Saturday, October 1, 2011

NY Times Wild Horse Flap Gallops On

Straight from the Horse's Heart

Rebuttal by Lisa LeBlanc ~ Member WHFF Advisory Board

Article not News, BLM Propaganda Instead

photo by Laura Leigh
Dear Editor:
As an advocate for wild equines, I take issue with the tone and perceptions presented in the article written by Phil Taylor, published 9/20/11.
There is an assumption that those who advocate for wild horses and burros are simple reactionaries, that opinions are based strictly on heart-felt sympathies for an unwanted species of wild creatures, that knowledge is lacking in equines, wildlife, range ecology or economics. And that assumption would be wrong.
The majority of advocates base their conclusions on data presented in various published accounts authored by the Bureau of Land Management. Environmental Assessments – documents outlining ‘purpose and need’ criteria for removals of wild equines – are pored over ceaselessly by advocates, the information segmented, examined and held against comparisons of either historical data from the same field offices or other information published by the Bureau as it regards the Wild Horse and Burro Program. For example, nearly every word credited to agents of or documents by the BLM ascribes to a 20% per annum foaling rate, or population increase, for wild horses and burros. But that rate is rarely utilized. More recent documents have shown population estimates published by the Bureau routinely exceed 40% to 50% yearly for some areas, a biological improbability, given that gestation for horses and burros requires a physical commitment of 11 – 12 months, and several months after to successfully rear an infant. These estimates are based on the overall population within Herd Management Areas, disregarding the simple fact that only mares and jennies – the females of the species – give birth.
As with every living species, not every mare or jenny participates in breeding every year. Not every pregnancy comes to term. And not every infant born lives. There are no published suppositions or statistics from the BLM for on-the-range mortality, for either infants or adults. BLM published statistics regarding wild equines illustrate no acknowledgment or quantification of even the possibility of annual mortality on the range, nor for mortality in various short and long-term holding facilities around the country – simply long, unbroken lines of continuity and accumulation.
The 40,000 plus currently estimated in holding facilities are the culmination, since FY 2000, of what’s been removed and not adopted. While equines, under ideal circumstances, can be a long-lived species, they are not immortal. Those considered largely unadoptable and sent to long-term pastures in the Midwest are in their mid-to-late teens and older. While the comparative luxury of a grassland pasture can significantly add to the lifespan of an animal, it cannot convey perpetuity. Yet the numbers in short-term facilities and long-term pastures continue to climb, uninterrupted, year after year.
In August, 2010, BLM Director Robert Abbey wrote an op-ed for ‘Roll Call’, stating 38,365 wild horses and burros roamed the West. Various statistics from the Bureau have shown between 10,255 and 10,636 wild equines were removed from the range in FY 2010. Yet for 2011, the BLM has stipulated to an estimated 38,497 animals now roaming the West – more than 2010, despite the massive numbers removed. Estimates for the past two years show these populations at their highest since FY 2001; regardless of acceleration of removals and experimentation with contraceptives over the last decade and based solely on the data provided by the BLM, the ‘population estimates’ never seem to change for the better, only to the detriment of wild equines and the ranges they occupy.
Much of the outcry from the livestock industry is based on grazing allotments and water sources available on Public lands. And all but a very few designated Herd Management Areas – which wild equines are allowed to occupy ‘historically’ as a stipulation of the Wild Horse and Burro Act – include grazing allotments. Some grazing allotments cover as much as 86% of a Herd Management Area (HMA). Others, as in the case of two small Nevada HMAs, Granite Peak and Dogskin Mountains, are entirely encompassed by grazing allotments. Granite Peak currently hosts an estimated 38 wild horses; Dogskin Mountains, 22. Both areas are considered above allowable populations for wild equines – set at 18 and 15 animals, respectively and what land use plans stipulate the HMA can support. As a consequence, both HMAs are slated for wild equine removals in February of 2012. Yet Granite Peak’s livestock allowance for 7 months – April to October – is 967 cattle. While wild horses occupy HMAs year-round, livestock graze during the peak of forage growth and watershed. In essence, wild equines must share with livestock, then continue to survive on what’s left after cattle are removed. And, as a matter of course, wild equines will be vilified as the perpetrators of range degradation.
While wild equines are restricted to the areas they occupy, livestock are not. There is far more public land available to livestock than simply what’s contained within HMAs, but in the arena of wild equines versus livestock, tradition, rhetoric and perceptions are the coin of the realm. In the matter of Granite Peak’s current population, the ratio of livestock to wild equines is approximately 25 to 1 for seven out of 12 months. And this is not a singularity; it is a somewhat small scale version of what has always been an accepted standard – disproportionate allocation of resources.
