Monday, June 23, 2014

Field Report: Life and Death ~ Wild Horses and Burros of Twin Peaks

Straight from the Horse's Heart

“Our Field Reporters, Kathy Gregg and Jesica Johnston, have been back to Twin Peaks HMA on behalf of the wild equines while representing Wild Horse Freedom Federation.  Their report, below, is both beautiful and heart rending in the way in which it is presented.  Many thanks to our intrepid reporters and please spread the word as the last of our wild horses and burros need both your voice and your help.  Please click (HERE) to download report complete with photo gallery.  Keep the faith my friends!” ~ R.T.


Twin Peaks and Buckhorn Wild Horse and Burro Herd Management Areas Survey June 7th, 8th and 9th 2014
Jesica Johnston, Environmental Scientist B.A, M.S.,

Kathy Gregg, Environmental Researcher Photographs by Jesica Johnston
Twin Peaks June 2014
Two experienced wildlife observers searched for three days for wild horses and burros and other wildlife in Northern California’s Twin Peaks and the Buckhorn Wild Horse and Burro Herd Management Areas (HMAs). We traveled approximately 138 miles over 3 days and 16 1⁄2 hours in the herd management areas. We drove slowly with many stops; some off-road hiking and almost constant searching with binoculars for signs of wild horses and wild burros. After 3 days, a total of only 12 wild horses and 20 wild burros were observed. Of those, 2 were horse foals and 1 was a burro foal. All observed horses and burros and range conditions appeared to be in excellent health with the exception of our discovery of one recently deceased wild horse.
During the survey there were times that only a short distance could be seen due to canyon walls but for the majority of the survey a distance of more than a mile in all directions could be seen and often a distance of many miles were observable with binoculars. This allows us to estimate that approximately 18% of the Twin Peaks HMA and 21% of the Buckhorn HMA were observed as a rough approximation.  Even though time and mileage was documented and a map available, HMA boundaries are poorly marked thus some mileage and hours in the herd management areas is estimated.
What was most obvious is the notable absence of wild horses and burros on their legally authorized herd areas.
Map of Public Land Roads Traveled (Red)
Twin Peaks Roads Traveled
Saturday 06/07/2014
Twin Peaks Herd Management Area: 54 miles and 3 hours Sand Pass and Smoke Creek Roads
We saw over 54 miles of the Twin Peaks Herd Management Area with diverse ecosystems; some with luscious streams and forage and trees and some with dry desert conditions and observed only 2 burros along Smoke Creek road and 17 burros near highway 395. We saw very few signs of any wild horses and burros in this area like trailing, tracks or manure until we reached the group living near highway 395. The Twin Peaks burros have a variety of colors; some have the mark of the cross on their backs and stripes on their legs and some have a fuzzier brown coat and some are black and some have a white muzzle and we even found one that was completely black. Although they are wild and cautious, they are very curious and attentively stand for photos.
Sunday 06/08/2014
We traveled a total of 66 miles and 9 hours on the Twin Peaks and Buckhorn HMAs.
Twin Peaks HMA: 26 miles 6 hours Rye Patch and Horne Ranch and a few off-shoot roads
Early summer is a wonderful time to visit this area and there are oceans of wildflowers blooming in Twin Peaks. One specifically that dominates the landscape in June is Mule’s Ears (Wyethia mollis) which are bright yellow sunflowers that cover the desert. It was the most spectacular display of this flower. Entire valleys and hillsides were blooming. Photos can hardly show the beauty we saw, but here are some photos. 
We saw two families of sage grouse hens and chicks on the east side of Observation Peak. These birds are currently nominated for the endangered species list and it is interesting to note that these were thriving in this area that was burned in 2012 and where domestic livestock have not grazed for the past two years.
While continually stopping and scanning the horizon with binoculars we saw no wild horses or burros until all of a sudden a big jack burro came trotting out of the juniper trees toward our vehicle and it seemed humorous that this burro gave the impression that he wanted us to be sure and not pass him by without spending some time with him – so of course we obliged. He was very curious and although we never got within 50 feet of him, he could be heard snorting – not aggressively, just in a communicative way. We saw this same burro a few years ago and had named him “Blink” since he seems to appear out of nowhere when you least expect it. He was very curious and seemed to appreciate our company as he watched us from the adjacent hillside as we ate our lunch.
Twin Peaks HMA and Buckhorn HMA: 40 miles 3 hours on the Buckhorn Byway Road
About 1500 domestic sheep were witnessed trespassing on our public HMA land. We also witnessed about 50 cattle in the off-limits to livestock burn area and there was even a new sign that said “Closed to Grazing”. The areas that burned during the Rush Fire of 2012 are off-limits to all domestic livestock – so these are trespass livestock and the livestock owners are in serious and willful federal violation of the rancher’s grazing permit but this appears to be “forgiven” by the BLM and casually ignored by the livestock permittees. Last summer at least ten individual cases of livestock trespass were documented on Twin Peaks and Buckhorn HMAs and these were reported to both the Eagle Lake and Surprise BLM Field Offices, but obviously it is still occurring in great numbers.
We saw one magnificent copper-colored buckskin wild horse casually grazing alone in a meadow. We had not seen him before but he will certainly be recognized if we see him in the future and he will not be easily forgotten. He was stunning. The wild horses and burros in these herd management areas are in excellent condition with shining coats, healthy weight, bright eyes and curious minds.
Monday 06/09/2014
Twin Peaks HMA: 18 miles 4 1⁄2 hours Rye Patch Road
