Wild Horse Education

Obstacles to Progress, Drama Storms (Fish Creek Anniversary 2)


Fish Creek, post release 2015

The reality our wild ones live in very rarely rules the management of the range, resource and wild horses. Watching the decision making process is often like watching multiple storm fronts hit a coastal town and viewing the changes to the landscape as you remove debris. These storm fronts are created by varied interest groups and can resemble everything from a mild thunder storm to a class 5 hurricane.

Fish Creek has been hit with more than it’s fair share. These articles have been created to satisfy several requests from readers. It is a very long read. There is no other way to tell this “Iliad” of public land.

Part one can be read at the link posted below and gives a “fast outline” of things that happened. The outline is not complete as that would require far too much space, but the basic structure is here http://wildhorseeducation.org/2016/02/21/obstacles-to-progress-anniversary-of-the-fish-creek-drama-storm-part-one/

There are essentially three “weather fronts” that have broken into multiple drama storms that continue to change the landscape. The fronts come from the “states rights” ranching front, the activist community and the federal government.

In this section we will look at these fronts, in overview. In part three we will go to the reality of the range.


If you are prone to motion sickness take your Dramamine now. The twists and turns are likely to make your head spin. If you ever watch weather reports you know that really big storms usually occur when massive fronts of cold and hot air meet. That describes range management well and is illustrated clearly at Fish Creek.

Cold Front

We are all aware that for decades the BLM ran a broken program into the ground primarily at the behest of private interest that used “removal/stockpile” as a mainline strategy for wild horse and burro management. We all know that was simply wrong for many reasons. This is not that story, but it created part of the current cold reality. With more than 60,000 wild horses stockpiled in captivity (more than exist in the wild), facilities overburdened and the budget upside down restrictions came from Congress that limited playing “the same old hand” in the game. The National Academy of Sciences report failed the BLM program on data to justify decisions and recommended using fertility control as a tool  adding more pressure. A fourth year of drought in the West added a final layer of cold air to this front.

Water hauls had been occurring in Fish Creek since 2012. These hauls were the least expensive in the state. They were utilized by wild horses, antelope, birds and multiple other species. These hauls kept populations better distributed on the range.


April 14, 2015, drought map. Added BLM Herd Management Area (HMA) overlay

Hot Air

Hot air in this storm hits the cold air from above, below, north, south east and west. Hang on, the winds get to epic proportion.

Low Lying Hot Air Front (coming from the front to control public land by the State, counties and ranching community).

Let’s just look at the water haul a moment. The water haul kept populations distributed as wildlife and wild horses move off and do not lounge at water sources. However in the state of Nevada any activity that has the word “water” in it brings contention in the water war. The state of NV introduces legislation session after session that has tried to deny wild horses any right to drink water. The legislation is backed by multiple permittees including State Legislator Pete Goicoechea (a permittee in Eureka) whose son J.J. is the county commissioner (who is used by the BLM as a veterinarian). Fish Creek is in Eureka County. So the simple water haul became a fight over “whose, where, how much and blah, blah, blah” in the battle to control what happens on the range, not “what  happens to the range.” (In a video from 2012 at a meeting of the NV Sept of Ag you can see some of the underlying issues here).

We have written extensively about the Grass March. The Grass March is a public relations, intimidation, stunt aimed to remove any BLM employee that dares to restrict livestock, they want to kill ravens and remove protections from slaughter for wild horses (among other items). The Grass March set up a protest camp a couple years ago across the street from the district office. A primary target is the district manager, Doug Furtado, because he began to restrict livestock in drought and closed some allotments at a place called “Argenta.” Fish Creek is in that district. (note that in a “pro horse slaughter umbrella” many of the individuals  involved meet).


“Grass March,” Bundy Bunch or the NV State Legislature. They all sing the same song.

The livestock permittee at Fish Creek (Californian that had bought the ranch after the drought began) was a self proclaimed “Bundy” supporter. He claimed to be targeted by BLM saying “They are trying to run me out of business,” during an interview with Pete Santilli during the infamous debacle in southern NV. He bought the ranch after the drought began and had only been there two years. This permittee also ran his livestock in trespass, outside the parameters of his permit.

