Roberts and Rocky and Kobeh (Oh My! A history of fake boundaries)

Roberts, 2023

As we come off the tail end of the Antelope Complex roundup we want to take a moment to talk about some of the other battles in the world of our wild ones. We will have an update on the battle to gain an enforceable welfare standard (ground zero: Antelope) very soon. 

The underlying driver for the removal of wild horses and burros is, and has always been, about habitat loss and fragmentation. 

Many of you are unaware that wild horses were first a part of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) debate. But early advocates saw that push moving too slowly to stop the atrocities they were witnessing and it would leave burros off the table. Although wild horses were born on the North American continent, wild burros originated in Africa; the ESA would not protect burros that were routinely being gunned down all over the West as pests. So early advocates tied the (native) horse to the (non native) burro. The  WFRH&B Act was part “protect a wild being” and part “protect the history these beings represent.” Since implementation, the law has been repeatedly gutted and neither intention carried forward very well.

When the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act (WFRH&B Act) was being debated 52 years ago, the central arguments did not revolve around “should we,” but “where should we.” After Velma Johnston testified at a Senate hearing, the committee passed a version declaring wild horses a free-roaming species throughout the West. In debate in the House, the bill was amended to state that management would only occur on specific ranges designated by the Secretary…. and the games of local politics began to shape the charade of “land they now stand” we face today.  (We have an article HERE devoted to that debate.)

Management of wild horses on western landscapes creates the only “management” where a wild species cannot move when industry takes. the resources needed for survival and the only management of a species where protecting critical habitat for the survival of that species is completely off the table. BLM took the law and create finite spaces, gave the vast majority of forage in those spaces to domestic livestock and continued to allowed expanding mining claims… and our wild ones can’t leave to find “greener pastures.”

BLM recently approved a Gather Environmental Assessment (EA) for Robert’s Mountain. In that ten-year gather EA BLM admits to all the historic flaws and admits that they never, ever, created any management plan that would allow historic flaws to be fixed. BLM simply claims they do not have to fix anything. Yes, you read that correctly. 

When you look at the maps above you can see how “the land they now stand” was originally parceled out in what was called Herd Areas (HA). If you know western landscapes pretty well, you can see that even in the beginning, the “land they did not stand” was associated with politically powerful permittees of the day. Then, BLM simply made up a new term, Herd Management Areas (HMA) and shrunk that land base even further. However, HA land is land designated for use by wild horses and burros and the Secretary of the Interior (BLM) has the authority to return that land for use by wild horses and burros, but NEVER has exercised that authority.

You can see in the maps above that Roberts Mountain lost a lot of territory. The entire Kobeh Valley area was parceled out to remove all the best lowland forage and boundaries lines were essentially drawn along the bottom of mountains; these new lines even left one area without a year-round water source. The old North Simpson Park HA was renamed Rocky Hills (because that is literally what it is) and the area Roberts and Rocky Hills horses preferred (because it was better grazing) was completely omitted from their use and they were both left with mountains and mountain lions and being considered “off HMA” if they dared to travel to historic grazing lands… that were now wanted by livestock and rapidly expanding mining operations.

Rocky Hills, 2023

Before the chopper is placed in the schedule to remove wild horses, we want you to understand what is driving this push: mining is expanding and BLM needs to get wild horses out of the way and appease the unrest by livestock permittees that want to keep running cows in the most arid state in the nation (Nevada). Building a longterm and prosperous cattle operation like we see in the midwest was never going to be possible on most of these western landscapes without killing everything, including the land. Instead, BLM will remove wild horses and send them to the midwest on the taxpayer dime. (Can’t we just pay to move these livestock operations to the midwest and save our western landscapes for the wild things that have nowhere left to run to? Just a desperate thought.)

As our fight heats up for Robertsremember that fight is much bigger than Roberts. BLM knows Roberts should extend all the way to Rocky Hills. BLM knows Roberts should be part of the entire (nonexistent today) Kobeh management area.

In 2012, they began to update the oldest land use plan (LUP) in the country and offer a chance to fix it; 11 years later that update still just collects dust. Then, in 2016 they began a Herd Management Area Plan (HMAP) that would offer another avenue to amend the LUP. Under political pressure and a brand new agreement called “Path Forward,” all of that evaporated. Today, BLM simply says “we do not have to fix anything because we have support not to fix anything… we just need to remove as many as we can and say we are expanding fertility control” and all the “politics” are placated.

Rocky Hills, 2023

The fight to protect our wild ones begins long before a chopper flies. Habitat loss and fragmentation is the key driver behind roundups. If you ever see a skinny horse, know it is probably stuck behind an artificial fence where water and forage have been taken away by those profiting off of public resources. 

Once the chopper takes to the air, the fight turns to stopping abuse and gaining an enforceable welfare standard. BLM has failed miserably on the most basic of all charges: manage humanely. 

When a horse or burro is captive, the fight turns toward keeping them safe from slaughter as BLM fails to provide necessary protection and oversight. 

We hope you join us in the fight to protect and preserve our American treasures. 

You can show your support and help us keep our team in the field through the purchase of a “Stop Abuse” t-shirt. We have brought these shirts back for the next 2 weeks by request. Click HERE or on the image below (available for 3 more days).

Our wild ones should live free on the range with the families they hold dear. Our wild ones should also live without abuse. 

Thank you for keeping us in the fight!

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Categories: Lead, Wild Horse Education