Wild Horse Education

A “Rookie In Cowtown”

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America’s wild horses

The following is an article created about the Advisory Board meeting in Elko Nevada by a “rookie” WHE volunteer with her heart and soul. We are often told the articles we write should be shorter. People do not like to read everything to learn everything from a narrative. So WHE have been giving the “writing” assignment to many of our volunteers. The task of writing a fast article to describe the experience and place the information into it, is not easy. We are walking new volunteers through a process to see how each obstacle is faced by “a person with a burning desire to advocate for wild horses” in the transformation process into “educated advocate.” The process is not easy.

The following narrative may be “too long” for some. But this is the journey if you chose to join in…


Marie and her “unadoptable” wild horse, Hallelujah 

A Rookie In Cowtown

Marie Miliman

I’m in Borrego Springs for a little getaway with friends and I have been anxious to stand up for my beloved Mustangs and their herds (and all Mustangs really). I am out by the pool with a weak internet connection, and all of a sudden there it was, a Eureka moment! A BLM advisory Board Meeting in Elko, Nevada? Hey, maybe I’ll get a chance to apply my “Using Science to Improve BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program Bible,” I’ve already hi-lited and read it so much the pages are tearing out. I was already compiling BLM Myth’s and Facts sheets, BLM Rangeland Health Reports, BLM Quick Facts, as they all pretty much fit into the “Myth” category anyway. Why I think I’ll just go right on ahead and put all of this knowledge to use.

What was that, a two way street? I get to participate in process to address issues? Public comments and maybe find out what is REALLY going on in the Mustang, HMA, AUM, AML world? I must admit at this point, I was still using references for the BLM acronyms. Ah, grand visions in my head of just maybe WE can learn from each other, and create beneficial solutions.

Step #1, buy an obscenely expensive plane ticket to Elko, Nevada, check.
Step #2, secure a room in the Stockman’s Hotel, and I better get a wiggle on, as I am certain that they will book up fast, check.
Step #3, who is the advisory board and where do their interests lie? I am very cautious on this, with the exception of one board member, check. At this point I am only certain of one board member’s positive intentions, will have to save time to research the rest for later.

Now, to write my recommendations to submit in advance to the board. No check here yet, as this takes me on a bottomless journey of who does what, why, where, why, what, why. I am attempting to make sense of a mind boggling, inconsistent program in their publications, where do I start. OK, concentrate Marie, stay focused, you will get there eventually. My goal was to debunk their publications, but I can’t find any consistency, their info doesn’t match and doesn’t appear to have nearly a shred of a scientific basis. So where is the basis for all of this invaluable information that they willingly publish on their web site? Hence, I decide to start with nutrition, as that is what I know. I could debunk their lack of an accurate scientific basis for their consumption “estimates” but why do I/we have to prove them wrong, shouldn’t the burden of proof be on their turf, not ours? Isn’t this grand opportunity all about finding solutions?

Now, on to solutions, or so I thought…

I seriously attempt to provide a reasonable list of solutions in my written submission of recommendations to the comrades, here is the short/revised version:

1. Record keeping should be digital, including digital (chipping) records of each and every horse and burro in captivity (easier for them, and more accountability in the process) I also did mention that their record keeping was, um moldy. Isn’t accountability, like kind of important? Isn’t this the federal government? (Wild Horse Education note; in 2012 Leigh crafted a FOIA for information on census and the creation of HMA boundaries. She got the response “None of it is digitized and it is all over the place.” She was in contact with all kinds of personnel to resolve the issue. She was told she could drive from “field office to field office” to look at the records. She was told BLM would begin to digitize and “be in touch.” That was 3 years ago).

2. Prioritize ANY future removal of any wild horses and burros, based upon an approved minimum body score established by the NRC guidelines. In other words, if you have to remove any horses, or burros, get the ones in danger first. (Wild Horse Education note: this s actually supposed to be part of the criteria. Districts prepare a report each year that is supposed to identify the “at risk.” However when this is seen in context of the larger issues of land management as a whole it hits a few obstacles. A lack of personnel often leads to a lack of realtime data on water, forage, livestock, horses. Remember BLM has a massive backlog of rangeland health assessments. Throw in local politics and limited funds and removals or fertility control are funded in what resembles an arm wresting contest, not facts).

3. Review and implement regulations for grazing permits as related to the riparian degredation studies that I also submitted, there’s plenty out there, created and paid for by our government already. This appears so elementary, but seems to be a subject that the BLM has flushed down the toilet. This is not only requested as a basis to not capture more of our wild ones, but also for the health of our overall environment, I am now realizing the undeniable threats to our public lands and the environment. (Wild Horse Education note: the lack of funding at the field level is the most damaging factor to the creation of actions to appropriately utilize and protect our public land. Congress continually maneuvers for the special interests they represent to allow permitting of ming and livestock without looking at the resource, that does not make a campaign contribution. Last fall Congress even overrode a Federal Judge in Idaho, that ruled no rangeland health assessment, no grazing. Congress threw in a rider in a Defense Spending Bill to mandate that BLM renew grazing permits without it, instead of asking for the funding to do the assessments).