More Hot Air

For decades serious advocates for wild horse and burro management had been pushing the BLM to create strong data collection components. Management was often based on conjecture, historic practices and incomplete information. Utilizing a temporary fertility control method like ZonaStat (PZP) would be an appropriate tool as data collected through field teams could be utilized to create management plans that were flexible as “hard truths” became knowns. In other words, an HMAP could be created that addresses the absurdly low AML, boundary lines, waters and more, while complying with Congressional mandates to address population growth.

For decades advocates had to fight to be taken seriously and were called “overly emotional” by government agencies and dismissed. It took a very long time to gain credibility with a huge boost coming in the form of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) review that confirmed what advocates had been saying.

However an “activist” component moved in fast to destroy that credibility, the motivations seemed more like those of the livestock industry… to stop advocates on the ground. Massive campaigns were begun to destroy the reputations of advocates. These activists operate primarily through social media and are very rarely in the field (individuals seeing their first wild horse in 2015). These campaigns included literal “wanted posters,” personal attack, defamatory cartoons, dramatic demonstrations and intensive fundraising to their organizations. This campaign targeted well-meaning people through social media and created a very “hot wind” that pushed back against progress that was hard won for decades. It created another layer of “hot fear” in a volatile environment in the federal government akin to “one more match over gasoline.” This “attack campaign” cleared the way for a backdoor coalition to form (that became Ten Years to AML or Path Forward).

Rising Steam, Roundups

There is nothing more inflammatory in the Wild Horse and Burro Program than a roundup. Roundups are often done claiming it is “best for the horse” without any hard fact showing that is a “Truth” (supported by the NAS). Wild horses are then captured without any humane handling policy and assertions of “transparency” are often laughable.

Over the course of the last several years Wild Horse Education (WHE) has engaged on the ground and through litigation (the only organization to do so) with issues of transparency and inhumane handling. WHE gained multiple court orders against conduct issues and a landmark Ninth Circuit ruling on First Amendment issues. We recently wrote an article about progress in those areas that you can access here.


Antelope Complex Roundup

WHE founder Laura Leigh has seen more days of wild horse removal operations than any observer, public or government, in the last 6 years. This is an undisputed fact that the federal government no longer even attempts to refute in court (regardless of the assertions of a hot air drama storm). This work was used to address both conduct and transparency issues resulting in both an access protocol and handling policy (both still in their infancy). This fact makes Leigh “less than popular” with both contractors and those wanting to keep removals “hidden and happening.” (Of note, roundup contracts were supposed to contain both protocols in the fall of 2014. Contractors balked and old contracts were extended to complete that removal season. Not until the fall of 2015 were these protocols officially included into contracts and not operational “memos.”).

Leigh documents multiple HMAs in the western US, including Fish Creek, on an ongoing basis. The documentation has been used to engage process in multiple areas including the cessation of pending roundups based on conflicting information. In the instance of Fish Creek, Leigh documented the permittee in trespass and engaged in discussions with federal authorities.

A Perfect Storm

If you understand anything about “weather patterns” that create storms you can begin to see why Fish Creek was at the eye of a massive storm in the sphere of public land management.

The BLM announced a “roundup schedule.” Dates on the schedule were expected to be a bit of a moving target as the schedule was announced late December for January and February operations.

The approved plan at Fish Creek utilized the removal numbers approved, created ongoing fertility control, data collection and appeared to be one that attempted to utilize each tool available to address all the mandates. We had begun the path to the creation of a real management plan while moving through the maze of the existing system. However the intention was caught in the “perfect drama storm.”

The roundup began as most do. A tension hung in the air as the helicopter flew, wild horses were driven in and sent into holding. Tension ebbed and flowed as the Comprehensive Animal Welfare Policy team was working on protocol at the trap, access issues were addressed as best as could be and wild horses began to be shipped into holding facilities (criteria was for younger, more adoptable, horses).


Magnificent Sheldon Mustang fights for freedom… Isn’t freedom a core American concept? This image created tension at the Sheldon roundup and the contractor wrote about it on their website.

