Friday, February 12, 2010

I-Team: BLM Wraps Up Huge Wild Horse Roundup

Las Vegas

I-Team: BLM Wraps Up Huge Wild Horse Roundup


One of the largest wild horse roundups in Nevada history is over. The Bureau of Land Management says it gathered more than 1,900 mustangs from the sprawling Calico Range in Northern Nevada, but that's far fewer than the agency expected to capture.

Critics of the BLM say the Calico roundup is a perfect illustration of what's wrong with the BLM wild horse program, which uses roundups as its principal management tool.

BLM often says it is "mandated by law" to gather up wild horses from public land. The fact is, the law doesn't say that. It allows BLM to use roundups as one of the management tools at its disposal, but it doesn't order the agency to gather up mustangs.

Critics say BLM always uses roundups as its first choice. The fact that there are now more wild horses in captivity than on tens of millions of public acres proves something is wrong with the program.
The Black Rock Desert and surrounding range is stark and beautiful, but not what you would call a garden spot. But it is just fine for wild horses and is one of the last remaining mustang strongholds in the nation -- at least it was.
The BLM determined that 3,000 horses spread across more than half a million acres were simply too many, so they set out in December to gather them up.

The imagery of the roundup is unmistakably moving. On one January day, BLM contractors herded yet another band of mustangs across miles of rocky terrain, and then into a temporary corral, but the cowboys missed the stallion of the band.

Observers watched as he inched closer and closer to his mares, oblivious to the possibility of capture, and repeatedly called out to them, as if to ask, "What the heck was happening?" It's one of the questions the public has been asking about BLM's aggressive schedule of roundups, including the Calico roundup conducted in weather so harsh it repeatedly shut down the operation several times.
As always, BLM says it was done for the good of the horses.

"The reason we did go forward was based on the fact that if we didn't gather this winter, we would really have an emergency situation this summer," said BLM District Manager Gene Seidlitz.

According to Seidlitz, BLM is mandated by law to gather excess horses, and he says the bureau did extensive monitoring to confirm the numbers. But the fact is, the numbers were wrong and BLM knows it.
Critics told BLM before the roundup there weren't nearly as many horses in Calico as predicted. BLM said it planned to gather up to 2,700 mustangs, but it couldn't find that many.

They stopped about 700 horses fewer than their its target. How could they be that far off?

"There's a lot of migration of wild horses going on that we didn't realize until recently," said Seidlitz.

Wild horses migrating across invisible boundary lines? Who knew?

Critics like Cindy MacDonald say the problem is inherent because BLM doesn't do much observation work. Rather, it depends on estimates to create what's called AML -- Appropriate Management Level -- desired targets that were written up 10 or more years earlier.

"They are supposed to being doing these population levels based on range land data. Instead they use population charts and just check off little boxes, no proof required. Then they turn around and authorize tons of livestock units," she said.

BLM says its primary job is to protect the land and that horses are incredibly destructive. In roundup after roundup, the agency claims horses are starving and that the range is imperiled, but the agency sometimes has trouble keeping its story straight, especially when it comes to cattle.
In January 2008, for instance, BLM authorized a 300-percent increase in the number of cattle that could graze in the very same Calico area. BLM experts said at the time that the impact from wild horses in the area as minimal, which meant the number of authorized cattle could increase.

Two months after the jump in cattle was approved, BLM produced a new survey claiming the wild horse population was had jumped from 500 to more than 3,000 in just four years -- an increase critics say is preposterous.

Nonetheless, more cattle were authorized and the horses had to go.

Attorney Valerie Stanley accomplished what no one else has done. She stopped a BLM roundup by taking them to federal court in Colorado. Stanley argued that BLM tends to make stuff up as it goes along. The judge agreed.
"BLM for so long has just had this position of whatever they say goes," she said.

BLM might get used to seeing Valerie Stanley. She has agreed to devote her practice to stopping planned roundups, and there are a lot of them in the works.

Even though the Calico roundup is over, its effects are still being felt in the form of horses that are dying after being captured. Friday at 5, a look at the consequences of this equine harvest.

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