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Justice for Fish Creek (the space between is vital to justice)

Many times in wild horse advocacy attention falls on wild herds only when a helicopter flies. As the sound of the chopper blades fade, so does public scrutiny. Roundups begin long before a chopper flies.

The space between roundups is where “management” of public resources is supposed to take place.

As we fight for justice for the Fish Creek herd, understanding the “space between” becomes vital. We hope you take the time to read and understand what has transpired between the roundup in 2015 and the one on the verge of beginning in just weeks.

We are in the midst of fighting back. We will update you soon on that effort. But to understand the effort, understand the space between.  It will help you understand our fight for Fish Creek and the battle raging in Congress, now.

You can read the brief version HERE. However, an overview of the details are laid out in this article and worth the read.

Injustice happens repeatedly to wild horses. This is how it happens. This is the root of any “problem” in the entire wild horse and burro program. 

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Young Fish Creek bachelor, 2019

Understand the “space between” the sound of the helicopter. A history of Fish Creek. 

After years of attempts to gain some sanity creating a protocol to address decades of deficits in data, mythology taking precedent over facts, we made some headway. Our litigation at the Owyhee Complex won against blatant abuse (wild horses being run into barbed wire, babies run to collapse, etc) remained active as it alleged multiple infractions where no actual data was utilized in NEPA analysis, decisions were based on assertion.

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) review was published. The 400 plus page document validated every assertion we made in our legal briefs. Amy Lueders, former Nevada State Director, agreed that we needed to find a productive avenue to create a framework for both providing BLM the assistance it needed to conduct data and fertility control programs, and to create a fact based management program for wild horses.

It was slow going in an increasingly volatile environment. The rise of an anti-federal authority movement was flaring at Bunkerville and environmental voices, like those representing the desert tortoise in that scenario, were threatened and drowned out. (You did not know Bunkerville actually had roots in the destruction of critically endangered desert tortoise habitat?)

But we finally agreed on an area to begin officially moving forward, as background work had already been completed, Fish Creek.

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Trespass livestock, Fish Creek 2014

During the planning phase to do a data based management strategy for Fish Creek, the intensive monitoring required documented persistent livestock in trespass.

Trespass is rampant in the West as detailed in the Government Accounting Office (GAO) report published in 2016. (WHE gave testimony.) It often goes unreported by government staff and there are rarely repercussions to a grazing permit, creating no deterrent to repetitive conduct.

The trespass at Fish Creek was long term, extensive and reportedly even involved livestock from another state being dropped at Fish Creek. BLM followed the long and drawn out process of holding a permittee accountable (a permittee is given many opportunities to remedy). After 8 months BLM cited the permittee with “willful trespass.” Unfortunately, this was right before the plan to actually manage wild horses was to begin.

A protest camp for the “Grass March” went up the same year as trespass in Fish Creek. The Grass March was about grazing allotments at Argenta that were closed during drought. A coast-to-coast road show of cowboys on horse back delivered a petition to Congress. Their demands included removing sage grouse from consideration for listing as an endangered species, ravens removed off the migratory bird treaty (so they could kill them), firing federal employees they did not like, and…. removing wild horses from public lands (even killing them, the Grass March is pro-slaughter).

Many of these “protests” had different names but they all united in easier to identify organizations like Public Lands Council and Protect the Harvest. (These are the entities that began “partnership” with HSUS, ASPCA and Return to Freedom in 2015 in what has now made the public sphere as debates rage in Congress that are set to destroy the hope of ever gaining sanity, equity and justice for our truly wild herds. It also empowered the push to dismantle the plan at Fish Creek. They did not fight, they joined. )

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Fish Creek 2/2015

In February of 2015 BLM did a roundup of wild horses at Fish Creek. BLM said they had to remove some of the wild horses to comply with their current land use plan. However, the roundup was the “compromise” to create a data base and fix flaws in actual management, minimizing or stopping roundups in the future.