Tension began to rise at temporary holding. This operation came on the heels of the  USFWS final Sheldon removal (an area of extraordinary contention and the main subject of a book coming soon), Humbolt and Little Fish Lake. Leigh actually walked away from temporary holding after asking BLM to stop a confrontation with a contractor and they could not.

When release of wild horses was imminent, the county and ranchers showed up and told BLM they were not releasing horses. The contractor trailers to transport horses back to the range were missing. Unobstructed access was given by the contractor to proranching media. Even though there was no court order prohibiting the release, BLM capitulated. (read more here)


The legal action filed by the county and ranchers mirrored directly the legal action filed earlier (defeated and now on appeal) by the Nevada Association of Counties et al, or “NACO.” The action essentially simply wants wild horses removed (even killed if there is no holding space) regardless of Congressional mandates that state otherwise. In addition the county claim essentially states that they are simply angry at BLM for not doing what they want and including voices that are not part of their “tribe” into process.

WHE  did eventually file as Intervenors in process because wild horses that were to be returned continued to sit in holding jeopardizing restructuring of bands and acclimating wild horses to captivity. The entire plan was in jeopardy and the financial cost to tax payers and the cost to the horses themselves, was not acceptable. Any ruling on the “Stay petition” was dragging out.

FC2015_Release (46 of 38)

A Fish Creek curly stud returns to the range. The Fish Creek curls have some of the most unique DNA on the planet!

BLM (and Intervenors) won. The authority to return the horses was affirmed, the authority always existed, and many of them did go home. (You can read about those that did not in part one).

However the county continues the legal action against the original plan at Fish Creek and the largest fertility control and data collection program in the nation remains on hold to this day.

A Second Storm Brews 

The release of wild horses back to Fish Creek was in April of 2015. The release came after the IBLA ruling removed ranchers off the docket for having no standing, or right to file. They have allowed the county to take the case forward.

In summer of 2015 propaganda from the two distinct hot air fronts began to swirl again. We wrote an article and created a document to try to explain the process at Fish Creek to both “fronts.” However one hot air front was intensifying the propaganda storm against temporary fertility control and the other was exerting pressure on the federal government to remove any restrictions to livestock permittees.

The “hot air” first front was very active on social media. This front continued to stir misinformation and personal attack as a primary weapon of choice. Dr. Jay Kirkpatrick of the Science and Conservation Center was viciously maligned. Jay died defending his reputation working for humane management and conservation of species worldwide while being subjected to this assault. (Leigh was among one of the last groups of students that will ever be graced with Jay’s incredible mind during training, article here).


“If this is what the livestock industry and the state see as habitat preservation we can kiss the sage grouse good bye along with any remote pretense of management,” concluded Fite. (photo WildLands Defense) Argenta has no wild horse population. It is important to note that contentious grazing issues do not always involve wild horses.

The other front was most active in the form of the Grass March getting BLM to cave through multiple channels in places like Argenta. The most public form of this pressure appeared in “Range Magazine.” (Click here to read an editorial from WHE from May of 2015 on a Range Mag article). The article was published after an April 30th order from Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) affirming the BLM decision to close the allotments in Argenta.

Please note that in April of 2015 both the closing of the Argenta allotments and BLM authority to return wild horses were upheld by the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA). 

On April 15 BLM announced that John Ruhs would be on detail in Nevada as acting State Director and State Director Amy Lueders would be on detail in DC.

On April 20th the Elko Daily reported BLM was in negotiations with the ranching families at Argenta and “nearing a deal.” On June 5 they reported cows were out before a final agreement, with BLM blessings. On July 2 they praised an agreement, the court dismissed appeals based on the agreement (not facts). (Please note that since that time Western Watersheds, party to agreement, has filed appeals and WildLands Defense and WHE have filed additional appeals to this ongoing dispute. A core factor in this issue is the omission of opposing voices in process. There have been developing issues and update soon).

Batten Down the Hatches!

In July of 2015 work continued at Fish Creek to begin ongoing fertility control. Game cameras and on the ground documentation monitored restructuring post  release. Panels were set up to acclimate wild horses to their presence in the event that water trapping was a likely method to capture, treat and mark additional wild horses.

