This article is not for someone looking for pictures, a click and send, or a soundbite. This article is intended to attempt to create some understanding of what advocating for the “wild” wild horse is about. This is about what happens before a roundup. The roundup, where media usually picks up a story, happens after we fail to manage on the range. The layers of that failure run deep into ages old corrupt, lazy, inept practices. We are going to address just a couple of them here. (If you are looking to take action to protect wild horses from being killed in the proposed federal appropriations bill click HERE).
Comments on an Environmental Assessment (EA) for a ten-year removal plan in the Caliente Complex are due by January 5, 2018. We wrote this article to reference comments to an EA, not a land use plan, where the areas have already been designated as “HA,” or “not managed for horses.”
There is another EA that is similar for the Seaman-White River HA areas. Those comments are due Monday, January 22. WE have submitted comments, as we did for Caliente, asking for slower removal and data collection to determine if the areas can be reverted back to HMA status (managed for wild horses) in the next land use plan revision.
The comment process on an EA is to point out a failure of analysis; either a failure to mitigate damages or an impact unconsidered directly related to the action. A roundup EA is the action of removing wild horses or burros. A gather EA is not a management plan, a Herd Management Area Plan (HMAP) where you can submit comments on actual objectives for a herd, AML, forage, etc.
However we do see an opportunity to try, one more time, to create an educational moment about the importance of involvement in land use planning. Those that engage land use planning need support to do it. It is a long and slow process that goes deep in the weeds of management. Piles of paper, data analysis and legal citations do not make a good 5 word meme for social media. Engagement in land use planning must compete with those that put up sign on letters for EA’s (that are irrelevant to this part of process).
The true emergency in advocacy for the wild is that land use planning and legislative actions must be engaged. This is where protections erode for wild horses and the land they stand on. The 1971 Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act was passed at a time (70’s) of many intentions; Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Endangered Species Act (ESA) and on and on. Over time engagement creates the framework those intentions carry into practice. For wild horses and burros the opposition engaged the creation of the frame. The sad truth is that advocacy did not.
“I came into advocacy for wild horses after a decade in the ‘horse slaughter pool’ and focused only on the wild after 2009. I looked at law, why legal efforts were failing and why protections eroded instead of strengthened. What I found was heart breaking.”
In nearly 40 years not one new piece of legislation, or amendment, was created to solidify a frame for sane management. In 40 years the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had not even created a humane handling policy, the most basic of the intention of the law, until after WHE litigated over and over again. (If you want more of the history of the Act and Velma Johnston, click here: https://wildhorseeducation.org/2016/03/09/velma-johnstonthoughts/)
Caliente 2016 a wild horse escapes the trap, but wont in this next EA
From BLM press release (don’t worry, we will address all of this after you read it):
ELY, Nev. – The Bureau of Land Management is seeking public review and comment on a plan to gather wild horses for up to ten years in the Caliente Herd Area Complex, which is located near Caliente, Nevada in southern Lincoln County.
The Wild Horse Gather Plan Preliminary Environmental Assessment is being conducted by the BLM Ely District’s Caliente Field Office and will be available for public review and comment for 30 days. The Caliente Herd Complex Area consists of nine Herd Areas; Applewhite, Blue Nose Peak, Clover Creek, Clover Mountains, Delamar Mountains, Little Mountain, Meadow Valley Mountains, Miller Flat and Mormon Mountains. The 30-day public comment period concludes Friday, Jan. 5, 2018.
The BLM is proposing to gather and remove all excess wild horses in and outside herd area boundaries. The Proposed Action is needed to improve watershed health and make significant progress towards achieving range health standards recommended by the BLM’s Mojave / Southern Great Basin Resource Advisory Council. The proposed gather plan would allow for an initial gather with follow-up gathers for up to 10 years from the date of the initial gather. The plan calls for transporting gathered horses to holding facilities where they would be offered for adoption.
The BLM manages wild horse populations in designated areas of public lands where they were found in 1971 and which have enough available food and water to ensure healthy horses thrive on healthy rangelands in the long-term in balance with other legal uses of the land. The Caliente Herd Area Complex is not designated for wild horses due to insufficient forage and water resources available within the complex to maintain healthy wild horses and rangelands over the long-term. The BLM’s decision to not manage for wild horses within the Caliente Herd Area Complex is based on analysis in the November 2007 Ely Proposed Resource Management Plan, Final Environmental Impact Statement. As of March 2017, the estimated wild horse population is 1,744, which includes foals.
The Preliminary Environmental Assessment for the Caliente Herd Area Complex Wild Horse Gather will be available online for a 30-day review period beginning on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017 at https://go.usa.gov/xn5cZ.
Project area is the center of this map. All the red areas are areas where horses stood in 1971 but BLM said they could not manage horses there. Odd thing is? all those areas have had thriving populations.
We just want to make sure you caught these:
The Caliente Herd Complex Area consists of nine Herd Areas; Applewhite, Blue Nose Peak, Clover Creek, Clover Mountains, Delamar Mountains, Little Mountain, Meadow Valley Mountains, Miller Flat and Mormon Mountains.
