Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Open Letter to BLM: Stop the Calico Complex and other Gathers

Animal Law

wild horses and burrosTo: Mr. Jerome Fox, Winnemucca District Manager, Bureau of Land Management, 5100 E. Winnemucca Blvd., Winnemucca, NV 89445 Email: or Fax: 775.623.1503 Phone: 775.623.1500
Mr. Bob Abbey, Director, Bureau of Land Management, Email:
Ref.: DOI-BLM-NV-W30-2010-0001-EA
On behalf of members of Animal Law Coalition, I appreciate the opportunity to provide you with comments on the planned removal of 2,476-2,523 wild horses from the Nevada Calico Mountain Complex that is scheduled to begin December 1.  A number of ALC members enjoy the wild horses and burros and are very concerned that they are fast disappearing from the wild pursuant to what appears to be a concerted effort to eliminate them from their historic ranges and herd areas.
I ask you to halt this proposed roundup and removal of these animals. Animal Law Coalition members also urge DOI and BLM to place a moratorium on all scheduled roundups and removals pending a reassessment of the management of the wild horse and burros program.
The October 2009 Environmental Assessment (EA) is purportedly the basis for the decision to capture 2,476-2,787, release up to 264, and remove permanently 2,476-2,523 wild horses from the Nevada Calico Mountains Complex which includes the following Herd Management Area:
Black Rock Range East
Black Rock Range West
Calico Mountains
Granite Range
Warm Springs Canyon
By way of background, I point out that the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act, 16 U.S.C. §1331, et seq. requires that the BLM manage these animals "as components of the public lands" at the "minimal feasible level" to "maintain free-roaming behavior". The Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act requires them to be protected in their herd areas where they were living in 1971.  These animals are to be protected from "capture, ...harassment and death". 16 U.S.C. §1333 And that is what the federal government should do.
Instead, BLM's management of the wild horses and burros appears focused on removing them from public lands. From 1971 through 2007, over 267,000 wild horses and burros were removed from their homes by BLM. In 2001, BLM stepped up removals. According to the Government Accountability Office, "[s]ince then, about 10,600 animals have been removed, on average, per year." Just since 2001 the BLM has removed over 74,000 wild horses and burros. "BLM has reduced the nationwide population in the wild by about 40 percent since 2000.
The BLM gather schedules for 2009-2010 are found here and here.  They reveal a clear intent to zero out or eliminate these animals from their herd areas and even the BLM-created "herd management areas".  (The BLM has authorized itself to divide herd areas into "herd management areas", something not authorized by WFRHBA. 43 CFR 4710.3-1. In this way, with no statutory authority at all, BLM has limited wild horses and burros' access to thousands of acres that were historically their herd areas. This is done without thought about the horses' seasonal migration patterns or available resources. The BLM then removes wild horses and burros from the artificially created "herd management areas" on the basis there is insufficient forage, water or habitat! BLM also targets them for removal if they cross the artificial boundaries into their original herd areas.)
I would ask BLM to take into account a federal court order issued this past August, 2009 in Colorado Wild Horse and Burro Coalition, Inc. v. Salazar, No. 06-1609 (D.D.C 2009), where the Court ruled, to wit:
"It would be anomalous to infer that by authorizing the custodian of the wild free roaming horses and burros to ‘manage' them, Congress intended to permit the animals' custodian to subvert the primary policy of the statute by capturing and removing from the wild the very animals that Congress sought to protect from being captured and removed from the wild.
Defendants argue that the horses will not be ‘eradicated' or ‘eliminated' inasmuch as BLM intends to continue to manage the horses not in the wild but through private adoption or long-term care. ...But BLM's directive is ‘to protect and manage wild free-roaming horses and burros as components of the public lands . . . .' 16 U.S.C. § 1333(a) (emphasis added). Congress did not authorize BLM to ‘manage' the wild horses by corralling them for private maintenance or long-term care as non-wild free-roaming animals off of the public lands.
Upon removal for private adoption and/or long-term care, the ... Herd would forever cease to be ‘wild free-roaming' horses ‘as components of the public lands' contrary to Congress's intent to protect the horses from capture.
Moreover, the statute expressly provides that BLM's ‘management activities shall be at the minimal feasible level . . . .' It is difficult to think of a ‘management activity' that is farther from a ‘minimal feasible level' than removal."
wild horseAt the least, there has to be a better way to manage these animals other than by hiring criminals to run them down with helicopters and penning some for life and sending others to slaughter.
The EA itself is proof of a policy of zeroing out and eliminating wild horse herds contrary to the WFRHBA.