The day the panels were set (July 29) a massive wave of hot air moved into Fish Creek and blew the lid off. A twisted tale that includes the permittee video tapping himself apparently violating multiple codes of federal regulations and posting it online, aided and encouraged by a pro horse slaughter grunt of Protect the Harvest (later photographed with Ammon Bundy at the recent Oregon “militia” standoff and a key figure in the horse slaughter party of “Summit of the Horse,” where many in the Grass March agenda meet).

This hot air met the hot air from the other camp and “BLM and Leigh kill wild horses!” became a tagline. It should be noted that not ONE wild horse died during this bizarre alliance of hot air. If you want to read about the event  you can click here.

We were told an investigation was implemented at the time of this incident. We are awaiting the findings (that should not be too difficult as the conduct was recorded and posted online).

Within weeks of the beginning of this piece of “storm” the acting BLM NV State Director, District Manager and others accompanied the county on a “tour” Fish Creek. The events that transpired increased the threats against Leigh. On August 19 a letter was sent to BLM National and select recipients including a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Raul Grijalva. (note: we never heard anything from BLM National Director Neil Kornze. We did however have contact with Grijalva. We have had additional conversations with Ruhs, now State Director, and hope these issues have a better understanding moving forward).

Put Up the Umbrella and Grab the Hip Wadders, again

Many advocates know exactly what the drama storm looked like from the activists. Those that had never set foot in Fish Creek claimed a long standing connection with a stallion named Sarge from Fish Creek that they only met after his final removal. Multiple fundraisers sprouted up. Rumors that BLM was going to kill or geld the stallion, and even ship him to slaughter, fired up the “BLM and Leigh in cahoots to kill horses” crazy train. (Leigh has ALWAYS supported data collection and temporary fertility control where data supports it. So has the vast majority of advocates for over a decade).

However many in advocacy do not know what the storm looks like from the other “hot air balloon.”

Rancher Magazine is a good example. In their Winter 2016 issue they published a story about “Fish Creek.” Several of the pictures and quotes are about horses NOT at Fish Creek, but Triple B and Cold Creek (Cold Creek is hundreds of miles from Fish Creek and in a different district). The article makes claim that the county supported the original plan (not true) and that the original plan was a “gather” to reach “AML,” (also not true). The suit still in the IBLA is actually against the original plan. (notation: We believe this misinformation was gained by conversations with the BLM roundup contractor that saw a “gather number” as a removal number, not by the reporter actually reading the record of decision).

We never responded to the article that has such intellectual commentary; “Another character in the saga, Laura Leigh (last name rhymes with “pee” not “neigh”)” and thinking this “A woman Hollywood would have cast as a schoolmarm,” is somehow derogatory for a director of an organization with the word “Education” in it. But we uploaded it here range-wi16-ignoring-law so you can see what it looks like (we are written about by these kinds of publications on a regular basis).

Now we would likely not have ever mentioned the article except that something new was brought to our attention, another bit of “hot air.”

Getting into the “weeds” of aspects of public land management and drama storms can be difficult to navigate for the public. But this should be simplistic to understand.

“Letters” section of the Spring 2016 Issue of Range:


To Rachel Dahl:
Obviously, my public affairs’ staff never got back to me about your inquiries. I have the RANGE article and haven’t read all of it, but do see obvious errors. [Winter 2016, “Ignoring the Rule of Law”] For example, Laura Leigh has never been a volunteer on a Battle Mountain District gather, and was not one for the Fish Creek gather. I am sorry that I could not answer your questions without going through our public affairs’ staff. It is always standard on controversial cases.


Both Doug Furtado (BLM boss in Battle Mountain) and John Ruhs (BLM state director) referred to Laura as a “volunteer” specifically during the Eureka tour. Additionally, there is a voice-mail recording of Mike Vermeys (Battle Mountain BLM) telling Kevin Borba, “Laura is definitely an official BLM volunteer, an official passenger and can support our program in that capacity.”— Rachel Dahl

In Rachel Dahl’s story in our Winter issue, she quoted a rancher, saying Laura Leigh, “will probably have a BLM badge by next week and they’ll give her a pistol by Christmas.” On Nov. 11, 2015, the horse activist included a copyrighted photo on her “Wild Horse Education” blog page, of herself aiming a rifle with a scope to shoot mares with temporary birth control. She was working with BLM to create a field protocol, and referred to the gun in her hands as “a violent implementation tool for such a humane method of management.” That photo has been removed from the site.—Ed.