“Darting wild horses” is NOT a solution, but it creates an opportunity to gather the information needed to create one. Temporary fertility control is a tool that can inexpensively address the data flaws outlined by the NAS. That is what Fish Creek was really “all about.”

The county (associated with the factions listed in the section above) did not like that BLM was not just removing wild horses. They did not like anything about the data collection component. The permittee blamed our founder, Laura Leigh, for his trespass citation (not his own conduct, just the fact that he got caught).

On the day of the treat and release there was a standoff reminiscent of an old black and white western movie. BLM caved and the wild horses were taken to holding facilities for “their safety.”

Litigation filed by the county lost in court. However, not all the wild horses slated for release went home. Mares that should have given birth on the range, gave birth in holding. BLM said they would return them later and never did. Wild horses died in holding. Two that were slated for release (old injuries that had healed oddly) were killed at the temporary corrals because releasing them was “ok,” transporting them was not “ok.” BLM opted to kill them.

The release of wild horses marked, not the beginning of protocol to fix management, but vicious attacks by livestock. This release that was upheld by the courts, infuriated the losing party. 

At both temporary corrals and at the release, our representative was harassed and threatened. Both times BLM did nothing to intervene. Our representative had to address each situation, not escalate it, yet stop herself from being threatened.

But, the plan could now move forward. Or could it?

Former BLM Director Kornze sent John Ruhs to sit at the State Director helm in NV. Lueders was unceremoniously transferred and everything changed.

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Leigh with Sarge after he was “off HMA” during illegal water haul and removed from the range without permission, also an illegal act. Sarge will never be safe on the range again. He was taken to a facility and put up for adoption.

Almost exactly 4 years ago, the day the plan to dart and track the Fish Creek herd was to begin, an illegal water haul took place that drew wild horses away from water inside the HMA. An online chaos storm came with it. With that storm came an avalanche of threats.

Part of the protocol for Fish Creek (because BLM said they had to roundup some of the wild horses and use the stockpiled PZP-22 and could not simply begin a darting program with PZP native) was to include a detailed inventory through wildlife tracking numbers on hips and detailed genetic testing, not the simple testing BLM usually does. This detailed information on each individual created an actual mathematical equation for the identity of the Fish Creek herd. The equation could be used to prove a success or failure of any assertion that the herd was “protected and preserved” as mandated by law.

This part of the protocol inflamed the county and livestock interests. They brought in the NV Brand Inspector, filed new brands after the release, and began to put pressure on BLM over the tracking numbers. BLM, under John Ruhs, simply agreed not to put such tracking numbers on wild horses again. BLM NV is the only state in the nation that no longer will even consider such a plan.

It took BLM over 9 days to respond to the online threat storm and illegal water haul that was drawing more and more wild horses into a dangerous game. BLM allowed the pitch to reach devastating proportions before they took action. So WHE had to write about what was happening as we were a target of the threats, BLM became like “a deer in headlights.” (YOU CAN READ HERE)

What transpired after that online campaign was even more unreal. A tour was scheduled of Fish Creek. At the tour those that lost in court, made demands of BLM that included dismantling water sources used by wild horses. The tour was not a fact finding mission, it was a placation tour/witch hunt. (you can read more here) The threats did not decrease, those making threats were empowered.

It should be noted that violations of the law associated with the threat campaign, that carried mandatory legal penalty, simply vanished in the backdoor deals under John Ruhs. BLM will not even release even a simple determination document associated with those events for public view.

The tour became a subject of the article “All The Pretty Horses Must Die.” Unfortunately it took two years for the piece to publish. 

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Yet the wild ones remained and we continued to try to implement the plan

We were told it was not safe for us to operate outside the system and needed to be patient, keep working, and the plan would actualize. We tried. We worked inside; data collection, organizing materials, planning in other HMAs.

However, the county was so troubled that BLM was including other stakeholders they filed protests to our involvement (that we have never been allowed to even see). Backdoor deal making began. We were tossed with no reasonable explanation or lawful justification. The plan for the wild horses at Fish Creek evaporated.

