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Drought: Propaganda Nightmare

Today a piece was circulated on wild horses and “drought in the West” through the Associated Press. This piece is a propaganda nightmare. This type of reporting is extremely dangerous while Congress debates policy that may have long lasted and irreversible consequences.

We do not normally copy and paste an article. But we had to take a “red pen” to this one in hopes that it will help to educate you to some of our current frustrations dealing with attempts to gain not only an honest conversation, but data based management.  We have replaced the photos used by AP to illustrate our comments.

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Not all the horses in the Pancake HMA were in any “emergency.” Saying “2100” wild horses faced extreme drought is lazy reporting. 200 wild horses were effected by the drought in Pancake, before it rained.

Associated Press; article by JULIAN HATTEM and SCOTT SONNER contributed

Harsh drought conditions in parts of the American West are pushing wild horses to the brink and spurring extreme measures to protect them.

For what they say is the first time, volunteer groups in Arizona and Colorado are hauling thousands of gallons of water and truckloads of food to remote grazing grounds where springs have run dry and vegetation has disappeared. (Note: Arizona area in the article is not BLM jurisdiction)

Federal land managers also have begun emergency roundups in desert areas of Utah and Nevada. (note: BLM permits water hauls on a regular basis for livestock; even when there is no drought. Population distribution is a key factor to utilization, any species domestic or wild).

“We’ve never seen it like this,” said Simone Netherlands, president of the Arizona-based Salt River Wild Horse Management Group. In May, dozens of horses were found dead on the edge of a dried-up watering hole in northeastern Arizona. (Not BLM jurisdiction. This becomes important to understand later in this article. The journalist also mixes two different areas in this two sentence paragraph; the Salt River horses are Forest Service and the area of dead horses is tribal authority, not US at all.)

As spring turned to summer, drought conditions turned from bad to worse, Netherlands said.

Parts of Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico are under the most severe category of drought, though extreme conditions are present from California to Missouri, government analysts say. Parts of the region have witnessed some of the driest conditions on record, amid a cycle of high temperatures and low snowmelt that appears to be getting worse, National Weather Service hydrologist Brian McInerney said.

The dry conditions have fed wildfires that have destroyed hundreds of buildings across the West. This month, a firefighter was killed battling a blaze near California’s Yosemite National Park. (Our hearts go out to the firefighters family. But the area in CA is not wild horse related. You should write an article honoring the firefighter and not make it a footnote here. That is misleading and disrespectful.)

IMPORTANT NOTE: If a journalist is going to address wildfire in an article on wild horses why is the Martin fire, the largest loss of wild horse habitat due to a single incident in history, not in the article at all? The Martin fire was fueled by a grass load of 200-1000 times the normal in an area BLM has done large scale removals repeatedly; including nearly 2000 of them in the winter of 2016? This area IS BLM jurisdiction. 


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Wild horse removal in the winter of 2016 at Owyhee, in the area of the Martin fire.

The federal Bureau of Land Management — which oversees vast expanses of public land, mostly in the West — says the problem facing wild horses stems from overpopulation aggravated by severe drought. The region is home to roughly 67,000 wild horses. (Now it becomes important to understand the issue of jurisdiction. Those that oversee the Salt, and later the Navajo, are not giving the response. BLM is the responding agency used by this journalist. Therefore the locations mentioned should be BLM, or jurisdictions noted to each site he mentions.)

“You’re always going to have drought issues. That’s a common thing out on the range,” agency spokesman Jason Lutterman said. “What really exacerbates things is when we’re already over population, because then you already have resource issues.” (Thank you Jason. Drought is always present in the West; a cyclical norm. There are indications that cycle is accelerating over the last decade. However, drought and wildfire are part of the natural cycle of these ecosystems. Wild horses are NOT the causation of deteriorating range health, they are a symptom of a much larger problem).

The agency’s emergency roundup in western Utah began a week ago, aiming to remove roughly 250 wild horses from a population of approximately 670. The operation is expected to take several weeks.

Water haul for livestock in the Diamond Complex prior to grazing restrictions being implemented

Here we have replaced the AP photo with a water haul for domestic livestock. These water hauls cause the degradation you see in this photo. However hauling water is not an “extreme” measure when it comes to livestock management. But it will be referenced as an “extreme measure” in reporting on wild horses in BLM jurisdiction.  We have 2018 photos from range monitoring that we have in our report to Congress. We will present some to the public as time allows.

Once the horses are rounded up, the government gives them veterinary treatment and offers them for sale or adoption. Those that aren’t sold or adopted are transferred to privately contracted corrals and pastures for the long term. (What does this have to do with drought? )

A similar emergency roundup began this month in central Nevada, where officials said some horses in a herd of 2,100 could die from lack of water in coming weeks. The operation was quickly halted, ironically because of extreme rain, but will likely resume. (Simply, no. The area “threatened by drought” effected about 200 wild horses. The area has multiple fences. At no time were 2,100 wild horses “threatened” in the area. The threat ceased due to heavy rain that looked just like heavy rain should this time of year as it hit the ground in that area. Note that the reason BLM can not target the entire population when only a small section is threatened is supported now by winning WHE litigation in 2012 that stopped the practice  https://wildhorseeducation.org/2018/07/27/strategic-advocacy-drought/)

“The ground’s so dry it’s not absorbing that water. It’s running off,” bureau spokeswoman Jenny Lesieutre said. (That is what it looks like when it rains in the summer in the West. That is why flash flooding is also a normal part of the ecosystem in the West. It is increasing in some areas due to a lack of root systems, range degradation, due to multiple factors. The fact that water that falls during the summer runs across the ground is not abnormal. In the West we have what is called “monsoon season” and flash flooding is extensively archived in history books. Where is the journalist referencing by this statement?)

