Wild Horse Education

Range Management, Layers of… Bricks (Part One)

Ethel, her buddy Lucy is still in a holding facility, off limits and likely never to be returned to the range in a serious case of

Ethel, her buddy Lucy is still in a holding facility, off limits and likely never to be returned to the range in a serious case of “bricks in the wall.”

The Great Wall of Denial

As advocates for wild horses and burros that live on our American western landscape challenges to engage the system appropriately are increasing, not diminishing. The greatest obstacle is a wall of denial. Problems exist that can be solved. Yet first the problem must be acknowledged.

Entrenched behaviors create a dysfunctional environment that repeatedly enables the continuance of imbalance, injustice and a multitude of corruptions of the intent of law and morality. This dysfunction is creating an increasingly violent situation.

We began our series on the “Bricks in the Wall,” with a focus on advocacy at the time the 1971 Act and the Wild Horses sold to slaughter buyer, Tom Davis. To read the introduction go here: https://wildhorseeducation.org/2015/10/31/the-great-wall-of-denial-brick-one/ 

This series was begun as advocates are challenged in a credibility “war.” Allegations against conduct at roundups, range degradation and wild horses going to slaughter have all proven true, not just one time. The challenge of public trust does not fall on advocates to fix, it falls on the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Advocates did not break that trust, the agency has.

This section is about range management. Range management is a layer of… bricks.

“We all must follow the rules.”

“We manage the range for the health of the range and balanced multiple use.”

“We base our decisions on sound management practices.”

“We operate with public safety as a priority.”

When we address issues on the range these statements overlap to create a layer of… bricks. On any given square mile of public land a range of “uses” can combine to tap public resource. Mining, private livestock, wildlife and wild horses are supposed to be managed in a fair and equitable practice on what has become a fiction of healthy rangeland.

When an interest that puts a profit into someones pocket is faced with a restriction the concepts of balance, healthy range, sound practices and public safety go right out the window.

Argenta in summer 2015 Even where we have no wild horses our western rangeland is being pounded to dust, BLM says it is

Argenta in summer 2015 Even where we have no wild horses our western rangeland is being pounded to dust, BLM says it is “just fine.”

Political pandering rules our landscape.

The public is most familiar with Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher that has run private livestock on our public land in violation of the law and court orders. After decades of battering public land without paying grazing fees a court order was signed after a biter fight. But none of that has mattered, the federal government failed to carry out the law.

“Enough is enough,” said Rob Mrowka, a Nevada-based Center ecologist. “As of December 2011, more than 80,600 acres of desert tortoise habitat have been destroyed in Clark County under the pretense that the agreed-on steps were being taken to help tortoises in protected areas. But since 1998, grazing that was supposed to be eliminated at Gold Butte has gone on, despite two federal courts saying it should stop.”

Press release from the Center for Biological Diversity in 2012 http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/news/press_releases/2012/desert-tortoise-04-30-2012.html

The failure of the federal government has fueled greater threats to the environment and any concept of a fair playing field based on the law.

We understand Mrowka received death threats and went on the “lam.” Mrowka broke no laws and tried to use the processes of law to protect his interest.

Many have been “inspired” by these events. Multiple instances of threats and intimidation are becoming commonplace.

The growing ranks of “I recognize no interest but my own” are not limited to the state of Nevada.

STGeorgeUtah Reports: Inspired by the actions of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and his stance against federal control of public lands, a rancher on the Arizona Strip has also declared the Bureau of Land Management to be an illegitimate agency and said he will no longer comply with or recognize it.

“I hereby cancel all my contracts with the BLM,” LaVoy Finicum, of Cane Beds, Arizona, wrote in a letter he sent to the U.S. Solicitor General following his decision to no longer acknowledge BLM or its policies.

In Nevada we have watched as threats and protest camps created another debacle. We have written a lot about “Argenta,” an area in NV that has received less publicity nationwide but carries no less explosive potential. https://wildhorseeducation.org/?s=argenta

Protest Camp for the Grass March, started by Argenta permittees

Protest Camp for the Grass March, started by Argenta permittees

But we are not the only ones that have written. Let’s Talk Nevada: “Reportedly John Ruhs, acting state director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), talked to Filippini. Ruhs told Filippini that the BLM would allow him to continue illegally grazing while the BLM continues negotiations going on since at least 2013.”

This author goes on to discuss the almost “bi-polar” actions of the Governor and Senator Heller: In April of this year, Nevada Governor Brain Sandoval signed an executive order to deal with the drought situation. Sandoval created “a seven-member panel of administrators, scientists, and water officials to study the state’s long-term water plan.” However, the Governor, along with Nevada U.S. Senator Dean Heller, and Nevada Congressman Cresent Hardy all ranted against the BLM for taking action against Bundy in April 2014.

Argenta has been pounded as the federal government brought in the National Riparian Services Team (NRST) at a cost reportedly of a million dollars to “negotiate” with the ranchers at Argenta. The NRST met with other interests at the beginning of their involvement in Argenta, yet have been glaringly vacant in addressing other issues in the state or representing any other issue than ranching interests.

However local politicians have been very busy.

In another instance of “the rules don’t apply to everyone” NV Senator Dean Heller personally jumped “on the dysfunction wagon” for another trespass rancher in  the state, Kevin Borba.

Trespass for 8 months at Fish Creek

Trespass for 8 months at Fish Creek

Kevin Borba is a newcomer to NV. The CA transplant ran in trespass for 8 months. He received all the warning notices and continued to run in trespass, even accepting payment from an out-of-state entity to run cattle in his allotment out of permitted season and range. After following every regulation designed to give livestock permittees “a way out,” the BLM finally found Borba in trespass. Because every warning was given to no avail, the designation carried the term “willful.” Willful trespass means protocol was ignored.

