June 30, 2010
By Steven Long
HOUSTON, (Horseback) – The federal Bureau of Land Management, under siege by press and public for it’s handling of offshore drilling, again has proven it is an agency with a tin ear when it comes to public relations.
With 150 horses and foals now dead in the wake of the most deadly “gather” in BLM history, the agency continues with an apparent government cover-up of the number of horses remaining in Nevada’s remote Calico Mountains.
The BLM refused to allow outside observers on an equine census of the area in late June, according to national spokesman Tom Gorey. It even covered up the fact that a census was being taken at all until after the fact, despite pleas from wild horse activists to be allowed to go along on census flights as independent observers.
Last week, in a detailed report of an independent fly-over of the Calico “gather” area acclaimed naturalist Craig Downer saw only sparse evidence of any remaining horses on hundreds of thousands of acres of BLM land. He also recorded thousands of cattle.
Downer’s report was first published by Horseback Online and still can be read here in its entirety.
“The Calico Complex aerial census was completed Sunday and we expect to
issue a news release on the results shortly (within the next day or so),” Gorey said. “No third parties/independent observers were allowed to ride in the aircraft conducting the survey.”
Gorey cited existing BLM policy for the agency refusal to allow outside observers on the observation flights.
“This is in accordance with existing BLM policy and is done for reasons of safety and liability. Additionally, observers must be trained. Accuracy of the counts strongly depends on the skill of the observer and is affected by the ruggedness of the terrain and the presence of vegetation cover.”
Downer has spent decades observing wild horse in their natural habitat, both from the air, and from the ground.
BLM personnel have a long history of mathematical errors in their reports as cited in several Horseback stories last year.
Ironically, other government agencies routinely allow the press and other observers on flights, including in war zones where the media is often imbedded with soldiers, sailors, marines, and airborne troops in combat. The independent observers are acknowledged to deliver accurate reports, even in the stressful environment of war with little or no training before an engagement.
Gorey acknowledged a large number of deaths came from horses trying to escape a roaring helicopter chase by a Utah contractor hired by the BLM.
“Yes, the BLM acknowledges that at gathers some fatalities directly result from the horses being driven by the helicopter,” Gorey said. “The direct mortality rate resulting from helicopter-driven gathers is usually less than one percent.”
The BLM declines to acknowledge what is a statistically acceptable death rate on its roundups of wild horses. The Calico roundup took place in the dead of winter in rocky mountainous terrain where horses were run over miles and miles of rugged wilderness.
Gorey detailed the carnage.
“Seven died or were euthanized at the gather site; 101 have died or were euthanized at the Fallon facility. The BLM does not keep a count of miscarriages, but we did note in the daily reports those miscarriages that we observed.”
Two foals died after their hooves were run off as they tried to escape the roaring helicopter.
“Two foals died as you described,” Gorey said, “No other horses died of hoof abscesses.”
In the Calico “gather,” something went dreadfully wrong.
“In 2009, the number of direct fatalities (out of more than 7,500 horses gathered) was 0.53 percent,” Gorey said. “Some indirect mortality also occurs, usually associated with older horses in poor to very poor condition when gathered. These already weakened horses, many of which would likely die on the range if not gathered, are examined by staff professionals and veterinarians and are euthanized if they are unlikely to improve or do not respond to treatment.”
The government spokesman painted a benign word portrait of humane euthanasia of geriatric horses. Yet the BLM reports published on the Internet records what amounts to wholesale slaughter of wild horses from Calico in which some were routinely put down by government vets, one of whom was unlicensed to practice in Nevada.
Photo “Freedom” by Craig Downer