Murderers Creek, jointly managed by the Malheur National Forest, Blue Mountain Ranger District (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM), has opened public comments for the scoping period for the Herd Management Area Plan (HMAP). The area is very popular with hunters and contains 15 active livestock grazing allotments. The 142,740 acre Wild Horse Territory/Herd Management Area (WHT/HMA) is located within the Upper John Day River sub-basin in central Oregon.
The HMAP will set management objectives and set a population level, or “AML,” for the Murderers Creek herd. According to Gus Cothran (Texas A&M genetic analyst used by BLM) this herd contains the most unique genetics in the state of Oregon, when compared to other herds in the state.
The BLM Handbook contains a process for determining Appropriate Management Level (AML), or the population level to manage. At this juncture the proposed AML is 50-140 wild horses (with a note that recognizes they might have to introduce other horses to maintain genetic viability).
The protocol is stated as: 1) the essential habitat components of water, forage, cover and space; 2) the amount of sustainable forage available for wild horse use; and 3) whether the projected wild horse herd size is sufficient to maintain genetic diversity to avoid inbreeding depression.
The problem with the way this is used in practice is that the “essential habitat” is not defined by what the wild horses need to survive and thrive, it is defined by “what is leftover” after all the grazing allotments get their stocking numbers and blaming the wild horses for any degraded habitat designated for sensitive or threatened species.
The area these American, deep forest, wild horses live in has a history of contention. In a settlement to a lawsuit brought by Grant County ranchers, the agency agreed to gradually reduce the number of wild horses in the area to “AML.” The Stouts, ranchers that had filed the suit claimed it was wild horses, not cattle, destroying the Steelhead trout. The litigation filed tried to eliminate the horse population. However, the National Marine Fisheries Services issued a Biological Opinion finding that, based on the best available scientific evidence, “wild horses are unlikely to cause measurable impacts to [the steelhead’s] tributary habitat within the action area” and impacts due to wild horses “are likely to be small and have minimal impacts on steelhead, [or] their habitat.” In previous litigation, the Stout’s cattle were found to be directly impacting the steelhead. A federal court in Oregon ordered a reduction in grazing levels, a move that prompted the Stouts to file their own case to eliminate horses from the area.
Please note: scoping comments for an HMAP are NOT comments on a roundup Environmental Assessment (EA). This is where you can offer information on actual management options, information on your own observations, not just on consequences of a removal.
We will be submitting comments, and if time allows, will publish them in a later article, to demonstrate the difference between comments on a roundup EA and those you can provide in scoping. Comments must be received by close of business August 17. You can access the scoping package at this link and submit your own: https://www.fs.usda.gov/nfs/11558/www/nepa/98984_FSPLT3_4661727.pdf
Categories: Wild Horse Education