Marybeth Devlin comments on the Sulphur Wild Horse roundup plan


January 19, 2016
Cedar City Field Office
176 E DL Sargent Drive
Cedar City, UT 84721
Project Name: Sulphur Wild Horse Gather Plan

Document: Environmental Assessment — Preliminary

NEPA ID: DOI-UT-C010-2015-0011-EA
This letter responds to your request for substantive comments and new information that BLM-Cedar City should consider regarding the subject Plan. I submit mine as an interested party in behalf of the wild horses of the Sulphur Herd Management Area (HMA).

I support the use of radio collars to track the horses and the construction of a fence along Highway 21 for the safety of both horses and humans. However, I urge you to cancel the roundup-and-removals, discontinue PZP treatments, correct the fraudulent population-estimates, and take other specified corrective actions.

I suggest the addition of another alternative: Increase the AML, collar the horses, fence the Highway but remove interior fences, conserve apex predators, and install guzzlers throughout the HMA.

As for the proposed alternative, if BLM has confidence in the WinEquus population-growth modeling, then please note that the “removals only” alternative yields a median-trial average herd-size that is nearly 24% lower than the proposed alternative — 318 versus 417. As for PZP injections, they should be abandoned because they are dangerous to the mares, to the foals (born and unborn), and to the staff and volunteers that handle the pesticide.

For ease of reference, here are the links to the documents at issue:

News Release — 2015 EA

News Release — 2015 Public-Safety Removals

Sulphur Gather Environmental Assessment — Preliminary
Overpopulation, Forage Limitations

BLM lists overpopulation and forage / water limitations as the need for the proposed action. The “overpopulation” in this case merely means “over AML”. And because the AML is arbitrary and unscientific, it is meaningless. Range-conditions function as natural feedback to wild horses, allowing them to self-regulate their numbers. That is how Nature works. BLM is meddling unnecessarily. The intervention that is needed would be to offset the impact of livestock-grazing — eliminating interior fences that block wild-horse movement and installation of trick-tanks (guzzlers) to capture and store precipitation.
The Proposed Action

BLM-Cedar City plans to conduct two-to-four helicopter-style roundups-and-removal operations over the next 10 years to bring the herd’s alleged overpopulation down to the low-bound of the arbitrary management level (AML) — 165 horses on 265,675 acres — and maintain it there. BLM claims there are “excess” horses but the EA does not reveal the number. Instead, the EA goes on and on about the historical numbers and removals. Not even a “ballpark” figure is listed for how many horses BLM would remove initially, some sources have mentioned “over 500.”

BLM further plans to forcibly inject all of those few mares it plans to allow back into the HMA with PZP-22, the long-acting version of the pesticide. PZP is known to sterilize after as few as three injections in mares, or after just one shot in fillies that have not yet reached puberty. And the EA states that BLM plans to administer PZP treatments to yearling fillies.
Baseless and Biased Assumptions

A review of BLM’s data — its assumptions, claims, population-estimates, gather-data, and PZP-inoculations — for the Sulphur herd disclosed

Grossly-exaggerated estimates,
Failure to adjust for PZP’s contraceptive impact,
Failure to factor in wild-horse deaths on the range from natural causes,
Ignorance of the new study that found the effective birth-rate averages 10 percent,
Ignorance of the new data showing “hands-off” management results in 5-to-8 percent growth,
Failure to include studies — both old and new — that reveal PZP’s damaging impacts, and
Birth Rate versus Herd-Growth Rate

Before we examine BLM’s reported herd-growth rates of this HMA, it is important to understand the difference between the birth rate and the herd-growth rate. The birth-rate is not the same as — and should not be equated to — the population growth-rate. BLM claims an average birth rate in wild-horse herds of about 20% a year. But herd-growth is unlikely to reach 20 percent a year. Here’s why: Horses die.

An independent study reviewed BLM roundup-records for a representative sample of four herd management areas and a robust sample-size of 5,859 wild horses (Gregg, LeBlanc, and Johnston, 2014). While the researchers found an overall birth rate of just under 20 percent, they also found that half of foals perish in their first year of life. Thus, the effective foal-to-yearling survival rate is just 10 percent. Cedar City’s claim that 95% of the Sulphur foals survive is not credible. It is just self-serving for administrative convenience in equating the birth rate to the growth rate. That wrong assumption has been disproved. Moreover, I note that the 2013 inventory counted 25 foals born out of season. That anomaly was likely due to the PZP treatments, which research by Ransom et al. (2013) disclosed.