The Caliente Herd Area Complex is not designated for wild horses due to insufficient forage and water resources available within the complex to maintain healthy wild horses and rangelands over the long-term. The BLM’s decision to not manage for wild horses within the Caliente Herd Area Complex is based on analysis in the November 2007 Ely Proposed Resource Management Plan, Final Environmental Impact Statement.
As of March 2017, the estimated wild horse population is 1,744, which includes foals.
So just to make the point crystal clear; in 1971 nine areas had wild horses on them and were designated herd areas. Yes, in 1971 the intention was that all of these areas be managed principally, but not exclusively, for wild horses. We know that was the first thing land managers, in the game of keep my buddies happy, destroyed. Only five areas carry that legal language, and those were created before the 71 Act. Protections were eroded before the ink dried on the Act.
The land use plan (Resource Management Plan, RMP) was finalized in 2007 that stated BLM would manage no wild horses in the area at all. That means in 2007 the decision was made to “zero” the area out. We have found no record of engagement to fight this decision. Our assumption is that there was little to no understanding of this process in the mainstream.
The estimated wild horse population is 1,744, which includes foals. Which obviously proves that some population of wild horses n the area is sustainable or they never would have reached a population of nearly 2000 wild horses. Resources in the West are fragile and often limited. The intention of protecting wild horses and burros through an Act of Congress was to ensure that remain an integral part of fragile ecosystems. Instead industry has been prioritized.
Under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) prior to any action the BLM needs to evaluate the ramifications of the proposed action. In this case the RMP is the document those plans must tier to (comply with). A comment on an EA evaluating a removal is about the act of removing horses, not the act of managing horses. The act of managing horses requires involvement in the RMP. Do you understand that?
Advocacy can engage the RMP. We can petition for a revision, ask for a review to be built into the ten year plan. We will do that in our comments. However going backwards and trying to fix these types of “pieces of paper” is a nightmare.
Part of the nightmare is the process, that can be very time consuming and potentially require litigation that is extremely expensive, is convoluted and works very slow. The other part of this nightmare is that other interests were prioritized (extraction, livestock) and the resources themselves are impacted, often severely, and a profit driven stranglehold exists in the area both politically and physically. Once ground is given up it is extremely difficult to get back, just like in any battle. (WHE has recently filed litigation to address a boundary line issue under a pending land use plan. However the public does not seem to really understand why and what that is. When you hear all the screamers screaming about horses being short-changed on available land for them to legally occupy everyone screams “Give them their land back!” However engaging process at the time of the incident is much more important. That is what that suit is all about and we will use it as an educational opportunity as soon a we are cleared to do so, click here.)
We will make those comments to the EA. However there are much more disturbing aspects to this EA than simply the lack of logic in the RMP and the lack of any attempt by the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Specialist to create a fair management proposal in a land use plan (that by law is supposed to be the frontline advocate for the welfare of the horse and burro).
Will the next roundup see horses like her shot after capture? The EA says it is a real possibility. (Caliente, 2016)
The most disturbing parts of this EA are two assumptions; that BLM will be able to sell wild horses without limits (slaughter) and to allow for the killing of healthy wild horses should Congress fund it.
Take action so Congress will not fund the actions of killing, or selling off to slaughter, our wild horses during or after capture operations HERE.
We saw under John Ruhs (NV State Director) documents in draft that would kill wild horses or turn over management to livestock permittees as early as late 2015. We made an objection. (Let’s simply say our objections to documents that contained language that was currently illegal was not met with anything “warm and fuzzy” by BLM staff or even any opportunity for an honest conversation, not one. We found many in BLM to suffer from apathy, cowardice and multiple violations of their own, legally binding codes of ethics, favoring family and friends. But that is another story and part of what we have passed on to the House investigative teams.)
In addition within this EA certain NV State IM’s from 2014 and 15 are not included, favoring the 2013 documents. One assumption could be that if Congress approves shooting wild horses BLM is going to refuse access preferring to hide their actions from public scrutiny. Actions caused by lazy, inept and crooked management practices.
Much of what we see in this EA shows just how far backwards we are going under current leadership. It shows that we are going to need to be vigilant, deep in the weeds and ready to litigate at the drop of a hat. If we are forced to go back in time, WHE can, did, and will litigate at the drop of a hat.
We have written this article, at this time, so people understand that wild horses and burros are under assault. The assault on our National Monuments is gaining public attention. Wild horses and burros have always been the footnote or scapegoat of public land management practices in the West. Wild horses and burros WILL pay the harshest price faster than anything else on public land.
We hope people are beginning to realize that wild horses are public land management’ complex, highly political and in serious danger.
We will publish an edited version of our comments online for you to use as a template if you want to send your own before the deadline. Remember the purpose of a comment is to point out flaws in law and analysis, one person can say it or ten thousand, and it still means the same thing. Know that we will be creating very thorough comments. We do need people to begin to understand why we need to engage this as wild horse advocates and support involvement “into the weeds.”
We are also looking to see if there is interest in a “How to read and respond to an EA” webinar before the final comments are due. These comments are due January 5th. We know people are having holiday. If you are interested in participating we are looking at January 3 as a potential date. If you are interested please send an email with “Webinar Interest” in the subject line to: WHEWildThings@gmail.com If there are enough people interested in that date (we know the holidays will make it difficult) we will send you an email on how to sign up.