Wild Horse Education

McCullough Comments, Into the Weeds

The scoping period for the McCullough Peaks Population Growth Suppression plan has peaked as the most commented on project currently open under the federal register. This herd has gotten the attention of the nation. (In fact, the EPlanning site stopped showing the comment count when it hit 4000 late in the evening on 1/6.)

This article is intended to give you an understanding of the area, what scoping is and what to think about as you craft your comments (and a few suggestions).

Comments are due February 7th. You should craft your own individual comments and submit them HERE.

What is McCullough?

McCullough Peaks is a smaller HMA in Wyoming that covers about 120,000 acres. BLM has the AML set at a (non genetically viable) range of 70-140 wild horses.

The population has reached 179 wild horses and the population consists of a large number of older wild horses that have been highly managed receiving a fertility control vaccine (PZP) since 2011. This treatment has limited the number of foals born. Instead of waiting for natural attrition (death) to contribute to the actual population size (after a hard winter), the agency is under pressure to reduce the herd sizes all over Wyoming. 

The BLM proposes removing the herd to low AML of 70 wild horses and changing the method of fertility control used on the herd to include additional and more aggressive substances and methods to further inhibit growth (and genetic viability). It is important for the public to recognize that even any long standing agreement for fertility control can be changed or terminated at BLM discretion if pressure from industry intensifies or politics changes. We rarely ever see BLM actually “give back to” or “stand up for” any herd when it comes to on range practices if an industrial interest gives BLM a nudge.

McCullough is easy to reach and many visitors take advantage of the photo opportunities. This makes this herd high on the list of those known by the public.

LATITUDE/LONGITUDE: 44.4634, -108.6388 DIRECTIONS: Travel east from Cody on Highway 14-16-20 to mile marker 72 (about 18 miles). On the left you will see a gate; horses are often in this area and you can enter if you choose. If not, continue to near mile marker 74 where you will see a kiosk and the Whistle Creek road sign on your left; enter, proceed to pipeline marker 75 (about 6 miles) and enjoy the remarkable panoramic view of the badlands.

People are asking us “what do I say?” But first, let’s explain where and why you are saying something. 

First, we need to point out that comment periods are not popularity contests, they are opportunities to provide substantive comments that include data BLM may have missed or to point out deficits in analysis. So if one person (that plans on seeing the full process through) makes the comment, it is the same as 100. However, the number of comments is indicative of public interest and can be used if the issue goes to courtrooms.

Another important thing to remember is that “the comment period” is the gateway to litigation (you need to participate and raise your issues during this period to jump one hurdle of the “standing” requirements for court).

McCullough is in “Scoping” for population growth suppression. Scoping is a process under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that must be completed prior to finalizing any proposed action. 

Historically, BLM has omitted the scoping process in most wild horse and burro decision making processes and active litigation is beginning to illustrate this lack to the courts. Historically, BLM has distorted “scoping” for wild horses and limited participation to counties, states, tribes and “special” partners (creating an exclusivity entirely contrary to open scoping).  In recent months we have seen a few districts begin wild horse and burro proposed decisions with scoping. So scoping is new for many of you.

NEPA defines scoping as an early and open process for determining the scope of issues to be addressed and for identifying the significant issues related to a proposed action (Section 1501.7, 40 CFR)

Essentially, scoping is a place you can point out anything you want to as long as you tie it to supporting data or process. We know there are many people telling you that you cannot ask for “x or y.” In scoping, you can ask for anything as long as you can support the request. 

BLM will be crafting additional NEPA where restrictions on what you can say will apply.

Scoping is step one. After scoping BLM will determine what kind of NEPA document they will create. Will it be a Herd Management Area Plan (HMAP) Environmental Assessment (EA) or just another Gather EA? 

You will have another chance to comment for McCullough.

Simplistic examples of scoping comments would be (copy and paste the bold and turn into a sentence):

The scoping period has been labelled “Bait Trap Removal.” But the written description includes “to analyze future wild horse fertility control and bait trap gathers in the McCullough Peaks Herd Management Area east of Cody. ” So one of the comments you can make is that the title of the process be changed to “Population Growth Suppression” to more appropriately address the scope of intention.

