The following is a document sent to the Bureau of Land Management by reknown wildlife ecologist Craig Downer. The related environmental assessment document is at the end of this post.
October 21, 2011
BLM Ely District Office
HC 33 Box 33500
Ely, NV 89301
Attn.: Gary W. Medlyn, Egan Field Manager
Subject: Objection to proposed wild horse roundups in Pancake Complex: Pancake HMA, Sand Springs West HMA, Jake’s Wash HMA (proposal to zero out), and Monte Cristo Wild Horse Territory (USFS)
Dear Mr. Medlyn:
Thank you for providing me with this opportunity to comment. I have reviewed the Pancake Complex Preliminary Environmental Assessment and am very disturbed by its negatively tendentious plans and questionable justifications toward this vast, 1,259,739-acre area’s wild horses. The proposed action is not at all fair to this national heritage and North American returned native species nor to the individual wild horses who have proven their survivability and ability to fit into the natural ecosystem in question, nor does it accord with the chief tenets of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. At its 40th anniversary, we Americans should now be celebrating this noble act’s true realization rather than lamenting its subversion. Unfortunately your proposed plan for these horses falls within the latter category.
My analysis of some of your tables reveals a true egregiousness. To cut to the chase, Table 1: Herd Management Area, Acres, AML, Estimated Population, and Estimated Numbers for Removal reveals that as of May 2011 what you term to be an over-populated herd within the four legal areas actually had 571 legal acres per remaining individual horse. This included 517 legal acres per individual horse in the 855,000-acre Pancake HMA, 1,029 legal acres per individual horse in the 157,436-acre Sand Springs West HMA, 1,164 legal acres per individual horse in the 153,663-acre Jake’s Wash HMA, and 347 legal acres per individual horse in the 93,640-acre Monte Cristo Wild Horse Territory. Regardless of how many times you state otherwise, this is not an over-population, but rather an under-population from any fair and objective point-of-view. A couple hundred acres per horse would not be an over-population in this area provided you exercised your legitimate authority to secure an adequate water supply for the wild horses. America needs true defenders of its wild horses, not officials who all-too-willingly abrogate their responsibility to defend the rights of these wonderful animals and the General Public who support them.
The crux of the problem concerns your (BLM’s & USFS’s) over-allocation of forage to livestock, principally domestic cattle and sheep grazing within the legal wild horse areas. Examining your EA’s section 4.5: Livestock Grazing and particularly Tables 3, 4, & 5, your Animal Unit Month (AUM) figures reveal the following year-round equivalent of cattle grazing within the four wild horse areas, taken both separately and as a composite. In the Pancake HMA, current permitted livestock use equals 1,826 cattle. In the Jake’s Wash Herd Area (HA, so named because you have decided to zero it out), current permitted livestock use equals 696 cattle. In the Sand Springs West HMA, the current permitted livestock use equals 40 cattle. Excluding permitted livestock use in USFS’s Monte Cristo Wild Horse Territory, which would add considerably, the minimal grand total for year-round livestock usage is 2,562 cattle. We conclude that there are more cattle grazing just in the three BLM HMAs than there are year-round wild horses in the four legal areas which, according to Table 1, sum to 2,208 horses – and the latter is likely to be an exaggerated number that includes the 2011 foals but does not adequately account for mortality factors. Though the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act clearly states that the resources of the legal Herd Areas (BLM) and Territories (USFS) are to be “devoted principally” for the wild horses or burros upon their legal grounds, such is clearly not occurring at present what with 54% of the grazing resource going to domestic livestock and 46% of the grazing resource going to wild horses. This wild horse population should be left alone. It is in the process of filling its ecological niche and attaining natural self-stabilization of its numbers – if we people would only allow it to do so.
If the drastic and grossly unfair Pancake Complex roundup proceeds as planned and taking the mid-point Appropriate Management Level of 499 wild horses, there will remain only 19% of total forage allocation for the wild horses (499 divided by 2,562). This is a clear violation of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, as the wild horses’ presence is being marginalized and minimized even within its legal areas – which taken as a whole only represent a small fraction of the public lands. Their restoration to principal presence within their legal areas would constitute true “multiple use” as opposed to the status quo of monopolistic use on the public lands by especially livestock. Additionally, BLM is planning to zero out, or eliminate, all wild horses from Jake’s Wash Herd Area. This HA contains a sizeable 153,663 acres; and though the 132 currently surviving wild horses here clearly disprove BLM officials’ claim that the area is unsuitable for wild horses, these officials persist in listing inadequate habitat components such as water, forage, shelter, etc., though the chief missing factor is their willingness to defend the wild horses’ rightful water, forage, shelter, and other survival requirements!
Alternative F, the No Action Alternative is the more fair and only reasonable and legal alternative of those presented by the E.A., yet it is discredited even in the E.A. as being invalid. –Talk about tendentiousness against wild horses in the wild!
In addition to the above, I have the following complaints:
Page 18: You make light of the “Remove or Reduce Livestock within the HMA,” yet it is the only truly fair and legal option here. You evade your responsibility to reduce or eliminate livestock, yet you are clearly willing to do this and in drastic measure to the wild horses themselves! (The wild horses, by the way, have a right to live here, while livestock permittees only have a cancelable privilege to graze their livestock here.) You refer to the 2008 Ely Record of Decision and Resource Management Plan and to the Tonopah Resource Management Plan, but fail to honestly criticize these in light of the actual law protecting the wild horses and establishing their rights to live their free-roaming life at healthy, viable population levels upon certain areas of the public lands.
