Sarge, a wild horse from the Fish Creek Herd Management Area (HMA) managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), has become a poster child for a broken system. Sarge has become a “brick in the wall.”
Update on Sarge, December 16, 2015 at the bottom of this article. To if you want to understand all Sarge came to represent read to the bottom. If you already know, simply scroll down.
The Great Wall of Denial
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/
Our second “layer of bricks” is built on the range.
When we address issues on the range these statements overlap to create a layer of… bricks.
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.
To view the “stage” of the reality Sarge is tangled in go here: https://wildhorseeducation.org/2015/11/03/range-management-layers-of-bricks-part-one/
Yet the journey of Sarge speaks to a much larger picture that encompasses all that is wrong with management of wild horses. From range to holding, through the internet sale that saw him go for a record bid of $14,825. for an “ungentle horse,” this wild horse has come to represent controversy.
Make no mistake about “who” Sarge is. He is acclimated to people, but he “aint no pet.” Sarge was a band stallion that bred every year with his mares and fought off a group of three interlopers every year.
Sarge is from Fish Creek. Fish Creek is an HMA in NV, a state with more wild horses than all other states combined. Fish Creek is in Eureka County, the literal heart at the center of the state and a center of the controversy surrounding wild horses.
Eureka county was the birthplace of a legal action to remove horses statewide and even destroy them (resumption of sale to slaughter and euthanasia). The case was brought by the Nevada Association of Counties (NACO) and the Nevada Farm Bureau. The only HMA named on the suit was the Diamond Complex. State Legislator Pete Goicoechea has public land grazing allotments in this area. His son, JJ Goicoechea, is Eureka county commissioner and on the executive committee for the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association. JJ been very vocal against wild horses (while he holds an agreement with BLM as a veterinarian).
At the Fish Creek HMA a management plan was created. 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 seeing a management plan that used the tools available to manage wild horses the county spearheaded a legal action against it. (WHE Intervened)
One of the permittees in Fish Creek and the county are heavily associated with the Grass March, an attempt by the livestock industry to take control of state land (included in this agenda is the resumption of horse slaughter). In Fish Creek we even have one of those “trespass ranchers” you are reading about in the news. You can read all about the Grass March and add your voice to our ongoing efforts to make sure officials hear the voices of the rest of Americans that want to see our rangelands preserved for all, and not used only as a profit platform for a handful of ranchers. https://wildhorseeducation.org/2015/05/16/not-over-my-wild-horses-grass-march-part-1/
Historically we have all watched the BLM cave to the livestock industry. Over and over the bully tactics of public land ranching override common sense. This has created a volatile playing field where any voice for the environment or “wild things” takes a back seat in process and faces intimidation on the range.
Propaganda against wild horses has been in full swing since the drought began. Productions such as Rangeland Under Fire even have JJ Goicoechea saying our wild horses are somehow responsible for a pending “great famine” getting ready to hit the US. (Public land ranching produces less than 4% of beef utilized in industry on 66% of public land, wild horses occupy 11% of all public land. Public land ranching operates at a loss to the tax payer of about three times the entire wild horse and burro program including adoption events).
Fish Creek created it’s very own propaganda storm after the county and ranchers lost their legal action to stop the wild horses from going home. Ranchers were removed from the docket by the court for having no standing, or right to file. Eureka county continues to carry the action trying to get the wild horses at Fish Creek rounded up again.
The pro horse slaughter/anti anything animal welfare organization Protect the Harvest (PtH) became involved. The organization is also associated with the Grass March participants and supports that agenda. They showed up at the release of the wild horses back to the range with the rancher that ran in trespass eight months, Kevin Borba. PtH began producing videos called “Borba vs BLM.”
We did a video to try to explain the chaos to the public. We made a critical error and featured a wild horse named “Sarge.” His family was just one of the bands fractured during removal (all of his mares were removed). We simply used that situation as an example of how a temporary fertility control plan would have kept that family predominantly intact and stopped the literal stockpiling of wild horses in holding (we currently house nearly 60,000 in facilities in lopsided management that focuses on horses in pens, not on the range). Broad scale removals increase population growth rates (scientific fact) and are not sound practice. However to us Sarge was an example of a band stallion, to the opposition he became a focal point.
The roundup and release were contentious and confrontational. At the roundup intimidation was high, discriminatory access was allowed for pro ranching media by the BLM contractor, the local Sheriff appeared to be “buddies” with the ranching community as the initial release was blocked. After the county and rancher lost the suit and horses were being released, armed guards and multiple branches of law enforcement were mobilized to be on the range. We did not write about the threats and harassment at the release, we focused on the horses, but our representative on the ground was harassed both at temporary holding during the roundup and the release.