However, CCFO failed to include that study as a reference; and although it did cite another Ransom et al. study (2010), it was not included in the EA’s “References” section either.

Births outside the normal parturition-pulse put the survival of both the mares and foals at risk.
Adult Wild-Horse Mortality Rate Must Be Factored

But it is not only foals that die. Adult wild horses also perish. They succumb to illness, injury, and predation. Indeed, the EA claims that 8 horses were found dead in 2015. The adult death rate must be taken into consideration. Adult mortality is at least as high as the 5% a year for horses that die in short-term holding, where they are fed, watered, and provided care.

Given the 50% foal mortality-rate, and the 5%-or-higher average annual death rate of adult wild horses on the range, herd growth could not increase 20% a year, and a herd-population could not double in 4 years — refuting yet another BLM myth. But BLM ignores mortality — foal and adult — in its population-estimates, which exaggerates the numbers it posts.
The Herd-Growth Rate Must Necessarily Be Lower Than the Birth Rate

In light of the high foal-mortality rate and the expected adult wild-horse mortality rate, the herd-growth rate must always be lower than the average 20% birth rate. However, herd-growth rates many times higher than 20% — which would necessarily mean birth rates substantially higher still — are routinely found in BLM’s population data, including the year-to-year figures for Sulphur HMA and other HMAs under Cedar City Field Office’s jurisdiction. Stealthily inserting bogus birth-rates into the data, wrongly conflating birth-rates with population growth-rates, and failing to factor in mortality-rates — that is one of the ways BLM creates the false impression of a population-explosion.
Stochastic Events Also Reduce Herd Growth

BLM also fails to consider another factor limiting herd growth — stochastic events — which are random catastrophes such as wildfires or contagious diseases or pesticide treatments that suddenly wipe out mass-numbers of herd-members. Stochastic events can result in no-growth or even negative growth.

There was such an event recently in Kazakhstan, where 120,000 endangered Saiga antelope — half the world’s population — died off suddenly and inexplicably.

Imagine if such a catastrophe were to befall the Sulphur herd. Note that the Saiga deaths involved antelope-mothers and their calves. What if Sulphur’s few fertile mares and their foals perished all of a sudden, leaving mainly stallions and sterile old mares? BLM must proactively manage the herd per IUCN International Union for the Conservation of Nature guidelines, if only in case of stochastic events.
Maximum AML Set Below Minimum Viable Population

But “cooking the books” is not the only way BLM falsifies the population-picture. Another ruse BLM employs is restricting maximum herd-size below minimum-viable population (MVP) size. Then, whenever a herd is made to appear — via fictitious figures — to exceed the arbitrary management level, BLM screams “excess!” and declares an immediate need for mass-removals and sterilizations. It should be noted that more than 70 percent of the herds are “managed” below MVP, including Sulphur. What is the MVP? According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature: 2500, a number which could easily be accommodated by the 265,675 acres of the Sulphur HMA.
Phony Population-Estimates

According to BLM’s 2013 population-estimate, the Sulphur herd was reported to have had 384 members. The corresponding estimate for 2014 showed 718 horses.

Let’s do the math.

718 in 2014
– 384 in 2013
334 — an 87-percent increase (334 ÷ 384 = 87%).

This is improbable. Even if 87% were only the birth rate, it would be 335% higher than the 20% birth rate that BLM claims as average and which the independent study by Gregg et al. confirmed. Surely, herd growth — births minus deaths — could not be that high.

BLM attributes the impossibly-high estimate to “improved inventory methods.” But as has been pointed out to BLM previously, the “mark-resight” method, conducted by helicopter, appears to overcount the population. Indeed, as the report by the specialty-contractor who conducted the Red Desert Complex (Wyoming) census emphasized, there are assumptions and caveats that must be considered when evaluating the numbers, including the potential for having double-counted due to “horse activity (moving).” The method itself exaggerates the numbers.
Population and Gather Reports — The Data

Discrepancies were evident per a review of the …

HMA and HA Statistics reports for the Sulphur herd from 2008-2015,
Completed Gathers reports from 2009-2014, and the
Population-figure referenced in CCFO’s News-Release for 2015’s public-safety gather,
Sulphur HMA — Utah — Herd Population Changes — 2008 to 2016

The following chart merges the yearly population-estimates with the gather and contraceptive data to reveal how the numbers were calculated and where errors were made initially, which caused them to compound. The beginning-of-the-year figure for 2015 — the pre-gather estimate — was per the BLM’s pre-safety-gather News Release.