Many people writing to us do not want BLM to lump additional and more aggressive fertility control measures onto the plan that has been in place to limit herd growth since 2011 (non-hormonal PZP). You can simply state that desire and add a phrase like: “It is working” or “Cumulative effects on behavior are not acceptable” and cite “increased aggression in herds has been documented where BLM applied sex-ratio skewing mixed with PZP by many advocates. More data is needed on cumulative effects before any mashup of fertility control is even contemplated.”

What the public REALLY wants (for all of our herds): BLM to address AML (the number of wild horses), forage, livestock damage to the HMA, protection of habitat critical to the herd, etc. 

A Gather-EA would not be the place to address these things. So you need to point out that the Resource Management Plan (RMP) and 40-year-old management plan for the herd are outdated and inadequate to support a gather-EA.

Scoping can be used to address the type of NEPA generated from scoping. It has become a misnomer that the phrase “Environmental Assessment” (or EA) defines the subject; it defines the depth of analysis under NEPA. The word before the acronym “EA” defines the subject that creates the scope. “Gather-EA” limits the scope of analysis to removal, not management goals or things like forage. For almost 20 years the BLM has been skipping any process for wild horses or burros that would expand the scope of any analysis beyond removal/growth suppression (i.e. BLM claiming a 10-year Gather Plan is a 10-year management plan… it’s not management planning and many in advocacy also call 10-year Gather-EAs “10-year management plans” perpetuating the misrepresentation). 

“BLM needs to update/craft an HMAP that addresses the following:” 

After you say that? You can say ANYTHING you want to. You can talk about addressing AML (the number of wild horses), forage, livestock damage to the HMA, protection of habitat critical to the herd, etc. through the HMAP prior to any discussion addressing population growth suppression. 

Example of a simple comment made complete: BLM needs to evaluate the AML to raise the number to accommodate genetic viability within a highly managed population receiving fertility control (with extremely low birth rate) where most of the population has aged significantly. Data suggested a herd of 150-250 would be a more prudent AML and BLM should analyze this in an HMAP and update the RMP.

Did you know the field office has been updating the RMP by incorporating specific documents for everything from oil and gas to sage grouse since 2016? (The RMP evaluation report is out for 30 day review HERE)  You can find the home page of the Cody RMP review HERE. So essentially, this points to the fact that Wyoming BLM recognizes that specific planning is used to update an RMP (as it should be) but is not recognizing this with wild horses.

So a complex comment might sound like this one WHE made to address what type of NEPA document this scoping process should generate (not a Gather-EA):

Simply updating the RMP without addressing the site-specific HMAP-EA process is akin to stating a mining operation will be allowed in the district under the life of the RMP without providing a Plan of Operations (POO) or livestock will be allowed without a site-specific EA for permit renewal. Any EA for population growth suppression that deviates from the status quo must be crafted after the RMP evaluation is finalized including crafting an HMAP-EA and the RMP appropriately updated to reflect wild horse management goals.

This type of comment helps WHE set up further comments on any draft document BLM creates from scoping that could potentially lead to litigation. 

Red Desert, Wyoming

Our team is still working on our comments. Currently they are 14 pages long and are in the team editing process. Most comment periods last 30 days. It can take that long to review a districts underlying data, planning, etc., and then craft comments that add additional data and points out deficits in underlying information. Our comment letter is simply not ready to share or submit to BLM.

WHE will add our voice to the thousands that have already said “this herd is important to the public.” WHE will continue to address McCullough and the other 176 Herd Management Areas (as well as the areas removed from wild horse and burro use that could be repatriated, the HA).

We urge you to craft individual comments in your own words adding your personal perspective while you still can. There are currently new moves in Congress to gut NEPA and put states in charge of all reviews (omitting the national voice). We will have more on this for you soon.

Remember comments do not represent a voting process. If 1000 people send the same copy/paste comment it weighs as a single point of review, not 1000 points of review. However, numbers do represent interest.

This is why we do these long articles so you can craft a comment with a unique perspective on what may be a common point.

Comments are due February 7th.

You should craft your own comments and submit them HERE.

We hope this article is useful to your journey as an advocate.

An educated advocacy is needed more than ever. 

Help keep us in the fight. 

Categories: Wild Horse Education