“Roundup season” has ended for wild horses and burros. Helicopter roundups run from the first day of July through the last day of February each year. The Eagle/Caliente roundup in eastern Nevada marked the end of the calendar. Wild Horse Education (WHE) was onsite. Details of the removal can be found on our main website HERE.
Last weekend was an important anniversary to one of our legal actions that changed the playing field forever. You can read about it HERE.
This weekend we mark another “anniversary” that illustrates each roadblock to gaining fair and equitable management ON THE RANGE. Our wild horses are caught in a landscape built by drama. Drama from special interests that reap a profit off their backs, from the range and from antiquated practices like roundups.
We must STOP drama from controlling the world our wild ones live in and instead have the world our wild ones live control the conversation to create a better world for them.
Fish Creek, the anniversary
This is not a fast read for those looking for entertainment value. This set of articles is for those that really want to take the time to understand the political landscape that rules our western ranges. This ONE Herd Management Area (HMA) near Eureka NV managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has become an illustration of all that is wrong with public land. It has also become a tale of mythological proportions akin to any penned by Homer.
This is a “part one” so you can understand the timeline of events. Part two will link here after publish.
Outline of events
Wild Horse Education (WHE) monitors multiple ranges in the west, including Fish Creek, every year. In 2014 multiple issues concerning drought began to escalate. WHE engaged conversations at Fish Creek and elsewhere to attempt to create a process to work toward the best outcomes possible for our wild ones. The livestock permittee at Fish Creek was running outside the parameters of his permit (times and locations) in what is legally referred to as “trespass.” We notified, and continued to document and notify, BLM.
In fiscal 2015 BLM removals were very limited (in comparison to years before when nearly 10,000 wild horses were removed from the range each year). Fish Creek was approved literally in a “squeeze play” by the National office for a removal/fertility control operation. NV had been pushing for removals and four were put onto the limited schedule to satisfy the push. Fish Creek along with Pine Nut, Humbolt and Little Fish Lake.
An Environmental Assessment was created for Fish Creek in December of 2014 and went for public comment. An article we wrote about it can be read here for background and information on the “NEPA” process https://wildhorseeducation.org/2014/12/24/fish-creek-hma-public-comments-due-january-23/
In January of 2015 the livestock permittee received a bill from BLM and was found in “willful trespass.” click here to read https://wildhorseeducation.org/2015/01/09/nevada-rancher-gets-bill-for-livestock-trespass-in-wild-horse-area/
Senator Heller’s office intervened on part of the trespass notice. His office put pressure on BLM and the designation of “willful” was removed and substantially reduced the bill. All of this is public knowledge, noted in the reduced bill sent to the permittee.
We met with Heller’s office and pleaded with them to stop interfering with process. If you are allowed to live a life where laws do not apply to you at what point do you abide by the law? Our plea fell on deaf ears, even in the wake of the “Bundy debacle.”
Herd observations continued as preparation for the roundup was underway. A removal of 200 wild horses (younger ones to try to increase adoptability) and ZonaStat (PZP22) was to be given to the mares released after the largest sampling of genetics ever done was completed. Game cameras were set to observe restructuring of bands post release. BLM released the Record of Decision (ROD) and had gone with their original preferred plan with a few minor additions regarding tracking etc.
The roundup began. You can read some of the observation at this link (the horse named Sarge was captured the first day and is in the rear of the band in the first photo at the link). https://wildhorseeducation.org/2015/02/13/fish-creek-observation-reports/
As the roundup progressed the number of wild horses that met “removal criteria” were exceeded and newborn babies were being run. The Comprehensive Animal Welfare (CAWP) team from UC Davis was present. These facts escalated tension onsite. The contractor appeared resentful even though the CAWP team did nothing to address issues. WHE interceded. Tension became so high at the holding corrals that the contractor tried to confront Leigh, Leigh walked away after BLM could not control the situation instead of escalating it. Leigh (WHE) won multiple court rulings against conduct at, and for access to, BLM roundups and we can only make the assumption that was the root of the conflict as these protocols were beginning to be implemented.