This day gave us the highest and the lowest sentiments of any of our many trips to any wild horse and burro area. After much searching, we finally spotted the white stallion “Magic” way up near the top of a hill with his mare “Hope” and another little family band we call the Spanish family. Magic is the son of the great Twin Peaks stallion BraveHeart, who was captured and died at the hands of BLM in 2010. Because BraveHeart’s son “magically” appeared the following year after the BLM roundup and he had somehow avoided being captured, the name “Magic” just seemed like the only name he should have. We sometimes give wild horses and burros “names”; not to humanize them but for identification purposes when we share stories with other wild horse and burro devotees.
The Spanish family’s two year old colt had been seen just a few weeks ago with this family, but was now missing.
We watched and photographed Magic and Hope and the Spanish stallion with his charcoal colored dapple mare Spring and their dark brown yearling and their new brown foal for a long time by quietly sitting down in the tall grass and flowers. This was the highlight of the entire trip!
Leaving these wild families to continue their grazing, we headed back down to the road and before long we spotted something very startling – a dead horse. After close examination, we identified the horse as Shiny. Shiny had been one of the wild stallions that we had the good fortune to see and get to know on our previous visits. He was a bay who got his name from his exceptionally gleaming coat and had been half of a bachelor band with his buddy Curley until just a few weeks ago when these two stallions had been found with two mares.
Shiny on the right and his bachelor buddy Curly on the left – photo Sept 10, 2011
Shiny had been dead for a few days, but his body showed no apparent signs of physical trauma. His time in the desert was over. We can appreciate and be grateful that he lived his life truly wild and free as Mother Nature intended.
Miscellaneous Observations
As noticed on many previous trips since the livestock have been taken out, the abundance of lush forage and the lack of any signs of animals trailing in the Rush Fire burn area were very notable. In past years, animal trailing (trails of animals through the grass) was very noticeable, but with the removal of most livestock in the burn area and with very few wild horses and burros remaining in these herd management areas the signs of trailing are missing. Other obvious clues to the number and location of animals in this area are the conspicuous lack of horse and burro tracks or manure.
Other wildlife we observed: coyote, golden eagle, crows/ravens, vultures, hawks, wild hare, pigmy rabbit, water birds and many song birds, an owl, small herds of prong-horn antelope and deer, ground squirrels, insects and sage grouse. We saw what looked like a beaver pond area and also some underground burrows – possibly marmot? The land is finally healing and the wildlife have returned to their habitat after the devastating fire of 2012.
We found both Pilgrim Lake and Burnt Lake and many reservoirs were dry. This is usually the case in the late summer but not this early in the year despite the fact that the area had some good rains late in the winter and spring. With generations of passed down knowledge, the wild horses and burros do have “hidden” springs that are still flowing in canyons. One favorite oasis of all wildlife is known Big Spring and it has fresh water and high thick grass abounds.
The natural forage of sage, bitterbrush and native grasses was in abundance but in many areas there were acres and acres of invasive cheat grass. In some areas where domestic livestock have grazed, the vegetation was destroyed – it was very obvious. In areas where there were no domestic livestock, we especially noticed that the native grasses showed an almost pristine appearance due to the fact that there are so few wild horses and burros and the domestic livestock has been removed for almost two years.
Although in a few spots we saw wild horse or burro manure and stud piles, indicating that there were wild horses or burros living in the area, in most of these wild horse and burro HMAs there was none, validating that the wild horse population is very minimal.
BLM’s latest wild horse and burro population estimate for this area was approximately 1,750 but numerous independent aerial and ground surveys indicate there are far fewer remaining.
So … where are our wild horses and burros?
We found them…
at the Litchfield California and Palomino Valley Nevada BLM holding facilities.
BLM’s Litchfield holding facility near Susanville, California appeared to be about half full with approximately 500 wild horses and burros still standing in this “feedlot” situation while literally just over the hill the legally designated wild horse and burro land is almost empty. BLM’s Palomino Valley holding facility near Reno, Nevada also appeared approximately half full with about 1,000 wild horses standing in their “feedlot” corrals. They have no shade from the blazing sun and no shelter from the freezing winter winds. Horses were even lying down and trying to cool themselves in a few small indentations in the moist soil where a little water had leaked out from the trough. These magnificent wild animals should be in their legal herd areas. The BLM’s management is unjust, illegal and inhumane.
Final Thoughts
Per the 1971 Congressional Act, the land is to be devoted principally, but not exclusively, to the wild horses and wild burro’s welfare in keeping with the multiple-use management concept of public lands. Definition of “principally” is first, highest, foremost in importance, rank, worth or degree, chief, mainly, largely, chiefly, especially, particularly, mostly, primarily, above all, predominantly, in the main, for the most part, first and foremost. There are no “excess” wild horses and burros on their legally designated land. The American people are being misled by our government agencies that are mandated by Congressional Law to protect these animals. The wild horses and burros already have a place to live; and it is not in government corrals. These animals and this land do not belong to the government or BLM … the wild horses and burros and the lands belong to you and me.

Click (HERE) to download complete report WITH photos
Twin Peaks video: Twin Peaks 2011 Master’s Thesis by Jesica Johnston:
2012 Rush Fire Report: report-where-are-all-the-wild-horses-and-burros/
Twin Peaks May 2013 Report: notably-absent-from-california-herd-area-after-blm-roundup-and-fire/
Twin Peaks August 2013 Report: wild-burro-good-news-and-bad-news-from-twin-peaks-hma/
Twin Peaks Independent Aerial Survey Report: wild-horse-and-burro-aerial-population-survey/
Wild Horse Population Growth Research Report:
Twin Peaks October 2013 Report: have-all-the-wild-horses-and-burros-gone/

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