Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Abbey Gives Go Ahead for Calico Gather in Defiance of Federal Judge’s Recommendation

Horseback Magazine

By Steven Long
HOUSTON, (Horseback) – The director of the federal Bureau of Land Management personally gave a thumbs up to go ahead with a Nevada “gather” of wild horses.
“The decision to proceed with the Calico gather after Judge Friedman's ruling was made by Winnemucca Field District Manager Gene Seidlitz with the concurrence of BLM-Nevada State Director Ron Wenker and BLM Director Bob Abbey,” said BLM National spokesman Tom Gorey.
U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman ruled two days before Christmas that the agency could go ahead with the roundup of wild horses in Western Nevada near the site of the famed Comstock Load, yet issued a pointed recommendation that the gather not proceed saying the agency faced a “conundrum.”
Friedman ruled that the agency practice of holding captured mustangs in large holding facilities is likely against the law and that it would be ill advised to proceed with the “Calico Gather” which was planned for December 28. Abbey clearly felt otherwise.
Gorey said the agency would have no further comment on its director’s decision to go ahead with the action which has drawn criticism from coast to coast and international press coverage in a perfect storm of protest by wild horse lovers.
“Judge Friedman's decision of Dec. 23, 2009, speaks for itself,” Gorey said. “The BLM has no further comment to make about the ruling, particularly since this legal matter is still under litigation,” he told Horseback Magazine.
The roundup began on Monday as planned and BLM barred press and public from witnessing the roundup. On Wednesday, the BLM escorted a small group of journalists to the site to observe the horses in a very controlled media event.
Wild Horse advocates claim that in the BLM roundups horses are stampeded down mountainsides, injured, and killed as they run from a roaring helicopter flying at low altitude. Horseback Magazine has repeatedly asked to witness BLM gathers, including the Calico, on horseback. BLM has denied the request.
Parts of the roundup are held on private land.
“The reason we have parts of it on private land is because it is the only way to have access to the horses for certain areas. They are really rough areas to get to. The private land is the only way we can get in there and get to them,” said BLM spokeswoman Heather Emmons.
The BLM denies that any horses are being removed from private property at taxpayer expense. Such removal would likely require reimbursement of the federal government by landowners for removing the horses. Many western ranchers view wild horses on their land as competition for their cattle.
BLM has refused to divulge the name of the property owner(s) whose land is being used for the gather other than to say it is not taking place on nearby Indian land.
Horseback has also repeatedly sought an interview with Abbey but has been refused.
In 2008, 45 percent of the roundups resulted in at least one fatality, and on another roundup in Nevada, 27 horses died. The total number of deaths through injury or for other reasons totaled 126 animals last year.
The percentage of dead horses on BLM roundups this year is slightly worse at 46 percent resulting in at least one horse death. In July, a Wyoming gather proved fatal to 11 horses. Through September of this year, 79 horses have died as the agency rushes to clear wild horses from the West.
Over the last two years a total of 205 horses have died at the agency’s hands during its “gathers” to thin the herds despite the almost 260 million acres of vacant land managed by BLM.
Wild horse advocates claim the BLM roundups are genetically bankrupting the herds to the point of extinction.
The horse habitat set aside by the 1971 Free Roaming Wild Horse and Burro Act is coveted by ranchers for grazing land who sign leases at fire sale prices of $1.35 per cow per month.


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