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Triple B (fast editorial update from a frustrated advocate)

The Triple B roundup continues to push toward the target of 1900 wild horses captured in this 4th roundup in 5 years under the 2017 Gather-EA. After this operation the agency will have captured about 4500 from this large complex using that paperwork and still claim to be over 1000 beyond the number they say should be in this extremely large, and rapidly industrializing, complex.

Commentary, LLeigh

No HMA in the complex has an actual management plan (a Herd Management Area Plan, or HMAP). There is simply the large “Gather-EA.” Why is that important? because a Gather plan only allows the decision (and public input) to focus on removals or fertility control. We can’t protect critical habitat, stop roads and fences, get water improvements, or even genetic equations defined. We have zero ability to address stocking levels (Appropriate Management Level, AML) or forage allocations; we don’t even have the opportunity to see the actual formula the agency uses to set it. Management for any other species does not start with how, when, the population is reduced; management starts with habitat needs.

Yes, doing the HMAP might delay the use of whatever type of substance (fertility control) you favor being purchased… it would also create more work to complete long overdue paperwork in a program that has been understaffed since inception. This debate is so backwards; pushing fertility control solidifies the misconception of “overpopulation” being the mainline problem!

We need a baseline for management of any species before any management tool can (should) be approved. BLM has had 50 years to get these done and has just kept rolling over 1970s politics for far too long. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is mandated by law to manage, not to remove. (See our paper on the 2022 data sheet that BLM uses to tell media how many horses are on the range in 2022, but the data is not from 2022)

We do not know why this is so hard for the public, media and Congress to understand. Unless of course, the reason lies with keeping the lack of understanding alive to push agendas and not actually address management?

Above: Band at the top of the page captured. The foal lags behind.

This roundup has been really rough on our team that has an honest, long standing relationship with this herd. Not a casual, or theoretical relationship. 

We have a lot more footage to get ready for publication and will as soon as time allows.

Above: The foal roped. We had 2 camera angles and both video and still images. It will be hard for you to hear the vocalizations of the colt over the high-speed motor of a photographer (that seems to have come to this area for media) standing close to one of our team members. 

115 (39 Stallions, 51 Mares, and 25 Foals) wild horses were captured. A bay foal was put down BLM said after being kicked by another horse. We do not know yet if the death was at holding or trap location; a foal caught today or yesterday. We could not see the trap itself beyond the wings and first pen.

Media was in attendance as well as 3 members of another organization; ten members of the public. This is the largest public attendance day at Triple B since the operation began. In these remote herds that we follow (that are not the big social media herds) this type of day during a 6 week roundup is not unusual. We could be there for weeks and no one comes; then media days have lots of observers.

Media will often come to these roundups for a day to get helicopter footage to add to a piece that will focus on herds not under BLM jurisdiction, have never had helicopter captures, and that face entirely different circumstances and options for management. One such piece should be out soon… the reporter did not seem interested in the circumstances surrounding Triple B; they had interviewed the BLM, rancher and were going to see a darting program of horses not under BLM jurisdiction. The area also has diversionary feeding (hay drops that continue to acclimate them to humans) and urban sprawl; feeding hay to any species (even cows) is not allowed on public lands due to environmental concerns. Most of these small areas have an “acclimated to the public population” and very limited resources in the relatively small places they are confined to. Those jurisdictions also do not have the “thriving natural ecological balance” mandates: in other words, protecting habitats in not in the rulebook like it is for BLM. Not the same circumstances. Not the same story. Not the story of the vast majority of free-roaming horses in the U.S.

The story of the horses at Triple B will probably be told from rancher/BLM perspective and rapidly pivot into an entirely different story… and no one except educated advocates will know. It happens far too often.

Above: Areas like Triple B also span 1.6 million acres. The complex to the south, 1.3 million. The one to the east, nearly 1.6 million. This is not the same beast as the small herds. When you talk PZP (or fertility control) for these herds, you are talking application via helicopter capture as demonstrated in the video above from the Surprise Complex roundup.

People need to remember that a substance is not a method of application and a method of application is not a substance. A number of substances can be darted (PZP, GonaCon). But the most common method of application of both is via jabstick after capture. We hope that distinction is made in future media coverage if the stories are going to go the same route as all the stories the last 7 years; the lack of distinction has led to real confusion in the public.

All of this (intentional?) confusion is helping this acceleration of the status quo leading to full program collapse. This plays right into the corporate lobby “Ten Years to AML” (later called “Path Forward”) agreement that BLM incorporated into the 2020 plan. This plan leads to overloaded holding facilities, hundreds of thousands of dollars poured into new sterilization studies (on the same methods hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent to study a decade ago), and full circle back to talks about killing (euthanizing) the ones “unadoptable” because the cost is now a burden. Passing the SAFE Act, stopping transport for slaughter, does not address this reality…. the collapse of a broken system.

Reform does not start with fertility control. It starts with reforming a program where the program begins… the management plan that talks about the legal mandate to protect the herd and habitat.

Above: After failing at the trap on the first run across the valley this band was relentlessly pursued. These horses have faced assault from 4 roundups in 5 years. Many of these stallions know those traps and either escaped and lost their entire family in the last roundup or were part of the release after a PZP treatment of mares. The relentless pursuit lasted nearly 1.5 hours. You can see a few trucks heading to the mine (that is the process of expanding at the same time as a new fence was approved at the urging of the livestock permittee). 

8/21 edit to add: The BLM public affairs officer onsite appears to be really, really, upset that we put mining trucks in the video. She also appears to be really upset that we note mining as a cause of habitat fragmentation and water table draw down and, literally, is attacking our organization and our credibility (I can hear it clearly on the audio while wild horses are being sorted in the pen). 