Ms. Guilfoyle demonstrated an earnest desire by participating in observation of an actual removal, but the circumstances are somewhat questionable. As in past removals observed by agency leads and hand-picked investigative bodies, were the agents, wranglers and contractors alerted to her presence? Was it announced, the procedure sanitized and staged so as not to trouble the new chief? Many wild equine proponents have viewed and visually documented removals and the injuries caused, even from their furthest allowable vantage points. Still others have chronicled the physical decline and deaths in holding facilities that, while not caused directly by removal, are a consequence of it. There is spoken recognition of these animals as wild but their handling and their expected responses are similar to that afforded livestock; they are treated as if they are simply untrained stock, and the injuries escalate. Those that die after removal are still dead as a result of removal.
And why are removals conducted under public observation riddled with secrecy, rigidity and intrigue? The Bureau has no issues with authorizing wild equine removals. Environmental Assessments are created with implacable adherence to policy and procedure, effectively curtailing any relevant, though contrary, analysis by even the most learned members of the public. Yes, among wild equine supporters participating in public commentary in answer to Environmental Assessments, there are ‘urbans’, but being so should not rank their beliefs of no consequence. But there are also contingents of scientists, specializing in wildlife and associated biologies, ecology and equine reproductive immunology. There are professional horsemen and women. Some have made the study and documentation of particular herds their life’s work, earning expertise through generations of familiarity. Still others have acquired wild equine acumen through years of providing them sanctuary after removal. A majority of them live, work and ply their trades in the West. And none have been able to alter the course of a removal through the public process. When an Environmental Assessment is released for public commentary, the decision to remove wild equines has effectively already been made. Public observation of removals is essential to ensure that humane standards and protocols for these animals are adhered to and to report that observation. It isn’t capricious or whimsical. History has shown that without a public eye on removals, there are sure to be lapses into the kind of rough, thoughtless treatment that leaves foals orphaned or abandoned and adults fatally broken.
The only alternative recourse is through the courts. And legal recourse is wild equine advocacy tilting at windmills. For every minor victory, there are many more refusals by the courts to find in favor of advocates for lack of precedence or standing, for mootness on the merits of a case as the removals have already been concluded. Legal redress costs not only in terms of taxpayer money, but out of the pockets of those few who dare to stand up in a court of law for wild equines. Some are fortunate; there are lawyers for advocates who display a conscientious largesse in taking on the Federal government, a passionate devotion to the law as it regards parity for wild equines and those who represent them. But it is slow, arduous work and equine advocacy is, overall, not a wealthy one.
In the economic crater this country finds itself in, it’s indefensible that more money is appropriated for a program that seems unwilling to admit failure or foster any relationship outside the Bureau of Land Management or the Interior Department that is sympathetic to wild equines as anything other than adversarial. For every new and improved initiative over the years promising to bring the Wild Horse and Burro Program ‘under control’, there is also a consistent history of assurances and goals unmet, and of dark and underhanded practices in direct contravention of the Wild Horse and Burro Act. This latest attempt at control will also make history – as it strives to render surviving wild equines sterile or genetically unviable, it may well be sunset on the West’s wild horses and burros. Those whose opinions evidently matter, primarily stockmen, can look forward at last to having unfettered access to all they survey. But before sunset occurs, those who support wild equines recognize there must be high value placed on accountability - in the proof and actuality of data submitted, in consistency, agency-wide, of that data, integrity in both science and ethics, in independent investigations with no ties that bind to the Interior Department – all of which are currently and conspicuously absent from the Wild Horse and Burro Program.
Being a Wild Horse and Burro Specialist within the BLM is not necessarily a notation of experience or proficiency; being a Wild Horse and Burro Specialist is a job title. Conversely, denigrating those who support wild equines or assaying blame will not alter a broken program.  But affording supporters a little credence might. Even a modicum of weight should be granted to the  reliability of an abundance of unacknowledged reports by independent observers, researchers and subject-matter experts on foaling rates, mortality, humane treatment, range quality, cost effectiveness, environmental interaction between wild equines and other wildlife – testaments to expertise by those not affiliated with any government agency but constructed in an effort to balance out a game already fixed against wild equines.  
One horse for one year; 25 cattle for seven months. Even the urbanized public must be able to make a reasonable determination when presented with figures like this.
Lisa LeBlanc
Advisory Board,
Wild Horse Freedom Federation
A list of documentation, resources and citations is available upon request       

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