Roundups bring attention to the world of wild horses and burros. However, a roundup is not a solitary event. Roundups begin long before a chopper flies and have ramifications that involve the slaughter pipeline for individuals after capture.
We use one year of the roundup schedule to illustrate the entire program in this 4-part series. Run with us for the year 2020 and learn all bout the challenges of todays advocacy. Italicized words throughout the piece represent a link to an article for those of you that want more information.
Make no mistake, there is a fight ahead. Each roundup in this review will discuss a particular issue(s) that will be addressed in the action items we will list in the final article in the series.
“As I write this my hands shake and my heart breaks. The games at Fish Creek even included interference when trying to get wild horses to sanctuary. From death threats during a standoff, to seeing wild horses I know drop dead from dehydration, the cruel insanity of Fish Creek is based entirely on greed and the need for power.
There are graphic images that I have not been able to bring myself to publish until now. I do not place them in this article but link them HERE. Even today, these images make me weep uncontrollably but, as BLM starts the roundup and the media does another nonsensical story that fertility control is all we need, I felt the need to publish them. Fertility control is a tool of appropriate management, it is not management. It is one tiny piece of the whole.
There is no justification for any of this. The cruelty of the selective “buddy club” of the Battle Mountain BLM office is beyond compare; slow and drawn out.
I am not at the Fish Creek roundup today, the first roundup in a decade I have missed at Fish Creek. BLM can sit with their ‘preferred partners’ and have a beer like they did in 2019, but this time smack in the middle of a pandemic. We were out before the roundup and said ‘goodbye.’
The final email from BLM Battle Mountain, saying their lawyers told them not to talk to us, is beyond absurd. We sent it to the new administration. This is public lands and the days of running our public resources like a private poker game will end.”
Laura Leigh, WHE President.
The full story of Fish Creek is too long to tell in a single article. Fish Creek represents a tale that is often bizarre, childish, absurd, full of greed and overt cruelty. In this piece we will simply touch on the pivot points that led from hope to a tragic end.
The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) review was completed in 2013. The report confirmed all of the deficits in management ( the report stated decisions were based on assertion and not science, pointed out current practices were compounding problems and not rectifying historic flaws, etc). The report confirmed most of our allegations in litigation that was pending. BLM conceded that they were deficient. We began to address “how to fix that” with the NV state office (named in the suit).
At Fish Creek BLM said they had no choice but to work within the over 30 year old land use plan, that they had said they were amending since 2010. BLM then created an open and flexible roundup EA in 2014, post NAS review. The EA was supposed to be followed with an HMAP that would guide the actions in the EA toward rectifying flaws in the land use plan: boundary lines, waters, AML and forage. (neither the land use plan revision, nor the HMAP, ever happened).
In 2015 the BLM did a roundup that represented the “in between” the old and the new. A final helicopter roundup that was supposed to set the stage to rectify data, water, forage, AML and the creation of an HMAP that held a scientific genetic baseline for preservation. (The 2015 operation included DNA testing on nearly 80% of the herd to create a mathematical measurable to determine appropriate actions in coming years. In the 2020 announcement, BLM only notes an insufficient 2005 DNA testing, completely ignoring the extra money spent in 2015. Did they lose the file?)
However, Fish Creek had one of those “trespass ranchers” you read about and a county that feels, to this day, that they have more authority than the federal government, and the American public, over your public lands.
Slideshow of some of the Fish Creek Curlies in 2015 waiting for the outcome of a legal battle in holding.
In a moment that resembled an old western movie, the day wild horses were to be released, the county and rancher (that BLM had found in trespass but who blamed us for his own illegal actions), filed a lawsuit. Without a court order BLM complied and shipped horses to holding. Yes, we will repeat that: without any court order stating BLM could not release the horses, BLM complied wth the demands. (Can you imagine if an advocate filed a suit, and without a court order, BLM complied?) If you want to read about that stand off, this piece was written as it happened HERE.
The suit the county and trespass rancher filed was weak and simply complained that BLM did not do exactly what they wanted. However, the contractor stood with the ranching community, angry over the new animal welfare policy (CAWP) driven by our litigation, and refused to release the horses. (In documents obtained through FOIA, we found that BLM determined that the contractor did operate in conjunction with the “stand off,” but that it would not result in any changes to the contracts or reprimand.)
WHE joined the legal battle and the horses went home. The cost of that delay was over $100K to the tax-payer in shipping and holding, and many of the horses died or gave birth never released or seen again. But the vast majority of the horses went back to the range after the legal battle was fought to conclusion.
The state office had a change of leadership that appeared to stem primarily from issues surrounding the Grass March protests after BLM closed grazing allotments during severe drought. BLM began to cave entirely to the demands of this movement. They even spent over $1 million dollars on a “team” to come in and essentially take over the field office by prioritizing satisfying these demands.
There was another tense incident at Fish Creek during a tour where the new State Director, John Ruhs, rode with the livestock industry and listened to their demands that waters be shut off for wild horses. The event became a focal point of an article by Christopher Ketcham, “All The Pretty Horses Must Die.”