Max Beginning
Year AML Estimate R-up Done Foal-Crop and Other Figures, Estimates
2008 250 435 + 87 BLM estimated foal-crop @ 20%.
Falsely equated it to the herd-growth rate.
November 522 Pre-gather estimate = 435+87
362 Rounded up
333 Removed
29 Released
160 Assumed to have evaded capture
1 Tacked on
190 Post-gather estimate = 29+160+1
2009 190 + 40 BLM estimated foal-crop @ 21%
Falsely equated it to the herd-growth rate.
230 End-of-year estimate = 190+40
2010 230 + 67 BLM estimated foal-crop @ 29%
Falsely equated it to the herd-growth rate.
December 297 Pre-gather estimate = 230+67
250 Planned to gather
90 Rounded up — 36% of plan
30 Removed
38 Mares vaccinated with PZP
22 Other horses also released
207 Assumed: evaded capture
267 Post-gather estimate = 38+22+207

2011 267 + 53 BLM estimated foal-crop @ 20%
Falsely equated it to the herd-growth rate.
PZP would not have affected mares
—– already pregnant when inoculated.
320 End-of-year estimate = 267+53
2012 320 + 64 BLM estimated foal-crop @ 20%
Falsely equated it to the herd-growth rate.
But that birth-rate estimate was wrong.
PZP was at maximum effect and
—– would have reduced the foal-crop.
384 End-of-year estimate = 320+64

2013 384 +334 BLM estimated foal-crop @ 87%
Falsely equated it to the herd-growth rate.
Not only implausible generally, but
PZP was still exerting contraceptive
—– effect, would have reduced foal-crop.
718 End-of-year estimate = 384+334
2014 718 +144 BLM estimated foal-crop @ 20%
thus compounding earlier errors.
Falsely equated it to the herd-growth rate.
August 36 Rounded up — “outside”
30 Removed
6 Released
826 Assumed: Still present in HMA
– 2 Subtracted
830 End-of-year estimate = 718+144-30-2
2015 830 Public health and safety excuse used
to justify removing 100 wild horses
without an EA.
February – 101 Number removed — plus 2 horses
said to be “domestic.”
The subject EA states: “Currently there are
approximately 200 head of wild horses that
are within 6 miles of Highway 21. These
horses are continually on the highway in search
of space, forage and water.” EA pdf-page 28
My comments: So, 200 took the place of the
100? Implausible. Wild horses roam. It’s their
nature. That’s why a safety-fence is needed.
729 Adjusted population estimate
2015a 729 146 If BLM estimates foal-crop @ 20%
and falsely equates it to the herd-growth rate.
– 8 Deaths
867 End-of-year estimate = 729+146-8
2016 867 173 If BLM estimates foal-crop @ 20%
and falsely equates it to the herd-growth rate.
1040 Possible pre-gather estimate = 867+173
The discrepancies identified herein cast doubt on the validity of the population-estimates. These errors must be reconciled before any decisions regarding removal-actions are considered.
Not the First Time Population-Estimates Were Found to Be Flawed

In May 2014, I submitted comments regarding the environmental assessment for Bible Spring Complex, which is also under BLM-Cedar City’s jurisdiction. For the three HMAs and the one HA that compose the Complex, major discrepancies were disclosed — one-year growth-rate-estimates of …

125 %
131 %
153 %
157 %
249 %

Thus, the errors uncovered with regard to BLM’s population-estimates for the Sulphur HMA are not isolated instances. Together with those revealed for the Bible Spring Complex, these disparities point to a systemic problem.

Recommendations: BLM needs to correct its mathematical errors and acknowledge those mistakes to the public. Elected officials, local permittees, and ordinary taxpayers need to know that the population-estimates previously announced for the Sulphur HMA were wrong. BLM must take responsibility and inform the public that it portrayed an incorrect picture — an exaggerated picture — of the herd’s population.

Recommendations: Stop the inflammatory rhetoric. For example, the EA warns, ominously: “If horse populations were allowed to continue to double or triple throughout the HMA, wild horses would utilize all of the available AUM’s allocated for other resources.” EA pdf-page 27 Scare tactics have no place in a legitimate EA. Stop the nonsense.
Societal Impact of Inflated Population-Data

The population-estimates for the Sulphur HMA are flawed, exaggerated. The political fallout of this error has been to keep the public — particularly local elected officials and permittees — in an uproar over a false “overpopulation” that BLM’s faulty figures portray.