Senator Heller exerted pressure on the agency. Agreements were made (these are public knowledge and in government documents). The designation of willful was dropped. This dropped the penalty from about $33,000 down to less than $6000. Yes America, you were not paid what you were due.

We met with a staff member of Heller. We warned them that they were abetting the type of behavior likely to encourage threat to human life. We were right.

The area that Borba grazes in is also part of a wild horse Herd Management Area (HMA), Fish Creek. The agenda of many is not limited to ignoring federal grazing law, it is an overriding agenda that is aimed at all federal restrictions.

The movement has a name, “The Grass March.” The Grass March sees itself as the extension of the “Sagebrush Rebellion.” The agenda is far reaching. A petition delivered last year by these “Marchers” demanded that they be given the right to remove any federal employee they deemed abusive (in other words anyone that dared restrict their use), removal of the raven from the migratory bird treaty (so they can kill them) and control over management of wild horses and a resumption of sale to slaughter (essentially resumption of mustanging that the 1971 law was put in place to stop) among other items.

Borba is both a supporter of Cliven Bundy and a member of the Grass March. During the “Bundy debacle” Mr Borba appeared on radio claiming he was also a victim of the federal government, at the exact same time as he was running livestock in trespass. (Remember Borba bought his ranch in 2012, the first year of severe drought).

The Fish Creek HMA has multiple grazing allotments for domestic livestock. Most areas managed for wild horses are cut into a series of fenced pastures. The public envisions open range, there is no such thing anymore. Borba has one of the allotments in Fish Creek.

The BLM Wild Horse and Burro program has serous flaws. At no time has there been a scientific evaluation of true viable herds and the resources required to sustain them. That is a fact backed up by a report completed in 2013 by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). Fertility control has been used in less than 4% of wild populations nationwide. Instead we ran a roundup machine that removed nearly 10,000 wild horses a year from 2008-2012 and overwhelmed government warehousing and nearly bankrupted the programs budget.

Sarge's colt in 2014

Sarge’s colt in 2014, Fish Creek

A plan was created for the Fish Creek HMA. All of the fiscal constraints and limitations imposed  by Congressional mandates were incorporated. Yet instead of limiting the plan to constraints, additional thought was given to every available tool. The final Record of Decision incorporated a data component to satisfy the NAS recommendations and the largest temporary fertility control objectives in the country were outlined. A removal was scheduled to reduce the existing population (according to limitations from Congressional Appropriations). 500-549 wild horses were intended to be captured, 200 removed, the rest branded and a temporary fertility control (PZP, ZonaStat) vaccine would be given to all mares released back to the range. The animals removed would be limited to younger animals that had a better chance of being adopted, instead of racking up over $50,000 each in holding costs over their lifetime. Additional bait trap, small scale removals, were incorporated into the record as a method to remove additional animals if required.

Instead of being seen as utilizing every available tool to monitor horses and resource, reduce population without burdening the tax payer (every horse not born is one that does not require the cost of roundup and holding. In addition the stress to resource is reduced exponentially) the plan was fought viciously.

Fish Creek roundup, 2015

Fish Creek roundup, 2015

424 animals were captured. Removal goals were met and a large number of young foals and heavily pregnant mares were beginning to be caught. The roundup ended. Stress to animals during removal was becoming obvious and cessation of operations would not interfere with objectives.

When all of the animals were in the corrals, and the release was to happen that day, the county and a handful of ranchers filled legal action to stop the release. (of note is that the contractor trailers to transport the horses back to the range were not present). In addition the suit demands that animals be destroyed if there is no room in holding or sold to slaughter. The suit parrots a case brought by the Nevada Association of Counties (NACO) and the Nevada Farm Bureau. That case lost in federal district court. Congress has placed a restriction on any funds being used to destroy or sell wild horses to slaughter through Appropriations. (WHE Intervened in that case https://wildhorseeducation.org/2015/03/12/wild-horses-prevail-over-nevada-counties-suit/)

“Stand off” in Eureka at holding corrals for Fish Creek horses

The tension at the corrals was high. Access was given by the BLM contractor to proranching media to the holding corrals while denying that same access to others. A dozen ranchers wearing “black hats” came. Borba walked up to the BLM ranger and said “You are not releasing horses.”

The horses slated for release were transported to BLM holding facilities. The cost just within the first two weeks was over $20,000. Over 5% of the horses died. One horse WHE had followed for 4 years was going to be returned, even though he had a prior injury. His injury made transport into captivity a potential journey of agony. He was shot along with another horse after all others were transported from the range.

The petition to stay the operation lost. (WHE Intervened) Yet of the 424 horses captured, only 162 were returned. 262 now sit in holding or have died. (15 mares and foals still sit in an off limits government facility with their foals. These mares were to be returned to the range. However a recent tour of the facility, that had to be won through another court case, showed those mares and foals have been branded and mixed in with the general population at the facility. Leaving little hope that the BLM is even waiting for a decision in the underlying case).

Ethel, a Fish Creek mare, on release day

Ethel, a Fish Creek mare, on release day

However once again we have a situation where any “fair playing field” is simply one to manipulate. Laws are apparently made to be broken in our American West.

As with any “abusive” situation escalation of conflict encouraged by those that enable, is simply inevitable.

Sarge, one helluva story

Sarge, one helluva story

Part Two coming soon…

Sarge, a poster child for everything wrong. 

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