Baker County, Georgia 

Baker County, Georgia

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Is the BLM Living Up
to Its Announced Reforms of
'new normal' for Doing Business?

by Carol Knight Watson
So Far, So Bad.
All the photos in this post were taken by Arla M. Ruggles, working with Grass Roots Horse to document the wild horse herds and the range conditions with field reports and photographs. An important report from this group follows at the end of this post.
     On February 24, 2011, BLM Director Bob Abbey announced fundamental reforms to how it manages the Wild Horse and Burro Program. Under the authority of the 1971 Wild, Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, the Bureau of Land Management and the U. S. Forest Service are to manage, protect, and control wild horses and burros. But almost immediately upon enactment of the bill, the very program created to protect these animals was and still is manipulated for political considerations rather than managed on sound ecological policy. (For historical information, see our May 4, 2011, post: “Now, Here Comes the Government” in our Archives.)
     The reforms outlined by Director Abbey include:
     • reducing the number of wild horses and burros removed from the range for at least the next two years
     • increasing adoptions 
     • significantly expanding the use of fertility control to maintain (reduce?) herd levels
     • reaffirming the central role that the National Academy of Sciences’ ongoing review of the Wild Horse and Burro Program will have on science-based management decisions  
     • conducting thorough reviews and adding appropriate controls to the agency’s contracts and policies to strengthen humane animal care and handling practices, applicable to both roundup contracts and short and long-term holding facility contracts 
     • enhancing public outreach
     • recruiting local volunteers to assist in monitoring the health of the rangelands where animals roam
     • encouraging partnerships to increase herd-related ecotourism
BLM Summer 2011 Gather Schedule
     In its June 20, 2011, news release, the BLM announced its “Gather Schedule for Summer 2011.” Director Abbey stated, “With the new gather season starting in July, we must carry out these gathers in a fully transparent manner. That includes taking full ownership of what we do and by sharing both the positive and negative news with our various publics, whatever criticism may come our way.” The announcement stated that the public and media are invited to observe the gathers. Observation points will be determined by the BLM in a manner that recognizes the need for good viewing sites, along with the need to ensure viewer and animal safety.
     In reviewing this “gather” (I suppose a “gather” alludes to a less violent event than a “roundup.”) schedule, the BLM has planned for the roundup of 4,651 wild horses and the removal of 3,747. No burros are scheduled for roundup or removal. 
     An updated roundup schedule was released on July 5. (See Gather Schedule.) The changes were the addition of a roundup and removal of 54 animals at the China Lake Naval Weapons Station in California; 50 additional animals added to the 250 planned for roundup and removal from the Piceance/East Douglas Herd Management Area in Colorado; and the three roundups, totaling 250 animals, by the U. S. Forest Service were omitted. It appears that this updated schedule was for the BLM only and did not include the Forest Service. As of July 5, the new figures then, including the Forest Service numbers, are 4,755 wild horses planned for roundup and 3,851 for removal.      
     Recognizing that the BLM’s fiscal year (FY) is from October 1 to September 30, to date in FY 2011, 7,155 animals have already been rounded up, with 5,769 removed from the range. So, collectively, for FY 2011, the total number of animals planned for roundup will total 11,910, with 9,620 animals removed from the range.
     In FY 2010, the BLM reports show that 9,715 horses and 540 burros were removed from public lands, with only 3,074 adopted. If these figures are anywhere close to being accurate, 635 fewer animals will be taken from their home in FY 2011 than in FY 2010. Good news for those 635 wild horses! But, if this 6 percent reduction is a token of Director Abbey’s pledge to “...create a ‘new normal’ for doing business,” it feels like a slap in the face: the continuation of “business as usual.”