BLM needs to correct these errors and, more importantly, acknowledge them to the public. You must stop this phony-story-gone-viral of a wild-horse population-explosion in Utah.
County Commissions Pass Resolutions, but Commissioner Goes to Jail

The EA cited the resolutions that local county commissions have reportedly passed, demanding that BLM reduce the herd to AML. However, one of the ringleader-commissioners, Phil Lyman, was recently sentenced to jail after having been convicted of conspiring to operate off-road vehicles on public lands closed to off-road vehicles, and operation of off-road vehicles on public lands closed to off-road vehicles. He and a co-conspirator must pay their share of $96,000 in damage caused and serve 3 years probation.

Federal prosecutor Jared Bennett asked the judge to sentence Lyman to a “limited but reasonable” prison term to promote respect for the law and to deter others from committing the crime. Lyman knew the ride was illegal and he used his political office to recruit others to participate, he said.
Bogus Data Inflames Local Ranchers and Costs Wild Horses Their Freedom

The EA states that there have been requests over the past two years from land owners adjacent to the Sulphur HMA for removal of wild horses. These requests most surely came from renegade ranchers, such as LaVoy Finicum of Arizona who, inspired by Cliven Bundy, has gone public with his refusal to recognize BLM’s authority, to pay his grazing fees, and to comply with season-of-use. In Nevada, in addition to Cliven Bundy, Kevin Borba and Dan Filippini blatantly defied BLM’s authority; yet they too were pacified with concessions. BLM enables and rewards such bad behavior by caving in to it. There are likely permittees in Utah emulating Bundy, Borba, Filippini, and Finicum.

The EA’s proposed removals of wild horses and pesticide-treatments on the few allowed to remain appear designed to placate the seditious elected officials and their rogue-rancher constituents, who are making a play for taking over the Federal lands in Utah. However, the wild horses must not lose their freedom merely so that BLM can kowtow to rebellious elements in the human population. If you “come clean” and admit your errors, it will tend to deflate the “head-of-steam” that the officials and ranchers are building due to the false appearance created by fictitious figures on herd-growth.
Bundy Brothera and Finicum Lead Armed Takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

Ammon and Ryan Bundy, along with LaVoy Finicum are the “spokesmen” who have commandeered the Malheur Wildlife Refuge. Armed for battle, they continue, as of this writing, to occupy. Using Federal vehicles and machinery, they tore down a fence built to keep trespass-livestock out. They come and go as they please, even soliciting snacks and coffee creamer (French Vanilla) from supporters. The situation is out of control. BLM and FBI appear to be kowtowing to the rebels.

Here are excerpts from a news report:

The militants occupying the Refuge asked Harney County ranchers to tear up their leases with the Bureau of Land Management and stop paying the federal government to graze cattle on public land.

“I’ve done it. Cliven Bundy’s done it,” said LaVoy Finicum, an Arizona rancher and the militants’ defacto spokesman. “Now is the day. Now is the time. Are you going to wait for tomorrow? For next week? Next month? Next year? When? When will you stand up if not now?”

Finicum invited the ranchers to cancel their leases with the BLM at a ceremony before the media at the refuge on Saturday. He said two ranchers, one from New Mexico and another from Harney County, are scheduled to void their contracts publicly.

Ryan Bundy went on to emphasize his view that breaking away from the federal government means ranchers wouldn’t have to follow federal laws, like the Endangered Species Act.

LaVoy and the Bundys also acknowledged their proposition is risky. They said any rancher who joined them would get protection from the armed militants ….
CAWP Condones Abuse

The Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program (CAWP) for rounding up wild horses has farcical features. For example, hitting, kicking, striking, and beating a wild horse “in an abusive manner” is prohibited. The guidelines do not define at what point such mistreatment would be deemed “abusive” and, at any rate, there are no consequences identified for violating the prohibition.

Another example: The roundup–helicopter–the CAWP okays the use of helicopters — is not allowed to hit a wild horse. (There is plenty of video-footage showing that such ramming occurs.) If the helicopter hits a wild horse, what to do? The CAWP says: Document it! Again, there are no penalties for such abuse.

Yet another example: The helicopter-pilot must not drive wild horses to the point of exhaustion. The attending veterinarian–if there is one (the CAWP requires one be present but the EA says there “may” be one)–must “check for signs of exhaustion.” And …? And, nothing. Just check. No penalties.