424 wild horses were captured. 238 were assessed (at that time) as “permanent removals.” 8 wild horses euthanized. Mares were treated with temporary fertility control and freeze marked with tracking numbers for release. Studs were to be freeze marked with an HMA mark to track movement. (The National Academy of Sciences asked that better data collection methods be created. This tracking mechanism was to facilitate ongoing treatment of fertility control).
When it was imminent wild horses were to be released back to the range chaos broke out. The contractor trailers that were supposed to return horses to the range were no where in sight. The trespass rancher, rancher media and members representing Eureka county showed up at the trap telling BLM they were not returning horses to the range. No court order prohibited any release, but BLM capitulated to the demands. https://wildhorseeducation.org/2015/02/22/standoff-obstructs-pioneering-effort-for-wild-horses/
The horses shipped to Palomino Valley Center and Broken Arrow (aka Indian Lakes) https://wildhorseeducation.org/2015/03/08/broken-arrow-broken-heart/
WHE Intervened (Leigh wrote the brief) in the action on behalf of the wild horses and in support of the BLM carrying out the original decision. The court held up BLM authority to return horses to the range. Video of release at this link https://wildhorseeducation.org/2015/04/14/thank-you-gallop-to-freedom/
However the delay had additional cost to the tax payer and the horses. “The 183 horses that had been trucked to holding facilities have cost $6335.00 per week just for holding fees alone, which now total just over $25,000.00. Five mares and one stallion died in holding and fifteen gave birth. The mares and foals will be released at a later date.” from an article published after the release (please note that the cost of holding the horses during the legal action would cover the cost of more than 5 years of fertility control for the entire herd).
It should be noted here that the mares that were at Broken Arrow that foaled (that we were told would be released) have been freeze marked and mixed in with the general population. The foals that were also to be returned have been weaned and now carry the label “born in a holding facility” because Broken Arrow fails to note the area the mother came from. These animals will never be returned to the range, no release or official disclosure of the decision making process by BLM has been made. It appears either National or the State office gave that direction (WHE is in the process of a FOIA).
The total number of horses removed stands at 252 plus the 15 foals that had been counted into the post gather population bring the “total” to 267 wild horses that were removed (and/or should have been released). That is more than a 25% increase in the numbers approved to be removed from Fish Creek.
You would think the county and ranching community would be happy right? Removal numbers increased over 25% from the original plan and ongoing fertility control would begin to control an increase in population (and eventually decrease it) and BLM had even built in small removals over the next ten years.
Not a chance, the drama and pressure increased.
What can only be called “insanity” broke out as measures were taken to begin documentation for fall fertility control. A social media blitz began against the BLM and Laura Leigh of WHE by the trespass rancher and a well funded pro horse slaughter machine. One horse, Sarge, became a focal point. You can read an extended piece here https://wildhorseeducation.org/2015/11/04/sarge-a-poster-child-for-everything-wrong-range-management-a-layer-of-bricks-part-two/ This insanity led to multiple death threats against Leigh.
The county continues the legal action to try to get horses removed (and even destroyed) at Fish Creek.
The state, county and ranchers have now led a move against marking of fertility control wild horses. The state of Nevada has been looking for any doorway into controlling any and all federal resource or restriction for decades. They have now created a drama storm about the branding of fertility control horses. Wild horses are a federal resource and the state constitution forbids state interference, (like in the bid every year made by the NV Legislature to deny wild horses water in the state).
Why would the state or counties want to interfere with tracking to facilitate fertility control? One can only assume that the fight is not about managing wild horses but about controlling the BLM and limiting any member of the public that does not agree with them.
We have been trying to engage appropriately to move Fish Creek back onto the track. However it should be noted that the fall treatment window was lost. The early spring treatment window is lost. The late treatment window for spring is closed because the first two windows were lost.
Creating the most effective plan at Fish Creek? The window is gone. It is gone because of drama and a failure of the BLM to follow through.
Everything written here is “just the facts” of a tragic timeline. In part two we are going to wade through the muck and mire and address the cesspool the Fish Creek plan now floats in. Be prepared, you might need Dramamine, it will make your head spin.
We have been attempting to be patient and work within all constraints and understanding of the political environment but certain factors have led to us addressing this anniversary moment. MORE in part two.
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Categories: Wild Horse Education