Story and Photo by By Laura Leigh, Horseback Magazine
RENO, (Horseback) – The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has concluded operation in the Jackson Mountain removal of wild horses that began under the veil of an “emergency.”
On June 8, 2012 the operation began during BLM’s own prohibited “foaling season.” BLM prohibits the use of helicopters during roundups from March through June in all but emergent conditions. Yet the Record of Decision signed by District Manager Gene Seidlitz claimed the entire operation needed to occur regardless of the fact that the agency only justified an emergent condition in the South West quadrant of the Herd Management Area (HMA).
On June 16, 2012 Laura Leigh, founder of Wild Horse Education, filed a legal action against the roundup operation. The claim asked that the BLM be held to the parameters of their own rules, that only emergent areas constituted any action. The Judge ruled in Leigh’s favor on June 20. Judge Howard McKibben reviewed all documentation supplied by the agency and Leigh and determined that Leigh was correct.
However the agency played a word game and expanded the scope outside the quadrant that they determined the emergency to include the entire South of the HMA. At the time of the hearing more than 300 animals had been removed, including the area of concern, to relieve pressure off the stressed range and operations could have ceased entirely until July 1. The agency continued operations not justified in the EA. The hearing itself was an emergency hearing and the time required to hold this agency to any specifics of conduct was limited.
“Specific, accountable language is avoided by BLM at all costs,” said Wild Horse Education founder Laura Leigh, “a great example is the pretense of a humane care policy in the Record of Decision. In meetings prior to the start of the operation specifics of conduct were agreed to. Not one of the specifics made that document. Reassurances were given that those specifics would be followed during operation. In truth I witnessed one of the most careless, unnecessary runs I have ever seen that actually left me shaken for weeks.”
During operations other issues arose that created concern. The agency had claimed that the operation was not intended to reach Appropriate Management Level (AML) but intended as a “phased in approach.” During the first week of operation the number of foals coming off the range represented about a 14% birth rate. Mares were coming in pregnant. The agency refused to adjust numbers intended for removal.
In the assessments done to justify removal BLM asserted that there would be approximately 930 horses on the range, including the 2012 foal crop. The entire equation as to how many horses to remove was based on that estimate. Based on the number “930” a claim was made that more than 800 horses existed over what the agency determined to be a low of “appropriate,” about 680 animals above the “high” number of “appropriate.”
Yet the estimate of 930 includes a number of animals (foals) that did not yet exist.
The EA states: “The current population of wild horses within the HMA is approximately 740 adult wild horses and approximately 96 foals based on surveys conducted in early April 2012.” That means that 12.9% of the entire population increase expected had already hit the ground by April.
BLM asserts that “peak foaling season” is defined by 6 weeks to either side of actual “foaling season,” that begins within their defined protocol on March 1 and ends on July 1. So in essence we are to believe that more than half the expected population has been born only two weeks into actual defined “foaling season?” Is is within the scope of reason to believe this count included animals born late season in 2011?
Please keep in mind that the justification for “population” modeling to determine numbers of animals removed is gained by a computer program called “WinEquus.” This information is included in “Appendix F” of the EA. Please also note further down on page 150 it states “Foals are not included in AML.”
The WinEquus program is only as accurate, and honest, as the data it is supplied. When the data fails to recognize the effects of the claimed degradation of the range, decreasing the likelihood of efficient reproduction and includes an inflated growth rate the justification supplied by the program becomes false.
Currently the “genetic viability” standard used is 120-150 animals. This measure references reproductive adults, as foals are not reproductive and many factors exists that determine if they will reach reproductive age. Including a foal that uses considerably less forage in it’s first year than an adult, with no reassurance that it will ever reach reproductive age, is irresponsible.
Let’s simplify the concerns surrounding the “math” used at Jackson. I claim I have an estimated population of ten horses. I then tell you I expect a 22%-27% population increase. So I then tell you the number I am going to use is 13, but I can only have 3. I take ten off, 2 of them are pregnant. What do I have left?
In Algebra at school I think we all learned that what you do on one side of the equation you do equally to the other. If a pregnant mare counts as two in the justification to remove her she counts as two when I take her off, or my math is wrong. If I say I will have a 27% increase in numbers and I see a 14% increase, I need to adjust my numbers accordingly because my initial equation has been invalidated.
BLM refused to adjust target number.
In Jackson there are also two populations that have very little exchange. If I leave too few in one area I have just created a situation where I have caused a high likelihood of inbreeding. BLM usually answers this concern with either “the horses move,” (without any data to support the claim) or we will just take horses from another HMA and introduce them. If a population is unique and “integral” to the land “where presently found” under law, do these responses reflect the feral livestock practices the 1971 Act was intended to curtail or the law?
