Rocky Hills CMZ Exploration public comments

Rocky Hills HMA wild horses near Cadet Springs

Rocky Hills HMA wild horses near Cadet Springs

When the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) addresses a proposed activity on public land an assessment document is created and goes out for public comment. The purpose of public comment is so that the public can provide documentation or ideas not considered in the proposed action. In other words, not simply an opinion statement, but constructive contribution.

An “Environmental Assessment” (EA) is a document created prior to an action taking place on public land. An EA is prepared based on CFR’s (Code of Federal Regulations), Resource Management Plans (RMP) and/or Congressional directive. In the case of extractive projects Congress has given a directive for expedited actions or “fast tracking.” These projects have been seen most often recently in expansion of exploration activities for minerals like gold and silver or oil and gas. In essence these projects for exploration are “pre-approved” by Congress.

Prior to any actual extraction a full blown Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) would be prepared with extensive provisions prior to production. The EIS process is more extensive than an EA. The EIS would also be made available prior to a final Record of Decision (ROD) on the project.

The Battle Mountain District of the BLM has out for public comment an EA on exploration by NuLegacy Gold near Eureka. The project boundaries lie within the Rocky Hills Herd Management Area (HMA) for wild horses. The HMA is relatively small by Nevada standards, 83,998 acres and is 15 miles wide by 13 miles long. The number of horses in the “level” established by BLM is 86-143 wild horses. The area has a distinct history to Nevada and is associated with the Damale family and the curly horse. You can read more about the HMA on BLM’s website here: http://www.blm.gov/nv/st/en/fo/battle_mountain_field/blm_programs/wild_horse_and_burro/battle_mountain_field/rocky_hills_hma.html

Cadet Springs, year round water source for entire population of wild horses on the HMA in need of serious repair after three years of drought.

Cadet Springs, year round water source for entire population of wild horses on the HMA in need of serious repair after three years of drought. The troughs were empty and not connected.

If you read the EA you will see “mitigation” for exploration that includes repair of Cadet Springs. This water source is a year round site of concentrated wild horse use. (We wish current policy allowed the identification and protection of critical habitat for wild horse use. That terminology is currently restricted for species “threatened or endangered,” like those listed under the ESA).

We observed the spring in 2014, and did an evaluation of the HMA. In addition to noting the poor condition of the spring in the third year of drought, we noted the use patterns within the HMA. About one third of the HMA shows utilization by wild horses and minimal, if any, utilization of the other portions of the HMA. This is likely due to terrain and juniper cover possibly sheltering predators. Also noted was the lack of a substantial foal population. The terrain is likely reason for the historic reliance on Cadet Springs with limited or no travel into other portions of the HMA. Wild horses had begun to exhibit signs of wariness toward humans likely due to exploration activities already underway in the area.

photo showing flow of Cadet Springs after receptacle was "reattached"

photo showing flow of Cadet Springs after receptacle was “re-attached”

When reading the Draft EA for comment please note each section, not just the one marked “wild horses.” Read the EA here: https://www.blm.gov/epl-front-office/projects/nepa/40987/50985/55476/3179C_CMZ_Public_EA_11-3-14.508.pdf Note the removal of pinyon juniper and reseeding as part of a “sage grouse improvement project.” This disturbance will likely increase wariness of wild horses. The project is also located in an area utilized by wild horses. Wild horses will eventually benefit from this project. However sage grouse protection plans may eventually limit that benefit (we are watching).

When you read the section marked “wild horses” please note that the BLM has formalized for the record concerns regarding wild horses. These concerns would be expanded on if production goes forward in the area through the EIS step of the process. At that time mitigation could expand beyond limiting traffic and spring repair.

Rocky Hills wild horses reacting to vehicle movement

Rocky Hills wild horses reacting to vehicle movement

Our comments to the draft EA will expand on comments we made earlier to this proposed action prior to the draft EA.

1. If activities present a necessity of proximity to water source (Cadet Springs) for time periods extending more than 3 hours in every 24 hour period for a course of more than 5 days, an additional water source must be provided such as a haul along the natural route wild horses use to access the Cadet trough. During any repair activities of Cadet Springs a seep or haul must be facilitated to ensure wild horses access to water.

2. Wild horse behavior in the area indicates that the increased human disturbance in the area is already causing wild horses to be more restless and reactive than normal. Please advise the workers to be sensitive to the disturbance to wild horses by humans and minimize the disturbance through written materials and posted signs along the route to Cadet Springs.

3. Although much of the terrain in the area would require limited travel speed, please post signs requiring slowed speeds and caution while driving.

We would like to request that BLM note that the project could go for an EIS for production. Serious concerns were noted on the record about impact to wild horses. In preparation for the event that production is requested I ask that complete data on utilization. migration, foaling patterns and herd structure begin to be compiled to ensure appropriate mitigation for wild horses should the project go further.

If you would like to add your name to the comments we will be submitting and support further engagement of the process during exploration toward prepared action should this project go into production, please add your name below:

Portion of HMA not experiencing wild horse use. Photo of cow carcass.

Portion of HMA not experiencing wild horse use. Photo of cow carcass.