There are multiple Environmental Assessments (EAs) open for public comment, several already finalized and a roundup schedule published for the rest of fiscal 2021. At the same time there are plans that are facing legal challenges and the new administration has not even sent out a new directive for wild horses and burros.
We are getting a lot of emails demonstrating a bit of confusion in the public sphere about what all of this means. We hope this article helps clear up some of the chaos during this round of advocacy season.
Breaking It Down
Prior to doing a roundup (or fertility control) federal land management agencies must have an approved “gather plan.” Any proposed action on public lands must go through the process outlined in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). This is the process that requires a comment period on everything from mining, livestock to wild horses and burros.
The comment period is supposed to represent a time to point out deficits in the agencies analysis, present information not included and propose alternatives not considered. If the agency fails to address those concerns, the comment period sets up the ability to file legal action based on the comments submitted. The agency will not consider the volume (number) of comments as a demonstration of validity (the same comment repeated again and again does not give it more weight).
An EA must be approved before a removal can be placed on a roundup schedule or fertility control allowed to go forward. Sometimes the agency will put out an EA for comment and then withdraw the EA and put it out again. Many times the agency will finalize an EA, but not place the area on the roundup schedule as other areas take precedent. Sometimes an EA will get taken into court and delayed or remanded back for revision.
The comment period is the first step.
Although, in the BLM handbook the first step is supposed to be a “scoping” period that allows public input on management objectives for a Herd Management Area Plan (HMAP), prior to creating a “gather plan,” the agency simply skips this step claiming they have discretion under law to skip management planning. (You can help us change that by writing to your legislators and to the Secretary of Interior HERE)
The BLM manages more wild horses and burros than all other jurisdictions combined. Each area in this article will reference BLM unless otherwise noted.
First, Some Good News
The “spay plan” at Confusion is under NEPA review. WHE filed legal action before the NEPA deadlines expired and before the rushed roundup began (October 28). WHE then made a request that the NEPA process be reviewed (January, 2021) for this plan and several others. That review is underway and we will have an update for you at the end of the month.
The Final EA for Desatoya was released yesterday. This is one of the areas that BLM had begun to address an HMAP about 40 years ago. The HMAP was never amended to include changes in objectives, planning or methodology. The EA also claims that no “excess of wild horses” has to be proven to implement sterilization. WHE will be filing legal action.
The final decision for the Ochoco (USFS) has been issued. There are multiple orgs looking at legal action. The final plan made one change after the objection period ended, they raised low AML from 12 to 47. The AML range for this herd is now 47-57.
The “comment period” on the EA is what sets up the ability to take a proposed action in the EA and then, when BLM simply sticks with the alternative they chose prior to the comment period, we have the ability to file legal action.
Some EAs Open for Comment:
Wyoming: Adobe Town, Salt Wells Creek, Great Divide Basin, White Mountain, and Little Colorado HMAs open for comment through April 30th: https://www.blm.gov/press-release/blm-seeking-public-comment-proposed-wild-horse-gather-southwestern-wyoming
Colorado: Sand Wash Basin, comments open through May 2: https://www.blm.gov/press-release/blm-seeks-public-comment-wild-horse-gathers-and-fertility-control-treatments-sand
Nevada: Lake Mead Complex, comments open through April 30th: https://eplanning.blm.gov/eplanning-ui/project/2001061/510
Pending Finals to Watch
We are awaiting the final EAs to be released in two areas that represent some of the last truly large herds left in the US: Pancake and the Surprise Complex.
Both of these EAs contain serious flaws in analysis that will devastate herds that exist in places that are still capable of sustaining large populations, but not for long. Habitat fragmentation to prioritize industry is the single greatest threat to the survival of everything wild. There are a few places left that can sustain large herds, but those opportunities are rapidly disappearing.
WHE have been expanding our legal actions against industry. (more HERE)
We are already preparing to address these EAs, legally, once they finalize.
The roundup schedule for the rest of fiscal 2021 is out. Onaqui, Conger, Stinkingwater, Four Mile, Sand Springs, Barren Valley and Owyhee are on for the chopper roundup. There will also be bait trapping active in Pokegama, Beattys Butte, Piceance-East Douglas and more.
In addition we expect “drought emergency” to take center stage again this year in the areas agencies do not get onto the removal schedule. These “emergencies” are never a surprise as issues of habitat fragmentation go unaddressed year after year. (you can see last years “emergencies” that clearly point to the need to have a Secretary of Interior that stops the agency from running the status quo and prioritizes actual management HERE.)
As roundup season approaches our teams are ready to hit the road. WHE has sent in a request for the Comprehensive Animal Welfare Policy (CAWP) to be reviewed and revised prior to any helicopter flying under this new administration. We will update you on our continued work against abuse in a different article.
All of this happening prior to the new administration sending directives on how they want wild horses and burros managed. We are seeing a lot of talk about protecting our environment and wild things, but we have not seen any change in direction on wild horses and burros.
We urge you to take action in the big picture. Send letters. Make appointments and educate your legislators.
We need management planning to become a priority and not this constant acceleration of a broken system.
A Herd Management Area Plan (HMAP) starts with a public “scoping” process that is supposed to go to all interested parties for input on herd management. Objectives for management, and all methods for that management, are supposed to be outlined in an HMAP and a “gather plan” is supposed to tier off an HMAP. An HMAP is intended to stand as a guidance document until such time as the tools available, or the environment, changes. When changes (like water availability or a new fertility control method is available) an HMAP is supposed to be updated using the same process as any actual management planning document (LUP, RMP) and begin with a scoping process so the public can provide information, options and to keep the program transparent.
Remember, if the first thing you ask your legislator for is fertility control, you are essentially saying that population suppression is the number one issue. You need to ask for planning that includes stocking level (AML), forage allocations, etc. prior to justification for any population suppression. Just a thought to keep in mind.
Help keep us in the fight.