Wednesday, September 19, 2012

I didn't used to hate them (the BLM) ...

but now I'm pretty sure I do

Below is my response to the BLM's request for comments on the scoping document for the Pickens' Wild Horse Sanctuary near Elko, Nevada. Comments were due Wednesday, September 19, 2012. The BLM proposal is outrageous, inflexible and pretty much shows that the are trying to make the sanctuary fail and if they can't do that, they want to make sure advocates are as unhappy with Ms. Pickens as possible.

I see lawsuits in the future if the BLM gets away with their preferred alternative, which is to wipe out three HMA's, geld all stallions currently living there and removing mares are foals. Fencing in the whole allotment which is a ridiculous and expensive burden to place on Pickens and turning three viable herd management areas into herd areas which by definition, contain no wild horses and can not ever be returned to viable herd status is simply another example of the BLM's rigid and narrow view on the validity of the 1971 law.

Some of my comments were gleaned from the careful words of others. Some of the more bitchy, outraged parts are pure me.

September 19, 2012

BLM Elko District Office

Wells Field Office, 

3900 E. Idaho Street, 

Elko, NV 89801,

 Attn: Wild Horse  RE: Eco-Sanctuary, 
Fax at (775) 753-0385. Comments may also be submitted to the project e-mail address:
To Whom It May Concern,

The first comment is why don't you include contact information in your scoping letter? Eighteen pages of BLM documentation and pictures, ostensibly submitted online for comments, yet there is no address, no phone number, no fax number nor contact information included anywhere. This is not the first time I have read a scoping letter or E/A that has no contact information included. Why do you omit contact information in a document that has been designed to elicit comments?

Regarding your scoping document on the Nevada Eco-sanctuary, I have supported Saving America’s Mustangs’ (SAM’s) goals for the creation of a wild horse “eco- sanctuary” in northeastern Nevada from the very beginning. I thought the idea of returning horses to their original environment, utilizing the allotment for the benefit of the public to be able to see wild horses that aren't hidden away on private holding areas with little viewing except for occasional, selected, carefully controlled tours would be a great idea for people who want to see the beauty of wild horses and understand their role in the west.

However, I insist that these goals MUST BE accomplished without negatively impacting the wild horse herds living in the three Herd Management Areas (HMAs) that comprise the Antelope Complex . I truly believe that your plans for the eco-sanctuary, as alluded to in the scoping document and mentioned in the public meetings held a few weeks ago are the worst of all worlds for advocates and points to the worst of all futures for wild horse herds. What has been alluded to in public meetings is to wipe out the three HMA's that are included in or part of the Spruce allotment, gathering and removing all mares and foals, gelding all the stallions that currently live in those HMA's and re-designating those areas Herd Areas which will keep them from ever becoming HMA's at some future point should the sanctuary cease to exist. Has the BLM has ever looked at the SAM proposal in good faith, understanding that wild horses need to be protected on their designated lands while trying to come to a solution that was acceptable to all instead of this scorched earth solution that in essence removes three more Herd Management Areas from existence? 

Even though the BLM has come up with a variety of excuses for reducing the number of HMA's on public lands in the past 40 years, removing 111 herd areas representing over 20 million acres in the process, there is no law that says that the wild horses can't remain on the three HMA's that the Spruce allotment affects. In fact,  (Public Law 92-195) #1334 states “Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit a private landowner from maintaining wild free-roaming horses or burros on his private lands, or lands leased from the Government, if he does so in a manner that protects them from harassment, and if the animals were not willfully removed or enticed from the public lands.”

Jo Worley has said that the BLM does not make the laws, but if it re-interprets old ones it doesn't have to make any new ones. And in this case, your interpretation establishes a harsh and unyielding precedent, one that certainly alters the spirit of the 1971 legislation. Do you have any indication that SAM would want the horses in the three existing herd areas removed and stallions gelded? And please do not respond by saying that SAM has agreed with your proposal to remove them. That is not that same as Pickens' saying she doesn't want or won't accept the herds that currently roam on the Spruce allotment.

To be true to the spirit of the 1971 law, any eco-sanctuary proposals must be evaluated according to the following criteria to ensure the following:
Will not result in a loss of habitat (HMA acreage) for non-captive wild horse or burro populations;
Will not reduce Appropriate Management Levels (AMLs) for non-captive wild horses and burro populations;
Will not convert wild free-roaming populations or portions of populations to non- reproducing herds, as this would violate both the BLM’s mandate under the Act and its regulations.

In addition, I can't find any real justification in the scoping letter for the fence. The BLM has stated numerous times that wild horses, once in captivity, learn new behaviors and don't always adjust well to the wild. One of those behaviors is learning that they don't have to range far and wide for their food when pastures are lean. Certainly your gelding in holdings have learned some of these behaviors and it would be easier to control their movements with supplemental feed and water sources based on some of these learned behaviors. Until this is tried and found completely unworkable, I object to the establishment of the fence as a necessary part of the eco-sanctuary. And if they horses do the "unacceptable" and wander off the sanctuary, Pickens can just go get them, using some of the taxpayer funded stipend to do so. 

I also don't find any mention of migratory routes for wild horses (or any other wildlife). Where are those routes and why aren't they mentioned so that those routes can be discussed?

I support creation of a sanctuary where horses otherwise residing in holding facilities can live and roam. That can be easily done with the part of the proposal that turns the AML's for cattle into AML's for horses. However, I object to any attempt by the BLM to use an “eco-sanctuary” as an excuse for reducing the number of wild horses who are protected under federal law and/or the acreage available to them. You need to change your plan as it stands and incorporate the options mentioned above.