We just put our head down and went to work to try to address HMAP creation. It was a lot of work. Fertility control is a very small piece of the whole. What we found was an agency backlogged, uneducated about recent legal precedent, disorganized, and operating as if they only served the livestock and mining industries, to an absurd degree. BLM was absolutely negligent in addressing decades old water issues, their water permits for wildlife, repairs, etc.
We just stayed focused on the tasks at hand. BLM employees, either through incompetence or intention, were doing everything they could to obstruct completion of HMAPs. The county filed a complaint that BLM was working with us (we were never even given the opportunity to even see the complaint. Even though the complaint named us, BLM would not even release it under FOIA unless we spent the tens of thousands of dollars required to take it to court). We witnessed BLM working jointly with livestock operators and mining executives. But an advocate? they made it sound like a criminal offense.
In another HMA we watched, for the 7th year in a row, wild horses sucking water out of a 6 inch mud hole in an area BLM said year after year that they would fix the issue. Everything the Grass March wanted, they got. But wild horses, even when we said we would pay to repair half a dozen water sources, could not get a drink. Our founder described the experience as “walking through someone else’s mental illness.”
We were pushed out under the deals made with the livestock industry and a new movement by some corporate orgs called “Ten Years to AML.” This movement operated a lot like a big political campaign by big pharmaceuticals; dirty and cut throat. Some organizations openly “in the deal.” Some operating outside “the deal” to move the agenda forward.
For years (since we were pushed out officially at the beginning of 2017) we tried to communicate with BLM and were simply ignored. Year after year we engaged trying to gain answers about the waters that were deteriorating and being shut off. Providing information on trespass livestock. We kept asking when the HMAP would be created and could we, please, begin the protocol outlined in 2015 for wild horses.
BLM would not answer, not even through FOIA. Yet, at the same time BLM was giving tours to their new ‘advocate partners’ that only wanted to grab any taxpayer funded fertility control contract that might be on offer. (PZP is a substance, not a method. PZP is not management, it is a tool.)
In 2019 BLM did a roundup that gave the county everything they wanted. The legal action they filed in 2015 that the court shot down, won in the backdoor deal with their new “Ten Years to AML” partners and the BLM. (A Danish Film crew was at the 2019 roundup and BLM (the woman dressed in Reno Rodeo gear is BLM) refused to answer the question “why was that other org given a different spot to view the roundup?”)
Those beautiful curlies we once fought for and were set free, were captive again. An amazing red roan curly we had watched grow and become a beautiful mature stallion and released, was one of the curlies simply castrated and sent into the oblivion of the system of holding.
Not one single HMAP, for any herd in NV, was done in the 4 years since BLM kicked us out at the behest of the livestock industry and the “Ten Years to AML” crowd (those openly a part of it and those simply moving one arm of it).
But there is more…
BLM did no land use plan revisions to remove waters for use by wild horses. BLM did not rectify the now deficient EA that notes those waters. BLM did not follow through on the decade of offers from us to pay for water improvements. BLM simply dismantled one and shut off the other and continued to communicate with the “preferred partners.” Exactly what the county asked the state office for at the tour Ketcham wrote about in his 2017 article.
At least every other week throughout 2020 we were contacting the BLM to get water out to that HMA. The county apparently held the water haul contract. The tanks and troughs dry again and again.
Wild horses began dying. A mare we know well, and her 2020 foal, among the dead. To see what happened to a few of the horses we selected a handful of photos: warning graphic content.
BLM began planning a winter roundup based on the summer “emergency.” There was no logic behind this. There was no validity to placing Fish Creek on a regular roundup schedule on a now invalid EA. BLM had created an emergency, that was undeniable, through obfuscation and obstruction of open public process. The horses were suffering immensely. But acting like this was just another roundup was an absurdity.
We sent an email asking that BLM provide us with a list of changes that would actually require them do do their work under NEPA and what did not. If Fish Creek was not an example of the need for new paperwork nothing is.
In one final absurdity, BLM managers in Battle Mountain sent us an email that their lawyers, and state office, told them they can not talk to us. We sent that letter to the incoming administration as a conversation starter. The conversation has begun.
BLM continues to work with their preferred partners and sit together for the 2020 operation that will leave 105 wild horses on a quarter of a million acres. 30 mares will get PZP, again, and next year perhaps a few darts will fly and you will hear a hollow and absurd “we saved Fish Creek” from those that sat in betrayal as Fish Creek died.
Fish Creek is an example of all this program should never have been allowed to become. The flaws of the past drive the reality of today and the suffering will go on and on.
We are ready to bring the battle into 2021 and stop the madness once and for all. We need fair management, not gimmicks and games, now.
Up Next, part 4: Confusion (legal action), Red Desert (resource wars) and Corporate Cabinets of Corruption
Part 5, The first week of the new year we will begin our action items for 2021.