Acknowledge An Enemy: 
The Livestock Industry and Its Lobby
     The wild horses and burros are being used as scapegoats for any and all destruction of public lands. This destruction is being perpetrated by millions of privately owned livestock, while the Bureau of Land Management continually blames a few thousand mustangs and wild burros for the damage. Not only are there no consequences for those causing the problem, the ranchers continue to be subsidized in their very profitable pursuits. Ranchers pay a grazing fee of $1.35 per animal unit month (AUM). One animal equals one cow and her calf, one horse, or five goats or sheep. Remember, this is public land that belongs to all of us.
photo by Arla M. Ruggles
    Increasing Adoptions 
     Adoptions to date in FY 2011 are 799 animals. No breakdown is shown between mustangs and wild burros. In addition to the Adopt-A-Horse-and-Burro Program, the BLM directly sells animals who are more than 10 years of age and those younger who have been passed over for adoption at least three times. These animals are kept in the BLM’s long-term pastures and short-term corrals. FY 2011 sales through June 24, 2011, are 556 mustangs and 16 wild burros.  
     In FY 2010, 2,742 mustangs and 332 wild burros were adopted; 530 mustangs and 15 wild burros were sold.
     In some of its material, the BLM lists a number of suggestions as possible actions to increase the number of adoptions of wild horses and burros:
     • Improve adoption coordination at national/state/local levels.
     • Increase the use of internet-based adoptions.
     • Expand private, university, and non-profit organization partnerships to include training of animals to be adopted.
     • Increase youth-oriented education for improved adoption awareness.
Fertility Control
     In specific herd management areas, the BLM will adjust herd sex ratios (60 stallions/40 mares) to reduce the number of on-the-range pregnancies. The agency also gelds some stallions prior to their release back on the range. The BLM’s summer roundup schedule lists 363 geldings to be released. 
     The summer roundup schedule indicates 271 mares to be injected with PZP vaccine. To date, in FY 2011, 472 mares have already been treated with PZP. In FY 2010, 443 mares were given PZP vaccine. 

     PZP is porcine zona pellucida, an immunocontraceptive. Immuno-contraception is a non-hormonal form of contraception, based on the same principles as disease prevention through vaccination. An immuno-contraceptive causes the production of antibodies against some essential element of the reproductive process, thus preventing pregnancy. The zona pellucida is a thick membrane that surrounds the unfertilized eggs of mammals. In order for sperm to attach to the ovum and fertilize the egg, there must be complementary proteins on both the surface of the sperm and the zona pellucida of the ovum. PZP acts as a foreign protein against which the treated mare produces antibodies. (Thus, the PZP fertility control agent is actually a vaccine.) These antibodies attach to the mare’s zonae sperm receptors on the ovum and block fertilization. Domestic pig (porcine) ovaries (obtained from slaughterhouses) are minced and the PZP is obtained from screening filtration. An adjuvant is mixed with the PZP to enhance its effectiveness when it is injected into mares intramuscularly. Once injected, it causes an immune response, making the mare infertile. Over time, the antibody titers fall and fertility returns. A booster injection can be given at 10 months to raise the titers back to the infertile range. This can be done each year for at least four years, after which time the effects may be more likely to become permanent. For this reason, current individual-level field trials being overseen by the BLM, U. S. Geological Survey (USGS), and USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) involve only one to four years of treatment.
     PZP does no harm if injected into mares who are already pregnant—they carry foals to term. Initial research suggests that PZP does not affect ovarian function or hormonal health. Life span seems to increase with improved health of treated mares, apparently due to the absence of stresses from pregnancy and lactation. Treated mares can live five to 10 years longer than untreated mares who continue to get pregnant and produce young. An initial study suggested that harem behaviors are not influenced, and more in-depth investigations are currently underway. There appear to be no generational effects: Offspring of treated mares are able to reproduce normally. 
