Wild Horse Education

Surprise Complex, What Next? (Stallion Release)

PREFACE: Many of you have been watching our reports from the Surprise Complex roundup. For the first time, BLM ran this roundup in a single contract with the Calico Complex. 

Not only was this roundup done under one contract that spanned the end of the fiscal year (ensuring payment and continuation if government shutdown) but it seems that the NV managed Calico (GonaCon) has swallowed the CA managed Surprise (PZP) and GonaCon is going to be used in both large Complexes of Herd Management Areas (HMA). Calico was hit with a roundup in 2022 that drove the area down into the population numbers (Appropriate Management Level or AML) BLM wanted and Surprise was hit in 2021 where BLM treated with PZP-22.

In 2023, 484 wild horses were captured at Surprise with only 52 foals, only 10.7%. The PZP-22 impacting foaling rates is being replaced with sex-skewing (flipping natures ratio of 60-65% mares to 60-65% stallions) and putting a heavy hit of hormones into older mares that will probably die before GonaCon wears off in 5-10 years.

The Surprise and Calico roundups were not justified through any data by any stretch. There was not even a census flight before the roundup.

BLM is calling this multi-year hit “expanding fertility control.” PLEASE STOP asking Congress to fund “expanding fertility control.” For the last 4 years BLM has received additional funding to destroy longterm viability of our herds. WITHOUT you asking for funding for this, BLM will keep doing it anyway.  “Expanding fertility control” is the term for what you have watched the last 4 years and truly highlighted in the entire fiscal 2023 schedule.  This is “Path Forward” in a nutshell and continuing this path will not stop.  (Other things you can ask for were outlined in our 4-step action earlier this year. You should take note that WHE has never, ever, told you to ask Congress for more funding for fertility control. The system is far too broken and any tool BLM is given will be abused with no accountability or science to back up their actions) 

32 Stallion released in Fox Hog and 12 released in High Rock (Herd Management Areas in the Surprise Complex)

Narrative: The release

I took a long drive to see a release of stallions back into the Surprise Complex. 

This is not the first release I have seen here. In 2011, before the release, BLM California agreed to put HMA brands even on studs they released so we could track (asserted) movement throughout the area. Usually a mark would only be given to mares that got PZP back then. BLM Nevada (Calico) refused. BLM NV has always blocked any project or request that would actually collect useable data.

In 2021, I watched a release at Surprise after PZP-22 was put onboard via jabstick after helicopter capture.

It has never ceased to amaze me that people still think “fertility control” means a dart gun. Fertility control is everything from surgery to hormones to IUDs. PZP is a substance, not a method. One of many substances used after capture and “pzp” does not equal “dart gun.” 

In 2011 I could silently whisper to the old studs that before they died, they would be band stallions again. I could apologize for the ignorance, the loss of habitat and family… but pray for his future as a band stallion once more as we continued the fight to stop habitat loss and get his herd a fair share of grazing land. In 2021 I could repeat the same thoughts. In 2023? This herd is all but gone… and it will be a slow end as viability is being destroyed. 

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This time, in 2023, as the first stallion exited the trailer, turned and headed right for me (I was dressed in the color of fall rabbit brush and was probably not seen as I blended in with the rise behind me) he slowed, stopped… and the look of fear in his eyes is something that cut me to the core. 

In that moment I could not silently promise him he would pass on his genes; the drive of everything wild is to reproduce, so much so that the word “replicate” is included in the definition of wild things. The chance of him being a band stallion again are close to “zero.”  I could not muster an apology for big corporate greed and ignorance …. all I could feel was his fear and could not even calm my own thoughts.

He had an old lip injury that interfered with feeding and was probably in his late teens. He was returning to a range where almost every wild horse had been removed, new livestock fences were put up and there were rumors of a new mine. All the horses had also been removed from neighboring HMAs and over 100 stallions released on those ranges…. no mares. The mares that will be released will be far fewer than males in mans direct defiance to nature. The mares will not even send off the sweet hormonal cues that keep bands united and instead will not ovulate for nearly a decade, many of them will die before they can breed again… and any return to fertility in the mares that do survive will take longer than his natural lifespan. 

The only thing I could relieve him of was the pressure of my gaze…

I turned my camera to the stallions getting off the trailer even though the first stallion stood not 30 ft from me. I do not know how long he stayed there or if he ran off immediately after I stopped looking at him. 