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One water source was turned into an asbestos pool with multiple species drinking from puddles from the ice, as trucks drained storage tanks. BLM has used this water for wild horses since the HMA was established and holds a permit at the source.

Every demand made at the tour, by the losing party in litigation, has been granted. It began with John Ruhs as State Director and continued as he took his Deputy chair in DC. He carried the “Summit of the Wild Horse,” proslaughter, demands in one pocket and the “Ten Years to AML agreement” document now flaunted by Chris Stewart (R-UT) in the other. Ruhs now sits in the State Director chair in Idaho, where an assault on the “wild” continues.

The roundup, treatment, genetic map, and all that came afterwards, cost the tax payer over $2 million dollars. BLM is set to simply and utterly destroy the framework set in 2015 to satisfy one interest only.

So, as an organization advocating for the “space between” roundups, the space where actual management of wild horses takes place, we want the public to understand every avenue, every effort, was made at Fish Creek. In the “space between” our wild ones are constantly set up for failure, not just at Fish Creek, everywhere.

Was it unsuccessful as opposition claims now in Congress? It simply never happened, was undermined, and now sits on the verge of being destroyed. Manipulations of process created more hardship for wild horses. Why?

As an advocate you should revisit the 2016 hearing in Congress on wild horses and see how Fish Creek was misrepresented, by those that continue to be allowed to provide Congressional testimony, and testimony that has never been corrected by BLM.  (a must watch series of two videos HERE). It is amazing how those responsible for threats to federal employees and volunteers can clean up and walk in front of Congress without any push back from BLM.

Fish Creek has become much more than a program to create a valid equation for wild horses and their habitat on the range at Fish Creek.

Fish Creek has become a program the opposition is intent on dismantling, because it would have worked and created a real management option that did not rely on removals. It would have created a science based program and a preservation plan for habitat. It would have minimized removals (or eliminated them). It would have identified resources critical to the herds survival. It would have increased oversight. It would become a place of justified decision making, transparency and a representation on an actual scientific inclusion of wild horses in lawful multiple use.

It is now more than obvious that is not the goal for management.

We had a wetter winter than in recent years. If this were a drought year the backdoor manipulations of waters, the inability of BLM to rectify historic errors, and the basic need of every living thing for water, would already have reached another man-made crisis at Fish Creek. Was it timed perfectly for the current debate in Congress? 

You hear BLM, and the opposition, continually use the phrase “multiple use.” BLM does not manage for multiple use, they assist exploitation. BLM does not provide full and complete transparency, they spin. BLM is not an agency “trying to do it’s best balancing interests,” BLM cuts out interests to favor others. Decades of this style of operation have created layers in the “space between” that get lost as BLM continues to force a broken program to collapse, and we see another helicopter fly. It is leading to 15-20K removed every year, over the next three, destroying the wild with sterilization and removals. The “plan” by the Stewart Alliance is a subsidy grab and solves nothing. It will lead to overflow and slaughter will be back on the table by 2023 if the current push in the big picture is not stopped.

In each and every case resources pay the consequence. Wild horses are a public resource under law, like the grass that grows on public lands. Each year it gets battered and abused. That is not “management.”

Our fight for justice at Fish Creek has had to follow the trail that those trying to dismantle it have left. That trail is truly twisted and involves many layers of manipulation from the petty to the grand scheme.

Since 2017 we have provided information on Fish Creek to members of Congress. Our work is being undermined in that arena by some that claim to be “advocates.”

You can help us get justice for Fish Creek. Over 800 people have signed on to our rapid response email list this week. We are engaged with both BLM and members of Congress. Our legal team is prepping litigation if the courts become our only avenue to plea for justice.

We will send you an action item, directed to those that need to hear from you, in the coming week.

Help us fight back! We are up against a very well-funded and organized effort aimed straight at Fish Creek, with consequences for all. 

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Categories: Lead, Wild Horse Education