The courts ruled that BLM had the authority to carry out the plan, but that did not sit well with the rancher, county and protect the Harvest.
Implementation of ongoing fertility control was to begin that fall. Monitoring of the range was underway and panels being set to bait trap and mark additional mares (as not every horse had been captured). On the day that panels were set a literal social media propaganda circus began.
An off HMA non sanctioned water haul began to draw horses off their range and acclimate them to an area of little feed. We did an entire article outlining events here: https://wildhorseeducation.org/2015/08/07/fish-creek-the-facts/ We urge you to click and read.
But the wild horse named Sarge became a focal point.
Many ranchers feel that they do not have to deal with rules and regulations the way the rest of the public do. They feel that public land is their private property. This attitude has been continually supported and enforced by the BLM. BLM consistently fails to hold permittees accountable to actions that would land the rest of us in very hot water and potential jail time.
As a baby Sarge was removed from the range without permission. It is illegal to remove a wild horse from public land and carries a clear penalty of a 2K fine and up to a year in jail. The person that removed him the first time faced no penalty.
Sarge was apparently not the horse they wanted as it is rumored he was difficult to handle. He was dumped back on the range at about two years old, by himself (we believe Sarge may not even be originally from Fish Creek, the area he was dumped in is simply easy access).
In this propaganda storm Sarge was used in video created by the rancher and PtH that was posted on social media in a rapid fire fashion. The video made accusations against the BLM and our founder Laura Leigh, claiming they were “killing horses.” The horses in the HMA were fine, only the horses in the area of the water haul were becoming increasingly in danger. The videos never showed the entire picture. What the videos did show was a continual engagement in activities that violated the code of federal regulations; hauling water without a permit (the allotment the haul was in did not belong to this permittee as well), luring horses off HMA and the eventual removal of one horse from the range without permission (illegally). The off HMA water haul began with only about 8 horses in the area and increased to nearly 40 as horses were drawn in by the activity, increasing tension and danger.
It took BLM ten days to do any response. After trap panels were set on the range and the horses returned to the HMA, the drama on the range went to a sizzle. BLM said there was an investigation.
Sarge was taken by the BLM to a holding facility.
There he continued to be a focal point for drama. Another social media hype storm began. Accusations fueled by the videos online created another back wave. Certain activists that had never been to that range began to assert “connection” to Sarge and say he was at risk. Rumors were perpetuated that Sarge was gelded or dead or that BLM planned to kill him, none of it the truth. But the public was already in full drama mode and vulnerable.
But this was not the only area of contention. A mine that was dealing with language issues in a permit with BLM was met with a descent of “oath keepers.” A stand off shut down a BLM office in Oregon. The Argenta grazing dispute in Nevada had permittees running in trespass. The actions in NV had a national team brought in to moderate and the BLM state office creating agreements that over rode court rulings to close the allotments. The stage was set for confrontation.
In essence the litigation against Fish Creek is simple, it reads that the county is angry because BLM did not do things exactly the way they want and are angry that any other voice was heard in process. So to follow in the steps of the Argenta debacle where environmental interests were run over and court rulings set aside, at Fish Creek we saw the same type of placation begin.
A tour was set up by the county of Fish Creek. The permittee, ranching media, PtH, the county (that was an active Plaintiff) set what can only be called a private tour for the BLM. The acting state director, the district and field office managers went to the range to “nod and bob” for the ranching interests.
Wild Horse Education was on the range for that tour. We wrote about it extensively here: https://wildhorseeducation.org/2015/08/19/human-safety-placed-in-jeopardy-take-action/ This tour was simply successful in increasing tension and threats. We have since spoken to the acting director at that time (he will be back at the end of the month). We have yet to see how he will address our concerns and if any equity will be created.
The state office has simply failed to do any follow through on fertility control at Fish Creek setting this plan up to fail, exactly what the county wants. Pointing to the BLM as failing to manage resources is a mainline item for the Grass March.
The fifteen mares and their foals that were held back from being released are still in Broken Arrow, the off limits holding facility in NV. Only twice yearly tours are allowed. A recent tour of the facility showed that BLM has mixed these mares and foals into the general population and freeze marked them. A clear indication they have no intention of releasing them, regardless of the court ruling that says they have the authority to do so. Mixing these mares into the general population made it difficult to even find them on a tour that keeps public in a moving wagon and not allowed to interact with horses.