  PZP History
     From 1978 into the 1980s, the BLM worked through a series of research contracts focusing primarily on development of a chemosterilant for wild stallions. In the early 1990s, research turned to silicone implants in mares in an effort to achieve fertility control. Although both routes produced fertility control, they had too many drawbacks and were eventually abandoned. In light of these problems and the continuing need for some form of contraception, in 1991 the scientific community identified the desired characteristics for an ideal wild horse fertility control agent. Specifically, the agent should:
     • be at least 90 percent effective
     • be capable of administration by remote delivery
     • either be immediately reversible or its effects should passively wear off
     • be safe to pregnant animals
     • not pass through the natural food chain
     • be inexpensive
     • have no debilitating side effects on the health of the horses
     • not influence the social behavior of the horses
     This list of needs would drive much of the U. S. research on wild horse contraception during the 1990s, including research funded by both the BLM and the USGS. To meet the stated criteria, a National Park Service research team on Assateague Island National Seashore (off the coast of Maryland and Virginia) turned to PZP, which had been reported to block fertilization in dogs, rabbits, and primates. Experimental PZP application on the wild horses of Assateague Island commenced in 1988, resulting in promising reductions in the pregnancy rates of mares: By 1994, population growth began to stabilize solely through the use of PZP. 
  PZP Field Trials
     The USGS, BLM, and APHIS are currently overseeing individual-level field trials of PZP in free-roaming wild horses at three locations: Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range, Montana and Wyoming; McCullough Peaks Herd Management Area, Wyoming; and Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Range, Colorado. Application of PZP began in 2001 at Pryor Mountain, in 2002 at Little Book Cliffs, and in 2004 at McCullough Peaks. USGS researchers are investigating the potential behavioral impacts of fertility control treatments, as well as population dynamics and demographics in these herds. In addition, the three agencies are cooperating on population-level studies of the efficacy of PZP in several western horse herds. In these studies, population growth rate is the response variable.
     (Much of the above information on fertility control came from the U. S. Geological Survey, Fort Collins Science Center.)
photo by Arla M. Ruggles
 Animal Deaths During Roundups
     The BLM’s completed roundup reports list animals who have died as “Gather Related Deaths” or “Not Gather Related Deaths.” Gather Related Deaths are defined as animals who died or were euthanized at field gather sites due to acute injuries or medical conditions brought about by the gather and removal process, including those that occurred during capture, sorting, and holding at the gather site. Included are animals found dead in pens overnight and all animals who died for known or unknown reasons thought to be related to gather activities. These numbers only include deaths at capture sites and do not include deaths at short-term holding facilities.
     Not Gather Related Deaths are defined as animals who died or were euthanized, according to BLM policy, at field gather sites for reasons related to chronic or pre-existing conditions, such as poor body condition, lameness, serious physical defects, etc. Included are animals euthanized for conditions not brought about by the gather activity. These numbers only include deaths at capture sites and do not include deaths at short-term holding facilities.
     To date, for FY 2011 roundups, 24 gather-related deaths and 43 not-gather-related deaths are listed. In FY 2010 roundups, there were 26 gather-related deaths and 69 not-gather-related deaths.

 Partnership Sanctuaries
     Of major and heart-breaking concern are, according to BLM figures, the 39,950 wild horses and burros in short-term corrals and long-term pastures. Approximately 10,600 are in corrals and 29,350 in midwestern pastures. The cost for holding these animals in FY 2010 amounted to $36.9 million, 57 percent of the total budget for the Wild Horse and Burro Program of $63.9 million.
     On March 15, 2011, the BLM announced a solicitation for proposals for a program to develop partnerships with willing private landowners in order to provide sanctuary in the form of sustainable, long-term care in the most cost-effective manner for the wild horses and burros who have not been adopted
, as an alternative to the current practice of long-term pasture facilities. The closing date for the applications to be received was June 21, 2011. No further announcements have been made regarding this program.
The Wild Horses and Burros Need Your Help
     Please stay informed on how the Wild Horse and Burro Program is being managed. Since the Wild, Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act was signed into law on December 15, 1971, by President Richard M. Nixon, the BLM has been responsible for much misinformation being contrived regarding the numbers of mustangs and wild burros living on public lands and the purported damage they do to the environment. If you live in areas where the wild horses and burros live, look at the situation for yourself. View the BLM’s website often. Ask questions and give your comments to local and federal BLM officials, as well as your U. S. Senators and Representative. 