We know the colloquial terms are “mining is client, livestock is customer.” But at least present a pretense that you really are “multiple use” that includes environmental concerns and protection of wild horses. EVERYTHING is an interconnected web on public lands. Everything impacts everything else.  Just a small pretense in the way you treat people would be a good start. It really is easy for anyone with eyes and ears to see who are your favorite “partners.”

Mining affects everything wild on public lands. Here is one win against the Long Canyon mine expansion that threatened an endangered fish, native tribes, wild horses and more. WHE partnered with Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Great Basin Resource Watch, PLAN NV, and more. (click HERE)

This little one was in the group driven about 1.5 hours (just in our view) after a failure to capture the band on previous attempts.

Triple B (and all of our large herds left on BLM land) are facing very different circumstances than the few smaller herds where BLM allows darting and others in other jurisdictions.  The sheer lack of actual management planning has kept them vulnerable to imposition by industry for decades. A mine draws down the water and trucks hit horses on the road? remove those wild horses. Climate change and the water table draw down impacts grazing for livestock? remove wild horses. A new fence or road causes wild horses to graze in higher numbers in one area because they cannot get to the old area anymore? remove wild horses. Game species are scarce because of livestock? remove wild horses. Livestock and mining impact sage grouse? remove wild horses.

Why does this keep happening? 

In absolutely no document anywhere has the public been given a chance to actually talk management, just population growth suppression (roundup/fertility control). In no document is there any identification of critical habitat, climate change strategies to preserve herds, nothing to do with managing a species on the landscape. This program is “good ol’ boy” politics for over 50 years… and you can’t get media to look beyond anything except the same ol’ story of: “poor rancher, BLM caught in a hard spot” and then looking for a simplistic magic wand (that keeps  the status quo running).

Over and over and over… and I am sick of it. I am sick to death of it!

How do you think it feels watching wild horses you know as well as people that visit herds like Onaqui or Sand Wash… constantly used just to get roundup footage?

Watching the ones I have seen escape trap over the last decade caught? My hands shook. A lot of my footage I can’t use because you can hear me talking to the horses and begging them to turn around and run. I could drop the voice, but not the shaking hands holding the camera.

I didn’t cry. I didn’t argue. I simply tried, again, to get the reality of these wild ones I love, with my heart and soul, known. But then I heard one reporter basically try to get the other to follow in her footsteps, interview the same people, and do the same damn story that does not include the reality of the horses we were watching…. I still didn’t argue or cry… I just kept trying to be patient and get minds opened.

I realize that writing this won’t make me particularly popular with most media outlets; but I do not know what to do anymore.

I’m tired of walking on eggshells.

Gone.

I’m telling you (our readers) all of this so that you know how bad it is. It has been like this since 2016 when the deals were first made for “Path Forward” (Ten Year to AML). The progress that had been made was tossed away.

It really is up to you. What will you give clicks to on the internet (that is how media makes money these days)? What does the petition say that you are signing? What are you saying to your Congressional reps? 

I’ll keep trying… but the ball really is in your hands.

I am not at trap today. I am trying to get caught up on the reports from field, litigation, training volunteers in the NEPA process, and trying to keep it all funded. I think I will just keep beating the chopper to the few areas left and continue to say “good-bye.”

We have a trained CAWP team member out at trap again. She has been to every day of this operation since it began. I am eternally grateful to her. I have been at every operation out here for more than a decade. This one?

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I cried in the shower where no one could hear me… it didn’t help. He will be sent to Axtell, Sutherland or Broken Arrow, all off-limits to the public, with the rest of his family and blue-eyed cremello sibling. BLM does not note what facility horses are shipped to that day, just that they shipped. I will never see them again. I will never see him grow up with his mom that took such good care of him… and this place that could have, should have, had a real management level on the landscape determined BEFORE all of the industry moved in the last 50 years. A number that could have been in the thousands, will have remnant bands navigating widened roads, livestock fencing and energy transmission corridors. Why can’t BLM reach this elusive “AML” they claim is “appropriate?” Because it is not, never was, appropriate… or remotely even fair. Now? BLM will use sterilization substances and methods to help them reach a level on the range that was unobtainable because it was never appropriate… and will do it by relying on politics and promos and handing out more grant funding. … and never, not once, opened up any conversation to protect these herds.

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Our wild, wild horses desperately need the public and media to talk about them. If Congress approves one more year of funding for the 2020 plan? Those are the herds lost forever… and the land designated for their use will have been completely gobbled up and they will never be able to exist again in any fashion that resembles historic numbers. 

Below: I have watched this palomino stud escape capture 3 times in the last 5 years. This time, he lost his family again.

Footnote: If the southern route on the 50 corridor is not approved for Greenlinks (an energy transmission line to feed places with big industries like Blockchains and Tesla), it will run straight through the Triple B complex  from highway 50 to 80. If the southern route is approved, it will run through the south. In addition, the Juniper project is another mine expansion in the heart of Triple B. Those are just two of the new active projects that will change the landscape in Triple B… without any change to the 2017 gather-ea. Just a drop in the bucket of all the industry (livestock, mining, recreation) plans approved since the 1971 Act was passed…. y’know, when that population level should have been set on the landscape that existed 50 years ago.

Habitat fragmentation is the key factor causing decline of the range. Stop blaming the wild horses for everything man-made… and coming up with more ways to keep the “blame-game” running.

Triple B is also the area where the first case in history against abuse at roundups was brought and won. That anniversary date is approaching. More soon.

Our team has been onsite at Triple B every single day since day 1.

You can view team reports from 7/15-8/9 HERE.

From 8/10 and ongoing HERE. 


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