Sarge went to an internet adoption. He went before the final court ruling was even made. The agency knew Sarge would draw attention yet not one other horse from Fish Creek was offered in the event. The event drew attention to Fish Creek and there are more than 200 Fish Creek horses now in holding looking for homes. Not one was offered. Is this stupidity or something more incestious within the system of facilities and the ranching community?
The drama surrounding Sarge escalated during the adoption event. Multiple fundraisers were made to adopt him. Advocate against advocate against pro slaughter drove the bidding to a record $14,825. for an ungentle horse. All of the horses on the internet could have been adopted for that price tag. At the facility that houses Sarge only three other horses were adopted. Media outlets carried a piece that only focused on one horse and the drama, never featuring any other horse (even though they travelled to the facility).
Sarge is still being fought about. The public is focused on debates over sanctuary vs training and display. Social media fights are breaking out.
There are thousands of horses like Sarge. Thousands and thousands sitting in facilities with stories just as convoluted and in need of homes. There are still thousands and thousands of horses like Sarge that need the public focused on their protection.
15 mares that received fertility control still sit in a facility, that were supposed to be released, with literally no sign that release will ever happen.
Another “investigation” into rancher conduct is underway that may very well end up like the “Tom Davis/Salazar slaughter debacle.”
The fertility control program, the largest in the country, at Fish Creek is now on hold because of intimidation.
The Fish Creek horses sit with no promotion in government warehousing.
Has Sarge brought any attention to the agenda of slaughter and the resumption of mustanging by the “Grass March” and PtH?
Or has Sarge simply become a casualty? One more that will be nameless in a month?
“If I did what that permittee did I would have been in a jail cell that night,” Laura Leigh, founder of WHE.
Click here to add your name to the growing list. We are using the list to push for action at Fish Creek to preserve public safety and to gain accountability under law.
All in all… just bricks in the great wall of denial.
Read the first two installments
December 16, 2015, Sarge
Sarge was sold in the BLM internet auction for a record bid for an “ungentled” horse. But it did not end there.
The competitive bidding turned into a contest between the bidders; and a contest between the state and federal government. Remember the state is/was/and will be trying to usurp control from the federal government over resources. Remember wild horses are seen as a “harvestable resource” by many in western states and they resent the government “taking it away,” (when the 1971 Act was passed that created federal jurisdiction over wild horses).
The new owner paid a hauler to come and get Sarge. Sarge was loaded onto the trailer and the trailer was leaving holding. The trailer was stopped and Sarge placed back into his pen.
Why? Because the drama is not about legal management of public land. The drama is not about fair and equitable practice. The drama is not about the horse. The drama is about control.
Sarge was once again the focal point as state brand inspectors, ranchers and the “drama crew” tried to stop the sale of Sarge. This same tactic was tried after the roundup to stop the horses from going back to the range. BLM brands wild horses removed from the range that are given fertility control (or not) as a “wildlife” tracking number. In Fish Creek studs were also branded with a tracking number to study movement. The federal government has jurisdiction over wild horses as “wild.” Remember this debate has even spilled over into the NV State Legislature as every session a bill is introduced (defeated) to deny wild horses drinking water claiming they are legally “feral” as the they are under state jurisdiction, (wild and federal are terms used to protect or deny protections to wild horses in a legal language fight).
This tactic was unsuccessful to stop the release of the wild horses back to Fish Creek and it was eventually unsuccessful keeping Sarge behind bars.
Yesterday BLM facility employees loaded Sarge onto the trailer. Several of them came out and gave a very fond and caring farewell to the little palomino stud. The caring woman that purchased Sarge, with the purpose of giving him as much freedom as she could, came to see him off (I would call the bonding “trauma bonding” as she was under attack for trying to help this poor stud that has become a lightening rod for trouble).
Sarge? He is now is transition into his new life. We hope that he at least, is now free from the storm. A storm that threatens his herd, and all our wild horses, living as “federally protected” on our public land.
The legal battle is still alive for his herd. It has turned into a raging chaotic mess that has very little to do with creating appropriate management, based on the best practices to preserve wild horses and the range. The battle is seated in serious, long standing, control issues.
Sarge is in sanctuary with his big red mare, now named Promise.
We need your help to stay in this fight. Our roundup documentation, field work and legal efforts need your support. Click image below to support WHE.
Categories: Wild Horse Education