Furthermore the agency claimed that horses had travelled outside the HMA boundaries into areas that were once Herd Area lines that had been redrawn into HMA lines. If you look at historic action within this HMA you see the identical excuse used to justify removal. If it is a repetitive issue it speaks more to the inaccuracy of the lines than the horses failure to adhere to the “line in the sand.” Even though the authority exists to redetermine boundaries, and the public has requested such actions be explored, time and time again the agency fails to utilize any “tool in the toolbox” but removal.
Jackson Mountain was purported to be such an urgent situation that it required running foals and heavily pregnant mares by helicopter during foaling season yet no other use was given any formal restriction. The entire HMA was going to be run, prior to the Judges decision, at the most vulnerable time of year. One user in the South voluntarily removed livestock from an area where there was little forage for them anyway. Yet the district put nothing in place to restrict any user to actually create a situation that would justify the position of “we are doing this for the health of the range.” During operations horses were repeatedly run into traps where cattle literally were in, or near, the mouth of the trap.
“I watched one poor stallion try to hide his mare and foal in with the cattle and get the helicopter to chase him,” said Leigh “the majority of his band had already been captured in the run previous where he had escaped and tried to flee back home with this single mare and foal. The helicopter was focused on the mare and foal, the stallion fled back toward where he was driven from. The helicopter pushed the mare and foal from the grazing cattle and tried to drive them into the trap where the wranglers were standing upright. After refusing to go into the trap and fleeing toward observers the helicopter finally gave off chase of the mare and her newborn foal.”
Observation of the Jackson horses continued into holding.
According to the “gather reports” 132 foals were captured and a total of 647 animals taken. Of note is there are twelve deaths reported at the roundup location. The facility reports 633 animals received. If you add 633 to the twelve reported deaths you get 645, not 647. Of note are the number of animals that had “chronic” conditions that were able to live (and reproduce) on the range, run in extreme heat miles from a helicopter yet required euthanasia by the BLM in “non-gather” related deaths, 10 of the 12.
“In a run on the third day of operations I observed a band stallion that was obviously limping,” said Leigh “he had mares and two foals. I was under the distinct impression that the District Manager had given clear instructions that if an injured animal was noted the run would cease. This band was pushed into the trap. The following day BLM reported they euthanized two studs with what they called pre-existing conditions. Observation was severely restricted at holding where the stud pen and mares and foals could only be accurately observed on one day each week. I have not seen that stud again. A stallion that obviously was in good enough shape to keep a harem and breed, but not survive a roundup. Statistically his death will not accurately reflect reality.”
Observations at the facility confirmed that only the animals coming off the range in the first week of operations were compromised.
Observations also confirmed that births were continuing within the facility.
However the observation that has drawn the most concern is the visual discrepancy to the number of foals coming off the range. Repeated visual observation at the facility of the number of foals consistently provided information of an inadequate number within the facility compared to what was reported taken from the range. “Gather reports” claim that 132 foals were taken. The Decision of Record makes claim that mares and foals will ship immediately. The last visual observation of the facility showed about 82 foals, including those born at the facility (the end of BLM’s purported “foaling season” ). That included the number of foals in a holding area as their mares were processed. Even if a dozen foals remained at the trap for shipment the last day there still appears significant discrepancy. Is it possible that after the District Manager was made aware that numbers leaving the range did not match the projection used for removal that numbers were inflated? It seems odd that the number exactly gives you a “20%” rate. If for arguments sake we add 12 to the 82 observed and do a percentage we get 14.5%.
“When I go out to do a population growth estimate on a herd in late summer I usually end up with between a 14-16 percent average for foals born that year,” said Leigh “If you count late foals from the prior year you can creep up into the low 20 percentage ranges. When I do a foal count in July, for example, including an animal over seven months of age is an artificial and inaccurate count.”
It has been long suspected by the advocate community that BLM “double counts” to create an artificial impression of growth rates and over-population. If you are doing your population estimates from the air how do you judge foal rate? For example at Jackson Mountain a claim was made that only two weeks into actual “foaling season,” as defined by BLM, that a 12.9% growth in population had already occurred. Is it within reason to assume that count was inaccurate and included 2011 births?
“The greatest issue here is just how close to the edge of real irreversible damage the BLM is playing,” states Leigh “If the population estimate is inflated due to including foal crop of prior years and then fail to adjust procedure as you push populations dangerously low, we will loose the horses that stood integral to the land as unique symbols of history. It is not an exaggerated claim as BLM hides behind public relations ploys that paint advocates as overly emotional. You become emotional after dealing with injustice and unjustified adherence to outdated protocol.”
Further investigation into inflated growth estimates is ongoing at Jackson and several ranges in the state of Nevada.
Links of Interest:
To support the work: http://wildhorseeducation.org
AP article on Court win against BLM’s unjustified action at Jackson Mountain: http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gjerx5GrJTVx0SKRfJPrNQdS76Ew?
BLM Jackson Mountain Environmental Assessment: https://www.blm.gov/epl-front-
BLM Jackson Mountain Record of Decision: https://www.blm.gov/epl-front-office/projects/nepa/30004/37357/39160/Jackson_Mtns_DR_060712.pdf