“I have been, and am, a BLM volunteer on various issues when appropriate. At other times I am an adversary. I am an advocate and that requires addressing specific issues on a case-by-case basis. The times that I have volunteered most often are at trap site adoption events. I have participated in other areas in what was termed an ‘approved passenger’ pending the State office creating a mechanism for official participation in particular areas of process. At the time of the tour the acting Director should have been aware of it. He had been actively rescheduling the finalizing of that process, it was literally on his desk. I have repeatedly offered my services for data collection and fertility control purposes and am still waiting, but loosing patience. I have never been a volunteer at captures, nor will ever likely be one. I have a singular purpose at captures to report directly to the public and address issues in a capacity outside the system. But nobody asked me, a common deficit.” ~Leigh

WHE sent a newsletter out on November 11. The newsletter can NOT be edited once sent. There is a link in the newsletter about Reveille, an HMA in the Tonopah area. To read the article about Tonopah and see the pictures you can click here.


Leigh demonstrating equipment from field blind on the range at Reveille. The “picture in question.” Note date. It was taken in Reveille. Published larger here so both drama storms can not miss it.

On January 15 of this year Rachel Dahl, the author of the Range piece, sent Leigh an email asking if she could publish the picture of Leigh with the dart gun that she said was in a WHE November 11 “blog” post.

On January 18th Leigh responded:

I am likely more than an idiot for even answering your email, but I feel like taking a chance today.

The last piece Range put out is so full of inaccuracies about fertility control, and even published Records of Decisions, that I have no faith in anything you will write.

Just one example, the gather at Fish Creek was never intended to reach “AML” in the first round, ever. The county never agreed with the original plan. There was no deviation from the original published decision. Ongoing efforts to control population are on hold because of the nonsense perpetuated by fiction. Fish Creek was set up to afford a peer reviewable fertility control project and data collection area that had ongoing provisions to afford flexibility to meet objectives. All objectives met with current Congressional mandates.

Efforts to stop compounding problems through temporary fertility control are met with continued speed bumps in multiple HMAs because of fictions backed by temper tantrums, not facts.

BLM is not mandated to remove to a fictional number calculated in 1974 (not 71), they are mandated to manage. Cherry picking from, and misquoting, the National Academy of Sciences review is a childish game. Data collection is paramount to appropriate decisions. Until we have programs running like the one outlined for Fish Creek, everything remains conjecture and we repeat the same old nonsensical dance.

There is no WHE entry on November 11th.

A few more emails that day clarified that the link in the November 11 newsletter had to be clicked to find the picture, as it had always been. Leigh gave permission as long as the link to the original source material was included.

“I guess my response was not to their liking? Whatever. I also find the ‘badge and a pistol’ thing kinda funny. That is not a reference to fertility control, but law enforcement. I already work on those issues across the board without a badge, even when it is BLM breaking regulation. It is obviously not needed, but thank you for the suggestion.” ~Leigh

Weather Forecast

We wish we could forecast that the skies are clearing and roads are clear, but we can not.

The permittee is running cows as if nothing happened. 

The two windows to treat wild horses at Fish Creek in this cycle have now closed.

Hot air balloons show no signs of deflating.

The wild horses? Still stuck in the mud, literally.


All of this opened the door for the Path Forward to move through. Instead of an opportunity to create actual Herd Management Area Planning (HMAP), the status quo was fueled, the range given away and we entered the years of the most wild horses removed from the range in history.

Key water at Fish Creek shut off and the herd left in tatters.

Next section coming soon, Wait! Isn’t this supposed to be about horses? (the reality of the wild horse in Fish Creek)

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Wild horse after capture in gooseneck trailer on the way to holding CLICK image to go to main website


Categories: Wild Horse Education