Volunteers are also taking action.

Since late spring, Netherlands’s Salt River group has hauled hay to a dozen locations outside Phoenix to feed a herd of starving wild horses. (Again, this is not BLM jurisdiction. This is extremely important to remember as debates on policy are occurring in Congress for BLM managed landscapes)

Roughly 200 miles (320 kilometers) north, a couple near Gray Mountain, on the Navajo Nation, have spearheaded an effort to leave water and food for horses they say would die without human intervention. (This is not even federal jurisdiction, this is tribal. This area has a long, long, history of issues. The underlying issues have little to do with drought and the area could have even showed extreme hardship in a year of heavy rain.)

In western Colorado, volunteers say they’re preparing to bring up to 5,000 gallons (18,900 liters) of water per day to a herd of 750 desperate horses. (Water hauls for domestic livestock is not unusual, remember that. Population distribution of all species can rely on water hauls, spring repairs and we often see “wildlife mitigation projects” that include creation of new sources of water when a mine moves in. We rarely, if ever, see these kinds of projects for wild horses.)

“Springs are drying up that have never dried up,” said Cindy Wright, co-founder of Colorado conservation group Wild Horse Warriors for Sand Wash Basin. Horses in the area stalk the dry earth with their ribs exposed, desperate for a drop, she said.

Wild horse advocates have balked at the Bureau of Land Management’s insistence that wild horse populations are too high. Critics say the agency is using dry conditions as a smoke screen to shrink horse populations in response to pressure from ranchers whose livestock compete with the horses for grazing land. (Be careful with “blanket statements.” Each area in the West is distinct. This subject needs to be it’s own piece, not in a subtext in an article on drought. Rangeland health and the entire management system must be looked at when we throw out “numbers.”)

“I do have a concern about the larger numbers that they’re pulling off, and then a bigger concern about the BLM under this administration using all kinds of excuses to pull off horses,” said Suzanne Roy, executive director of the American Wild Horse Campaign, an advocacy organization.  (We do need to point out the “larger numbers” must have a comparative value. From 2008-2012 the agency removed nearly 10,000 wild horses a year. From 2013-2016 those numbers dropped to less than half. In 2017 and 2018 we have seen those numbers steadily rise. What we are seeing is that BLM is prioritizing the “regular removal schedule” for areas that are not the subjects of “area of extreme concern.” We are seeing an increase in the label “emergency removal” as areas that should have been on the schedule are targeted for removals. We are seeing a highly politicized roundup schedule.)

The agency is prohibited from euthanizing the wild horses it rounds up, though President Donald Trump has proposed allowing the animals to be killed or sold for slaughter. (What does this have to do with drought management? Is this article trying to say that killing horses is a solution for drought? Did the author ask this question or was this statement simply offered? This has nothing to do with drought. The issues of range management do. But they are not present in this article and are extensive.)

Activists in Nevada held a rally last Tuesday at the bureau’s state headquarters in Reno to protest a planned roundup later this year. (The rally was about a wild horse area that was on the regular schedule in 2016 and delayed due to litigation that had nothing to do with drought.)

Critics want the government to instead use birth control to manage wild horse populations.

The bureau says the fertility treatment, which must be administered yearly and fired from a dart gun at close range, is too difficult for use except in certain cases where herds are easy to approach and have markings that make horses distinguishable from one another. (There are plans that prove this statement to be “not exactly the truth.” In 2015 BLM began a program at Fish Creek to implement fertility control in a larger area than presently done. It was shut down under pressure from local livestock industry. However we really want to know why “fertility control” as part of an article discussing wild horses and drought, yet the Martin fire does not make this piece? Fertility control is a distinct and non-related discussion that addresses the entire system of range management.)

Whatever the long-term answer, volunteers say their efforts can’t go on forever. Trucking in water and food could cost several thousand dollars per month and make horses overly dependent on humans, they said.

“If we don’t have a very good fall with a lot of rain — and it’s also warm so that our fall vegetation grows — we’re going to lose horses,” Wright said.

The issues of range management go deep. The lacks pointed out by the National Academy of Sciences in field data are not being addressed. An understaffed WHB program on range is still being utilized and prioritized for work, in office, on the vast number of mining projects moving forward and the backlog in livestock permits. 

Drought in the West? Of course we have drought in the West. The issues stem from political prioritization of funding, a severe lack of Herd Management Area Plans (BLM handbook requires them, but we only have a handful of them done) and a lack of proactive management based on reality. 

Articles like this? Dangerous propaganda. 

We do have drought in the West, drought is a part of the cycle of the western landscape. We do have a more pronounced drought than normal, that issue appears to be part of a global challenge. This article about “wild horses and drought” is all over the place with no context. This article is simply poorly done. 

Speaking of issues of “spring repair and water mitigation” BLM has just announced a removal of 250 wild horses in an area an advocacy org has been trying to get a spring built, raised the funding, but faced bureaucratic delay at Deer Springs. Yes, you read that right. A spring installation in an area that has needed it due to extreme, historic, neglect is not being paid for with tax dollars like a wildlife installation. It is being paid for with additional funding from the public.

This article is one of many that fail to keep talking points valid to the subject and fail to check the relevance, or accuracy, of the talking point. Our wild horses are literally buried beneath layers of these types of “easy pieces.”

Funding bills are moving through Congress. Funding for the wild horse program (BLM jurisdiction) itself is included in those bills. However there are additional provisions of this debate, not within the wild horse budget, that will have an impact on wild horses. We will update you soon. 

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Categories: Lead, Wild Horse Education