In between working on three Federal court cases, including the First Amendment case and the hearing scheduled for April to the Owyhee ten-year plan, Wild Horse Education’s Laura Leigh was frantically fitting in phone calls and meetings addressing the sudden onset of issues at Deer Run.
The Deer Run herd is an isolated pocket of wild horses considered part of the Pine Nut HMA managed by BLM’s Carson City district office. Locals have a special relationship with this herd. Set near homes and a city park, many people that can not travel significant distances to see BLM wild horses would go and photograph these animals. The sudden trapping of 5 members of the band, including the band stallion, sent the local community reeling.
Leigh received several frantic calls. The calls began just days before the hearing on the ongoing (2 1/2) year court battle to document wild horses and burros during capture and housing by the BLM. Leigh ran to the district office, spoke with community members and state representatives.
“The urgency to remove these horses was not justified,” said Leigh “there were only six wild horses left on the range, a couple of pregnant mares, an older mare and a couple young horses. This was not a crisis situation until BLM began it’s surprise removals.”
The justification process appears to be based on a mish-mash of infrequent older complaints and tagged loosely to an old environmental assessment to grant authority for the operation.
“This situation was handled very poorly by BLM,” Leigh continued, “this should have been an opportunity to recognize the value of everyone’s right of use on public land, a respectful exchange and a likely solution besides removal. Instead it turned into a chaotic exercise in poor communication that demonstrated no respect to a very interested public. A ‘gentle’ removal through bait trapping may look like a ‘good’ operation, yet it not only tore the wild horse family band apart, but it tore the hearts of a very active, involved wild horse community apart. These horses were a part of the daily lives of so many, literally out of the back yards.”
By removing horses from this area BLM has not yet solved any issue. The area is a part of
an HMA. It may take a couple of years but the real possibility exists that another band will move into territory now left vacant. The community and BLM will still have to address the need for fences and caution signs, unless of course they simply desire to repeat history again and again.
On Monday BLM did agree to move the horses to the Silver Sage Ranch after processing. There the public will be able to see the horses (as the public has no access to the prison) and local adopters will get a first chance to bid on the horses.
After being at the BLM office since 7 am yesterday, at the trap and documenting, Leigh put together her reports. Leigh has been working with several journalists on a variety of pieces expected to publish and air shortly. She received a call from the LA Times and her photos and video can be seen on the LA Times Blog.
The LA Times article:
LAS VEGAS – A grass-roots community group in northern Nevada watched helplessly Wednesday as federal officials removed most of what remained of a band of wild mustangs with which residents say they have peacefully coexisted for years.
About two dozen residents of a subdivision called Deer Run outside Carson City say they have tried unsuccessfully to negotiate the fate of 11 mustangs with the Bureau of Land Management, which governs public lands in Nevada and elsewhere and has purview over the wild horses.
But on Wednesday, residents watched as four horses were lured into a trap by officials using a bucket of alfalfa and barley.
“They were like the Pied Piper,” Annie Jantzen, a local photographer who has taken pictures of the horses as part of an educational book, told the Los Angeles Times. “One guy led the horses for half a mile before they were tricked into the trap. It was heartbreaking to watch.”
Jantzen said the mustangs were mild-mannered and tolerant of visitors, sometimes even nuzzling them.
The debate over wild horses has raged across 11 Western states. BLM officials say the horses overgraze and damage public lands. Animal advocates and others say BLM officials are intent on removing as many wild horses as possible, without considering such alternatives as birth control.
“We put forth a comprehensive proposal, but they wouldn’t work with us,” Jantzen said. “We offered to pay for a fence and for birth control and just about everything else you could ask for; that’s how much these mustangs mean to us. But the BLM ignored us.”
BLM officials in Reno and Washington did not respond to requests for comment from The Times.
But the agency’s website says the horses had become a problem that drew complaints from some neighbors after the mustangs wandered from their domain, the so-called Pine Nut Mountains herd management area.
Activists say the band numbered nearly 50 several years ago, but federal officials recently reduced the number to 11. A few weeks ago, five more were trapped, leaving just six.
“These horses have caused intermittent problems along the urban edge by harassing domestic horses, visitors in nearby parks, equestrians and homeowners and present a hazard for vehicle drivers by crossing paved roads,” the BLM said on its website, adding that the animals would be put up for adoption. The agency already has more than 50,000 wild horses in long-term captivity.
Jantzen and others from the Deer Run Protection Group painted a different picture: The local community accepted sharing its park with the wild animals, leaving them in peace to sometimes graze in the popular park. They said the boundaries for the Pine Nut Mountains herd management area run right along the park, and the animals were being penalized for taking a few steps across an imaginary line to seek green grass there.
“What made this herd so special is that they were so friendly,” Jantzen said. “Most wild horses won’t let people get near them or their babies. But these horses would be in the park and let your kids look at their kids. I’d go there and sometimes they’d nuzzle me. It was like falling in love.”
A wild horse advocacy group blasted the BLM on Wednesday, saying the agency had already removed 50,000 wild horses from the Western range and put them in long-term holding.
“We are outraged that, at a time when the BLM has stockpiled an astounding 50,000 wild horses in captivity, this agency is unwilling to work with the community to prevent the removal of more horses by keeping one small family of cherished horses wild and free,” said Deniz Bolbol, communications director of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, with offices in San Francisco and Washington, D.C. AWHPC has been working with the Deer Run community on a plan for the horses.
Nevada state Sen. Mark Manendo was also dismayed with the BLM’s activities in Deer Run. “As an advocate for Nevada and its animals, domestic and wild, I encourage the BLM to exhaust all efforts to work with Carson City citizens dedicated to keeping our wild horses on their native land,” he said, according to the advocacy group’s news release.
On its website, the BLM said the community’s alternative plan for the horses was not workable.
“The proposals received represent thoughtful insight on how to deal with the issue of this Deer Run band of wild horses on the urban edge. Though portions of the proposal might be effective, nothing in the proposals is 100% effective in eliminating the BLM’s liability of having horses in areas they do not belong,” the website said. “Without the removal of this band, complete resolution to the problems will never be achieved.”
Laura Leigh, a photographer and founder of the nonprofit Wild Horse Education, said several residents cried when the horses were removed. She said the BLM had warned advocates not to interfere or they would “face consequences later.”
“Why now?” she asked in an interview with The Times. “There’s no urgency, no need to rush this. Why couldn’t these officials have spent a bit more time to find another solution rather than take them off the range?”
At day’s end Wednesday, only two horses remained. One mare was still in the BLM trap eating hay, as a decoy for the last remaining mare, Jantzen said.
“To see this old mare outside – she waited for all the other horses to be trapped,” she said.
“At the end of the day, she stood there, smelling the air, looking around the range. You could almost feel what she was thinking: This is the last time for me. People here are inconsolable.”