     As in all instances where innocents are involved, be they animals or children, those of us who care must speak and act for them. If we don’t, who will?
~                        ~                        ~                        ~                        ~     
 Eyes on the Wild Herds (from Grass Roots Horse)
  Goshute Creek Band
     grassrootshorse.com editor: This small band is slated to be removed during the Bureau of Land Managements roundup and removal of wild horses living in the Triple B Complex Herd Management Area in Nevada that is now scheduled to begin on July 6, 2011. We are continuing to become even more specific with the documentation of the range conditions and the herds so we can find a common language that we can share with those we need to partner with for the betterment of conditions for the wild horses and burros. It is of concern to me, in addition to the fate of the wild horses, that removing horses from this range may contribute to the risk of range fires during the next summer cycle.
Goshute Creek Band Field Report and Photographs
by Arla M. Ruggles
June 27, 2011: The Goshute Creek band of wild horses has returned to the vicinity of their normal territory, though they are still about two miles south of Goshute Creek, along the eastern bench of the Cherry Creek Mountains, and west of the fence.
June 27, 2011: In the photo above, the big mare (far right) is a domestic horse, due to foal the first of July. She belongs to a tenant at the Cherry Creek Ranch, and her straying into the wild band may have been a factor in pushing through this gather. 
Southeastern Butte Mountain, Nevada     
     grassrootshorse.com editor: As the scheduled July 1, 2011, start date fast approaches for the next round in an aggressive campaign by the government to begin “gathering” any wild horses they deem as “excess,” photographer, writer, and artist Arla Ruggles has been in the field reporting for us on the herds, the range conditions, and activities in the area that are of importance. The word “gather” is the Bureau of Land Management’s euphemism for the helicopter-driven hazing which stampedes the wild horses into capture pens, where they are carted off to parts unknown. Please read and share these documented “on-the-ground” field reports as they are showing a situation that is NOT in keeping with what the BLM has stated as being the truth and is, in fact, very different. Call your congress people and ask their help in stopping these needless roundups. Set up an appointment and take them the information. We will all be glad that you did. 
Butte Mountain Bands Field Report and Photographs
by Arla M. Ruggles  
     The wild bands inhabiting the eastern slopes of Butte Mountain are nearly impossible to get close to on the ground. They graze in the open, cleared areas and shelter in the dense juniper and pinon forests above that. The old road is barely visible in places and is littered with the corpses of long-dead tree stumps.
     Most often, I see clouds of dust and hear them interacting with one another, vocally and physically.
June 17, 2011, Butte Mountain 
     These horses are most often observed in late afternoon, as they make their way across a narrow valley and up to the spring at Horse Canyon. They are extremely shy and will scatter at the least disturbance to their quiet environment—which they share seasonally with an abundance of elk, a few deer and pronghorn antelope, and, periodically, transient sheep. Cattle are fed and watered in a broad area where crested wheat grows in abundance. I see the horses along the edges of this area, occasionally, but apparently they are not interested in the wheat grass.
June 17, 2011, Butte Mountain 
     Based on glimpses and physical evidence in the form of scat, trails, and rising dust, I estimate there are 50 to 60 wild horses in the main herd. 
     This is a diverse population with a wide assortment of colors including rare sabino roans, duns, and buckskins, as well as many bays and blacks.
     Notes from grassrootshorse.com editor: The public is denied the opportunity to verify for themselves that the captured wild horses are uninjured during the stampede or in transport. The public is also denied access to see if they arrive at their “intended” destination at government holding facilities and, if so, what condition they’re in. We have much to be concerned about as the BLM deals with the wild horses and burros under a shroud of secrecy. Past Government Accountability Reports have stated that much of the documentation on the wild horses in government “care” were not turned over to them, as they requested; and, in way too many instances, the records could not be found at all or “were lost.”