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When the release ended, I spoke briefly with BLM. The drive out was long, but they did not drive crazy fast. There was no shouting by crew during offloading and no one blocked my ability to see. I was allowed to stand where I requested (out of the way, but with ability to document well). The young man was proud of how he handled the logistics and I, with a smile, agreed.

He was open to conversation. I talked about what the reality of this range would be like now for these horses. I talked about needing younger (not treated with GonaCon) mares on the range (even if he had to treat older mares with fertility control because of some directive) to keep band structure together. Heck, not only will it help them (horses) unify to survive predation from mountain lions (predation happens out here with regularity) but if BLM needed a reason, bands make a more efficient capture than trying to catch fragments of 1 or 2 horses (trying to think of a reason BLM might understand for the necessity of preserving band structure). I tried to explain how sex-skewing is myth and does nothing to reduce population growth it just increases tension and BLM needs to stop relying on myth like “blue-eyed horses are blind.” Wild horses need “family” that is held together by ovulation and the hormones of pregnant mares and babies; the need is both psychological and essential to physical survival in really wild places (not backyards or scenic photo safari parks). 

Standing at a release is not a place where you can get AML raised or forage allocations changed… the task at hand is to try to reduce the daily suffering that will strike here and now.. now that the Path Forward has plowed this herd into fragments. 

He listened. He did inform me that they are “committed” to releasing the number of mares with GonaCon and they he would be doing a census, not just a distribution flight. However, the California office will be doing the flight with Nevada. They will make a determination, based on numbers and “growth modeling” to see if more stallions can be returned next month with the mares. 

I asked him to consider not treating additional mares with GonaCon if they could release greater numbers based on the flight. He nodded that he would consider. I’m not really hopeful, but am holding out that a seed of logic was planted and will grow. Not likely, peer pressure and politics are just too weighty.

The roundup in this area (both Surprise and Calico) is politics. Herds untouched by roundups in a decade are not making the schedule and places like Cold Creek (where BLM only removes if horses are literally dropping dead) are not even being talked about. But this area gets hit so hard it is basically toasted … quite possibly forever. This is not management based on data, science, behavior, this is peer pressure and politics. 

I stayed behind when everyone left and agonized over how to articulate this in a way the public will understand. The fear of that stallion and the reality of his last years of life became a palpable presence in my vehicle. 

I drove toward Calico where a roundup is still active. The stallions just released beat it so fast out of the area… I am worried about where they are going while helicopters are still in the air. I drove down all the way through, all the way down by Buffalo Hills (NV) where a roundup took place last year and where the last few days of Surprise pulled in horses that moved north to get out of the hubbub of Burning Man influx and last years roundup. Hopefully the newly released don’t seek too far for mares that do not exist on that range right now… and find themselves back in a target zone. 

All night I could not shake his fear.

I have tried my best to articulate his message… and am still trying to process what that stallion said to me.

Footnote: Manage is an active verb. BLM is mandated to “manage.”

Finding a “solution” implies a static one-off for a “problem” clearly defined. To have a “solution,” you must first accurately define a problem.  If the intention is to cause so much damage that you do not have to do anything for decades because herds simply can’t survive, that is not “manage.”

I have spent the good part of the morning talking to lawmakers and media. I have to get my head down on some of these appeals and legal documents are coming due in Blue Wing and I need to check in with our attorneys. 

We are getting volunteers plugged into the 2024 winter roundup schedule, 2023 was a long hard run. 

If you are reaching out to lawmakers please, if you do not believe “overpopulation” is actually “the problem” in the BLM wild horse and burro program… ask for things that fix a broken system. More HERE. 

Our wild ones should live free on the range with the families they hold dear. Our wild ones should also live without abuse. WHE carries ongoing litigation to force BLM into open public process to create an enforceable welfare standard for our treasured wild ones. 

Thank you for keeping us in the fight!

As holiday shopping begins, you might be able to find a gift for yourself or the horse lover in your life at our WHE storefront on Zazzle. All proceeds support our work for our wild ones. HERE. 

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Through October 23rd, you can help support our field team out gathering data to support our litigation against abuse through the purchase of our “stop abuse” t-shirt. Click HERE.

Categories: Wild Horse Education