In this case the EA claims the permanent removal of up to 2,523 wild horses is necessary "to prevent deterioration of animal health and reduce impacts to rangeland and wildlife resources from overgrazing by wild horses." No evidence is offered of poor animal health. There is also no evidence offered to prove the wild horses are causing "impacts", that are presumably negative, to the "rangeland and wildlife resources". Whatever that means. BLM offers dated studies and a few photos of small areas to claim there is "heavy utilization" and the range is deteriorated or lacks water. Anyone can take photos of small, isolated areas and claim it is proof of the condition of the whole. 
In the EA BLM says "[a]djustment of the current AMLs will ...not be analyzed in this EA."  BLM says these herd areas will support only 586-976 wild horses and burros. By its own admission as reflected in Table 1 and on pp. 3, 4-5, Table 6 and accompanying text and on p. 33, BLM relies on AMLs set years ago. Surely anyone can see the data is now outdated. It is not enough to say, as BLM does in the EA, that the outdated AMLs were confirmed by a recent check of the U.S. Drought Monitor forecast and an aerial flyover of the region with the few isolated photos. The AMLs have not been supported by any current independent study of rangeland health. Surely, that would be the minimum BLM should do before terrifying these horses, injuring or killing them, decimating their herds and condemning them to a life in a small BLM-managed pen or to slaughter?
The EA also nowhere mentions that there are thousands of cattle and sheep that graze in this area and drink water, up to 30 gallons a day each. Livestock are notorious for fouling and trampling rangeland and water sources. Does BLM believe no one will notice this incredible omission?
Why doesn't BLM follow the recommendation of the Government Accountability Office and reduce the numbers of livestock in these areas? Especially if there really is an issue with the condition of the range. If there really is or will be a drought.
Curiously, BLM accepts its outdated AMLs as accurate, but then says it has made errors in the population census and that the numbers of wild horses are actually higher than previously thought.  So more must be removed....If BLM says there are more wild horses than there actually are, then the agency can say, as it does in this EA, that it must remove even more wild horses.  And if it turns out the initial census was accurate, which it likely was, BLM will have removed more wild horses than they were supposed to....And, if BLM continues to exaggerate the census, soon they will all be gone.  Is that the idea? I note despite the incredible number of wild horses slated for removal, the BLM plans more roundups for the Calico Mountain Complex regardless of the range condition or availability of water. 
The BLM is required by National Environmental Policy Act ("NEPA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321, et seq., to prepare Environmental Assessments or EAs or, if indicated, Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) or Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), for any proposed changes to public lands that may have a significant environmental impact.  The law directs the agency to identify environmental concerns, consider alternatives including no action at all and take a "hard look" at the problem and minimize significant environmental impact. A significant environmental impact includes actions that are likely to be highly controversial or have uncertain effects on the quality of our lives and that affect cultural and historical resources. 40 C.F.R. §1508.27(b).
In this case BLM offers a preliminary EA with outdated AMLs and no real assessment of the very significant environmental impact of removing thousands of wild horses from the Calico Mountain Complex.  Wild horses contribute significantly to the health of the ecosystem.
wild horsesAlso, surely, BLM cannot seriously suggest it has taken a "hard look" at different alternatives. The alternatives BLM proposed are simply (1) removing thousands of horses and sterilizing many of those remaining, (2) removing thousands of wild horses, or (3) doing nothing now, a "no action" alternative NEPA requires BLM to include.
What about other alternatives such as reducing the numbers of cattle or other livestock, bringing water to the wild horses if needed especially during peak grazing times, or adjusting herd management areas?
The EA also nowhere assesses the use of PZP, the contraceptive. BLM has not evaluated whether the genetic diversity can be sustained, whether the herds will remain self-sustaining with such low numbers, with many animals sterilized. There are also increasingly known health risks associated with PZP, none of which is even mentioned in the EA. And, nowhere does BLM mention, let alone assess, the devastating effect on herd behavior, the chaos and suffering that will occur with non-reproducing herds or where there are numbers of sterilized mares. This failure to consider these serious issues tells me BLM does not plan to manage these animals to "maintain a thriving natural ecological balance on the public lands" and "protect the natural ecological balance of all wildlife species which inhabit such lands, particularly endangered wildlife species" as required by WFRHBA.
Instead, the goal seems to be wholesale removal of the wild horses and burros. We know it's not because of rangeland health or else BLM would also remove or limit the numbers of cattle and sheep.  So why? More malls? More mining? More room for ORVs?  More casinos and golf courses? Surely we have enough without destroying these iconic wildlife, America's wild horses and burros?
Please reconsider this course of action. Place a moratorium on this proposed gather and all gather pending decisions by Congress as to the course of management of this wild horse and burro program. Thank you for any consideration.
Laura Allen
Executive Director
Animal Law Coalition
Attached to this article you will find comments submitted to BLM by wildlife ecologist Craig Downer.
Go here for more on Animal Law Coalition's call for a moratorium on the gathers and how you can help, and also go here for information about the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act and examples of other gathers that establish BLM's pattern and practice, its policy of zeroing out or eliminating America's wild horses.

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