How to Use the Information in These Reports  
     • Arlas report and photo documentation, as usual, contains a great deal of information in few words. We see low numbers of wild horsesmuch lower than the BLM estimates are there. We see cattle, sheep, and an abundance of the type of wildlife prized by hunters.  
     • The BLM has options, other than roundups, that they are not using that are in keeping with the multiple use mandates for public lands, the Taylor Grazing Act, and, lest we forget, the Wild, Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act.  
     • The BLM is making poor choices at the expense of not only the fate of America’s wild horses and burros but the health and precious resources of our public lands.  
     • Please contact your congress people and ask for their help. Share this blog, print out our past reports, compile your own report with the information you feel your legislators need to know in order to put a stop to this lawbreaking and gross mismanagement.   
     • Please make a contribution to Grass Roots Horse, which is tax deductible. Volunteers are needed as well. 
Report on the BLM’s Public Hearing:
The Use of Motorized Vehicles and Aircraft to Gather Wild Horses
     grassrootshorse.com editor: The BLM conducted a public hearing at the BLMs Ely, Nevada, district field office on June 15, 2011, to receive information and public comment on using helicopters and fixed wing aircraft to inventory wild horse and burro populations and on using helicopters to gather and remove what the BLM deems are excess animals throughout Nevada. 
     A public hearing is required in order to comply with Section 404 of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act before helicopters or motorized vehicles can be used.
     Please see past blog posts and our website to see photographs of how the helicopters are used. Be advised that many, if not all, are graphic and disturbing.
     Photographer, writer, and artist Arla Ruggles has been documenting the range conditions and the wild horse herds scheduled to be rounded up during the July 2011 government “gather” of Triple B Complex in Nevada for Grass Roots Horse. She has been a witness to wild horse roundups and has first-hand knowledge of the herds throughout the years. She represented us at the public hearing, and we are grateful to have such a knowledgeable representative at the meeting. Below is her report.
Public Hearing
by Arla Ruggles
     There were only five attendants at the meeting (not counting BLM personnel).
     Brad Harmbrook, representing the Nevada Department of Wildlife, read from a prepared statement about the need for, and humanity of, roundups. He ran out of time before completion of his reading.
     Next to speak was Megan Brown from the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association. Ms. Brown could have simply picked up where Mr. Harmbrook left off, for it seemed as if they were both reading from the same paper. She read without conviction and ran out of time.
     Jeanne Nations, representing her private enterprise, Nations Horse World Wild Horse Photography Workshops, read her statement about the inhumanity of roundups. She recommended smaller gathers and the use of food and water traps. Ms. Nations described seeing mares die from exhaustion while being pursued by helicopters and spoke of the high death toll at the Calico gather (2008). She expressed concern for the many new foals on the targeted areas.
     Finally, I expressed, generally, the items on my written statement, including the conviction that my personal observation of roundup operations has convinced me that these methods are NOT humane or efficient. I stated that while I have no great objection to fixed wing aircraft inventories (fly-overs), these are not accurate and, thus, implored BLM to utilize the greater pool of information that is available to them through individuals in the field. I stated that there is a wealth of comprehensive information about local herds due to the prevalence of photographers documenting them over extended periods of time. I expressed my conviction that there ARE better ways to manage wild horse populations.
     The fifth person, a man with a large stack of papers, remained silent at the back of the room. 
~                        ~                        ~                        ~                        ~
     The drought conditions in Baker County have improved a little, which is great for the pastures. The temperature and humidity have continued to stay very high. The weatherman announced that the month of June was the hottest on record in Southwest Georgia. 
     Two of the donkeys are a little under the weather: Patty has been lying down more than usual, so we’re watching for founder. Jim, a wild burro from Lincoln County, Nevada, is limping on his right front leg. We’re keeping an eye on him, too.
     Bobby, who does a lot of work at Amberwood Sanctuary, is now beginning the major renovation of our old barn. The lumber purchased so far has cost a small fortune. If you can help financially, it would be a godsend.
     Talk to you next time. . .