Page 19. Your clear abrogation of responsibility is indicated on this page when you claim that the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 4710.5 is only for emergencies “and not for the general management of wild horses or burros.” This is simply not true by any reasonable interpretation of this code and again reveals your prejudiced attitude toward the wild horses.
Page 22. I question your statement that fences do not restrain wild horse movements within their legal areas, given the fact that they are open-ended. Much of this would depend upon how long they are and where they are located. Your least and last consideration seems to be for the wild horses themselves.
You make no intelligent comparison of relative livestock, big game, and other conflicting or potentially conflicting interests including ORVs and mining operations in relation to the wild horses and how this affects their well being in the wild.
You go out of your way to state that the Pancake Complex has not been designated as a wild horse “range” and point out the four in the U.S. that have. Yet all the original wild horse and burro areas should be considered as “ranges” according to any fair interpretation of the Act. Again you give more importance to regulations than to the federal law itself!
Pages 22-23: Your discussion of available water sources says nothing about how you could take steps to secure or improve water availability for fairer numbers of wild horses. You seem to be grasping for excuses to justify your miserable treatment of the wild horses. The utilization trends and consumption rates you quote do not in fact reveal a dire situation caused by wild horses, though your implied conclusion indicates just this. Your justification for zeroing out Jake’s Wash HMA is very arbitrary, and you make not even the feeblest attempt to do something to keep the horses here. As stated above, the 132 surviving wild horses disprove your contrived case against them. It is obvious they are your targets. By fomenting cooperative agreements with other entities as enabled under Section 6 of the Act, BLM officials could, in fact, secure year-round water, forage, etc., for the spirited Jake’s Wash wild horses, whom I have had the rare privilege to observe since 1980.
Page 24: Again, objectively viewed, your presentation of facts for Sand Springs West HMA is unconvincing as a case against the current number of wild horses. And I find it revealing how you avoid bringing livestock into consideration in regard to those areas that are being over-utilized. I also suspect that existing fences within the two HMAs, one HA and one Territory could be preventing a more extensive and natural rest rotation – or equitable distribution of grazing pressure.
Pages 26-27: I very much object to the creation of an one-third non-breeding segment of the wild horse population, and as a wildlife ecologist, predict that this would result in a dysfunctional herd lacking the true vitality that is required for long-term survival. This is very much contrary to the true intent of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. For the same reason, I disfavor the 60% male to 40% female sex ratio and view this as very disruptive to the social structure of individual bands and to the herd as a whole. It has been abundantly proven that mature bands of long standing naturally limit the wild horses’ growth rate when the wild horses are allowed to fill their ecological niche without excessive interference by people.
Page 29: I also note that you plan on administering PZP to all released mares and again caution against the adverse effects PZP could cause both to individual wild horses, e.g. stress, pain, dysfunction within horse society, ostracism, and to the social structure of the harem-band as well as to the whole herd. As you may have heard, I am proposing Reserve Design as a much better solution to the wild horse challenge, but this will require letting the horses be the principal presences and letting them realize their ecological niche within adequately sized and composed habitats and cutting back on livestock and other monopolistic uses. This would result in natural self-stabilization by intact social units and is true to the noble intent of the Act. In this same regard, I am entirely opposed to the gelding of stallions. Even your statement that up to 5% of castrated stallions may die as a consequence should be enough to cancel this cruel proposal that is so thoughtless of the horses themselves.
Page 33: Your frequent tampering with the wild horse population prevents the establishment of a harmonious wild-horse-containing ecosystem, one that is enhanced overall as to biodiversity, soil richness, food chain/web, seeding dispersal, etc., since the horse is a true returned “keystone” species here in North America.
Page 34: You make light of the kicking and biting that occurs immediately after capture when the horses are first penned – and this occurs among both the stallions and the mares, not just the stallions. I have observed this on several roundups and it both can and frequently does result in serious injury and even death of the wild horses so traumatized and unnaturally crowded together. Our goal should be to leave these wonderful animals alone in their rightful legal and ancestral lands and to let them be born, live out their lives, and pass on naturally contributing their remains rather than to be subject to this unnatural and terrifying chasing by helicopter, violent capture and manipulation and a life of confinement, or a cruel trip to the slaughter plant, e.g. in Mexico or Canada. This is clearly wrong and not what the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act intended.
Page 49 ff: You imply that wild horse reduction would improve wilderness values thus ignoring the many positive contributions wild horses make to the ecosystem. In fact, they greatly restore the North American ecosystem, as they are not a ruminant digester like nearly all other large and more recently arrived grazers, but a post-gastric digester and thus help build soils and disperse seeds of a greater variety of plants and to a much greater degree than the ruminants. They restore North America’s naturalness and they also greatly bolster the food chain or web both through their droppings and by contributing their mortal remains.
Page 48: Finally, wild horses are very inspiring to people, to the General Public as a whole. Their presence in the wild is a healing one, both to the natural life community and to those economically disinterested people who come from near and far to just experience their presence. Ask the thousands of wild horse advocates in this nation of ours and throughout the world what I am talking about. It is high time that as public officials and servants sworn to uphold all the laws of the land you listen to us rather than just to those vested interests who for one greedy reason or another have targeted these returned North American natives for discrediting and elimination.
Craig C. Downer
Wildlife Ecologist, Author on wild horses and burros, etc., board: The Cloud Foundation
P.O. Box 456
Minden, NV 89423-0456
CC: Various interested parties.