4. AML re-set as per NAS and NRC recommendations. Based off of a 5 year intensive scientific evaluation and monitoring program. In my head, WHOA, why don’t you back up the bus away from the madness, and the havoc that your “systems” are based on? (Wild Horse Education note: duh. But because of the way the system evolved the process is extremely slow and must be included in land use planning. BLM just revamped land use planning under the Sage Grouse. That process cost about a billion dollars if you include all associated costs. The old paradigm, pre-NAS study, was simply inserted into the new process).

5. Re-evaluate the total number of grazing permits issued, enforce the permits that are currently issued and limit them to 5 years until you get your scientific basis established. (Wild Horse Education note: See 2016 GAO Report on trespass livestock. Again we just pint out the lack of personnel to monitor and enforce the most basic of permit parameters).

6. Oppose barbaric sterilization procedures/experiments and re-evaluate other options, PZP, etc. only until you have halted, or limited, all captures. This for now is an olive branch.

7. This could effortlessly be created by a first grader, I won’t expect any credit here. Take the freaking $50,000 for the lifetime of a captured horse, don’t round them up, and use the funding towards science. Easy math here, 1,000 horses not added to the captive care of the BLM = $50,000,000 in savings, everyone loves a bargain, right? (Wild Horse Education Note: we will be writing further commentary on the “fiscal game” of fertility control).

8. Just in case #7 falls on deaf ears, maybe broaden the Volunteer Program that saved you $23.5 million in donated time? How about some of that money over there in Rangeland Management and Soil, Water and Air management budgets, because after all, isn’t that what WE are shooting for, a healthy environment? Or, is your priority what makes the dollars flow, and the politicians drool, in the destruction of our public lands? (Wild Horse Education note: Volunteer “money” is not “saved money.” The money does not exist, that is why volunteers need to do the work. We should also begin to compare the cost of the wild horse program to other programs run by the BLM. We don’t do that. We say “wow, that’s a lot of money to house horses!” But we don’t compare it to the overall loss or real cost, not gross receipts, of the livestock program. If you are interested in beginning to “think” about those issues here is a report by the GAO on livestock from 2005. In some cases people believe the wild horse removal program is an associated cost of the federal grazing program but you should make up your own mind).

OK, stopping for a breather now. Remember this is the abbreviated/revised version and not all information is included.

I arrive in Elko, the night before the meeting. For hours I research even more information I would like to present and start to condense it. I am conflicted with where my priorities should be. Around 4:30 in the morning I start to practice my public comment speech. Per Laura Leigh’s recommendation I started timing myself and, MAY DAY! I have three minutes to talk as fast as I can, and my first paragraph just took one minute. Panic and forge on. OK, again what is the most important? What will have the most impact and go from there. How to solve the most critical issues in three minutes or less, impossible.

I am desperately trying to condense my impossible public comment and fall asleep at 5:30 AM, in my jeans and boots. Wake up late and try again to condense my highest priorities, BECAUSE I THOUGHT MY COMMENTS COULD BE HELPFUL IN FINDING SOLUTIONS. I change my shirt, wet my hair to be semi presentable and proceed to the meeting room with my heart in my throat. I have the opportunity to make a difference, feeling very patriotic at this point I sign in and state in the column designed for an organization that you are representing the simple word, citizen. I am an American and for the first time I am going to participate in a “process”. Wow, I’m the third person on the list of commenters, and the list isn’t all that long.

It’s 1:00, and the meeting has started, I listen intently to all of the speakers, take pages of notes (my personal thoughts only revealed to close friends and family) and I am starting to get a feel of the “agenda” of the individual advisory board members, comrades with the exception of one. I keep checking my outline/agenda for the meeting today, as I am in disbelief that this meeting is intended to be a place where solutions can come to fruition for our wild ones, and why do they keep talking about all of the environmental damage by the horses and burros? Do they not realize that cattle and sheep along with a long list of poorly implemented uses are the reason for our degrading environment? I’m not buying what they’re selling, and man they’re effective at deflecting real issues and minimizing their road to destruction.

I have to suppress the urge of shouting questions and making comments on their shameless presentations. They’re pros at this, and I am sincerely worried and now very disturbed. The average person, without having completed any research, would most likely think they are getting a bargain, with the exception of one board member, they should be in sales, or politics. This is not a balanced board, THE CARDS ARE STACKED.

The 3:00 break rolls around, and the room has been filling up, how many public comments will there be? They announce we will have four minutes to speak as there are less speakers than anticipated, GREAT! Why weren’t these late comers here earlier to get an idea of where the board is coming from? I vow to get the most out of my time and insanely expensive plane ticket, after all it’s for the wild ones and I am an Amercian citizen.

