all is a beating heart. A heart that beats with a will to survive in the harshest of terrains in our American West. A heart that beats with a will that also allows it to move into our world and become partners who literally built our nation. A heart so much greater than ours.

Today I am hugging my dog. I am sitting with my horses. Tomorrow I will be back.

Some fights are worth fighting with all you have. Fish Creek, and our wild horses and burros dependent on our ability to engage, is one of those fights. We are awaiting the IBLA ruling at Fish Creek. But know that this is a fight far from over. We are ready to move forward.

PLEASE add your name to the letter we will be printing this week to help get the Fish Creek wild horses back home! Item EXPIRED

UPDATE 9/29/2015

Wild Horses were returned home to Fish Creek after the IBLA upheld BLM authority to proceed with the release.

Click to view release

Click to view release

Unfortunately the reality of the plan at Fish Creek, one based on the best available science (NAS) and created within every current legal restriction to management, is still under intense opposition. As the opposition rails against the imposed restrictions (“activists” want horses completely left alone, the “ranching community” only wants removals) we find ourselves in danger of a lost opportunity for actual “management” that achieves fiscal responsibility to the tax-payer, adherence to Congressional mandates, responsible action toward resource protection, and creates an ongoing ability for multiple use in that one HMA. 

A lack of ability to recognize the tools available, in modern times, may keep this area stuck in the historic prejudice of the past. 

As Americans we always felt pride in being able to rise to challenges by creating new tools to solve problems. This ability is what once held our nation at the forefront of global change. We were once leaders in technology, education, medicine and the global economy. The American spirit that “made lemonade from lemons,” as we then made lemonade a commodity sought by the world, is vacant.

The “plan” at Fish Creek has already been used worldwide to manage populations of multiple species. This same mechanism has been used for decades to manage populations of free roaming horses. This is NOT an experiment, but real tools in a modern world to address the challenges we face today.

At Fish Creek? We appear to reject our own American soul. 

This story appears to be far from the juncture where we are embracing challenge, rolling up the sleeves and showing progress is not only possible, but the “American way.”

Wild Horse Education will not “give up.” Our western rangeland is in serious trouble. Our wild horses (and wildlife) are getting ready to pay the ultimate price for ignorance and prejudice. Intense suffering lies ahead for the land and our wild ones. We can not stand by and simply watch. Just as we could not stand by and watch roundups without any policy for humane handling. We engaged that battle and won. We are prepared to engage once again, if our federal government can not take appropriate action.

BLM is offering another tour of the “Broken Arrow” facility on Indian Lakes Rd in Fallon NV on October 23, 2015. Please note that there is no mechanism to provide an interested public with information on individual horses and burros. At this juncture you must be an “approved” adopter in order to have any questions answered post tour. There are no designated volunteers to assist with adoptions or information to help BLM that claims they do not have the personnel to field questions from an i interested party. You must currently have an approved application to have questions responded to. We are informing you of this policy to attempt to address many of the issues faced post tour in Spring of 2015. You can read the BLM press release on the tour here:

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