It’s now 3:15 and public comments start. My heart is not in my throat any longer because I’m mad. Before the speakers start, more show up, so now down to three and a half minutes, I can squeeze in a half of a paragraph more, I’ll take what I can get. I unwaveringly listen to every word that is being presented, restrain myself as a representative from the Governor of Utah’s office leaves no confusion on the state of Utah’s demand for Minimum AML to be implemented, and create a very expletive comment next to my notes.

They finally announce my name in the LAST three speakers, were they hoping I would leave? Did they mark my name with a skull and cross bones due to my ingenious email recommendations in advance? And, so I get my chance. It’s all a blur, I know for certain that I talked faster than anyone, and anyone listening most likely could not follow my maniacal presentation. My first focus was on my strong opposition to the brutal sterilization experiments, and that was a waste of my time and air, as they conveniently waited until the next day to announce their withdrawal of the proposed experiments at Oregon State. Just another drink of their Kool Aid? Chalk it up to a learning process. I need a real drink, a shower, and a good night’s sleep.

The drink and the shower was a great idea, but I can’t sleep. Even though I am completely exhausted, I am now realizing the enormity of the challenges and issues, and they are much larger and more dangerous than I had originally anticipated. Trying to look forward to day two, but it’s overwhelming. I continue my research on the presentations of the day, and finally fall asleep with my laptop.

Day two. Morning full of the same un-solutions, as the day before. Four more pages of legal pad notes, I have suggestions for the discussions but, the public comment period was yesterday? Backward process, we were duped in making recommendations PRIOR to the discussions, I make a note to ask if we can submit additional comments via email at a later date? Yes we can, and yes I will. Same Kool Aid, different day. The room is maybe 25% full today, what happened to all of those commenter’s? That’s fine by me, more face time for questions and suggestions later. I will settle in, and make the most of my plane ticket. And now for the culmination, it’s 3:15 and time for the Advisory Board Discussion and Recommendations to the BLM. Can’t wait to hear this, can I maintain my exemplary behavior? Following rules is not my strong point.

The board discusses and deliberates the subjects and possible solutions (I am using the word solution lightly), they discuss solicitations for off range pastures, how the adoption process can be improved, and how advocacy groups should put their money where their mouth is and collectively provide homes for the captive inventory on their behalf. Wait, isn’t your budget of $80,108,000 coming from the tax payers already? If the entire system, or lack thereof truly had a scientific basis would we even be having this discussion today? Doesn’t the WFRHBA state that the Wild horses and Burros are an integral part of the natural systems of the public lands? The land is to be devoted PRINCIPALLY but not exclusively to their welfare in keeping with the multiple-use management concept of public lands? I re-check my agenda hand out, to verify that this is the Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Meeting, and not a cattleman’s association, nor a mining, nor a gas or oil meeting. Apparently I missed the memo.

Now they are voting on euthanizing healthy horses. OH NO YOU DIDN’T! I am in disbelief and move myself on up to the front row, as each member votes I will make sure they see me, and my disgust. Is this board acting in the best interest of our Wild ones, hell no. The vote is done and with the exception of the ONE board member who votes no, it is a yes from every other board member. I am appalled at their lack of sense of responsibility for the mismanagement of our wild ones, our public lands, our wildlife, our environment and disregard of the social consideration of our tax paying citizens. Is there even a shred of humanity left in any of you that voted YES? I want to shout, you have the HONOR to serve the citizens as an advisory board member, and you have a DUTY to enrich the lives of American citizens. Your cattle and business enterprises would not exist, if not for the back of a horse. How can any of them even contemplate showing their face in public after this vote? They’ll just apply their BLM smoke screen, put the bait back in the water and move on with their lives. I for one will never forget their heartless vote, and vow to become as effective at bringing justice for our wild ones, as they so maliciously tried to take it away.

4:45 The Recognition Ceremony was agonizing. The same compadres that just voted to kill our wild ones are now tearing up at their accolades to each other. I have now witnessed my MABS, maximum amount of bull sh**. How’s that for an acronym? And, you can add that to your quick sheet too.

I later consult with my peers and begin to understand the processes necessary for this death wish to actually move forward. Will it? Most likely not. Is it an eye opener? Frighteningly, yes. (To the other volunteers, particularly Beth Quigley Lauxen who is sharing her experiences with me, thank you for giving me a peer set I can call “real”).

When I signed up for this gig, it was solely with the intent to campaign for the wild ones, now it is a devotion to attempt an improvement for our wild ones and our environment. Not just the environment that the wild ones inhabit, but for the entire public lands as a whole. I have a long way to go to be as effective as I aspire to be. But now, that’ll take some learning now won’t it? I can’t wait to get out of this Cowtown, and be with my herd, including my unadoptable, her life alone is worth the fight.

I will attend the next advisory board meeting, and be more prepared, better educated, and more effective, this I commit to, in the name of our wild ones.

(note from Wild Horse Education: or she may learn that the Advisory Board is worth an email, not an expensive plane ticket, and that intensive advocacy is better served in other areas of process).

Categories: Wild Horse Education