One more example: The CAWP allows electric prods to be used on the horses “no more than three times during a procedure … except in extreme cases with approval ….” Who’s counting? Who is able to supervise properly in the chaotic conditions of a wild-horse roundup? Hotshots are abusive and should never be used. Ever.
BLM Lies about Impact of Abusive Roundup

The EA’s standard wording disinforms the reader that virtually all negative impacts of roundups disappear within hours to several days of when wild horses are released back into the HMA. That is false. Please refer to the report linked below. I recommend BLM add it to the “References” section after studying it and reforming your methods accordingly.
BLM Fails to Address Results of Helicopter Hearing

The EA states:

As required by regulation [43 CFR 4740.1(b)], a public hearing was held in Price, Utah on December 8, 2015 and will be held in subsequent years to discuss the use of helicopters and motorized vehicles in the management of Utah BLM’s wild horses and burros. … Comments received from the Preliminary Environmental Assessment (EA) and at those public meetings will be considered and, if applicable, will be addressed in management actions, NEPA documents, and decision documents using the most current direction from the National Wild Horse and Burro Program. EA pdf-page 44

I submitted detailed, substantive comments for the hearing. By now, BLM should have acted upon them and made reforms.
BLM Lies about Foal Weaning

In more standard wording, the EA states: “Nearly all foals that would be gathered would be over four months of age and some would be ready for weaning from their mothers. In private industry, domestic horses are normally weaned between four and six months of age.” EA pdf-page 37

Please note that in “private industry,” foals receive special feed and supplements, and they would be sheltered from the elements. In the wild, foals nurse for many months longer than in domestic settings, where the profit-motive leads breeders to wean early — a traumatic event for both foals and their dams.
Increased Foaling Rates?

BLM claims to need to reduce the wild-horse population. Yet the EA states: “Achieving the AML and improving the overall health and fitness of wild horses could also increase foaling and foaling survival rates over the current conditions.” EA pdf-page 36 This is an example of BLM’s eagerness to justify the unjustifiable. But in so doing, BLM belies its own contentions.
BLM Lies about Population Growth

In looking for every reason not to adopt any alternative but the proposed one, BLM insists repeatedly that unless mass-removals and PZP treatments are conducted, “… wild horse populations may increase at a faster rate and exceed the high end of the AML ….” EA pdf-page 38 However, that contradicts the WinEquus population-projections, which show a higher median-trial population for the proposed action.
BLM Lies about PZP Safety

The EA claims PZP injections would not affect unborn foals. That is false.

Sacco et al. reported that, per radioimmunoassay, PZP antibodies are transferred from mother to young via the placenta and milk. The transferred antibodies cross-react with and bind to the zonae pellucidae of female offspring, as demonstrated by immunofluorescent techniques. These findings were disclosed in 1981. Yet, PZP is regularly administered to pregnant and lactating mares, who transfer the destructive antibodies to their fetus, via the placenta, and to their foal, via mother’s milk.

If mares are injected with PZP while pregnant or nursing, these fillies will already have PZP antibodies cross-reacted with and bound to their zonae. Therefore, when such fillies are injected as yearlings, it will be their second treatment, or potentially even their third. In fact, they could already have been sterilized in utero or while nursing.
BLM Lies about Gender Ratio

The EA warns that gender-ratios could become lopsided if the proposed action were not taken: “Near normal populations exhibit a 1:1 sex ratio. Population shifts favoring males could occur as males are better adapted to compete for resources during changing environmental conditions.” EA pdf-page 41

But BLM also advises that, for the WinEquus population-modeling trials, one of the assumptions employed was: “Sex ratio at birth: 58% males.” EA pdf-page 90 Further, I note that following the 2008 gather, 12 females and 17 males were returned to the range, giving males a 59:41 percent advantage to the males. Finally, bachelor-stallions are more successful in escaping from helicopter-roundups. They have no mares and foals to protect. So, the roundup-method itself creates a post-gather herd skewed to more males than females.
BLM Uses Obsolete Range Assessment Technique

The EA states that the “Key Forage” method was used to evaluate range-conditions. The full title of that approach is the “Key Forage Plant” (KFP) method. However, KFP is obsolete, having been replaced by the Landscape Appearance method as far back as 1996. Moreover, per Technical Reference 1734-7, Ecological Site Inventory, such qualitative assessments “may result in reduced accuracy, limiting use of the data.” If for only this reason, I cannot rely on the EA’s representations regarding conditions in the Sulphur HMA.
BLM Lies about Year-Round Wild-Horse Presence

The EA states that wild horses do more damage because they are present year-round as opposed to livestock, which supposedly are not. However, inspection of the Active-Use chart EA pdf-page 20 reveals that nearly 49% of the livestock allotments are used year-round, and 67% are used 8-to-12 months. Further, actual-use is whatever the permit-holders self-report. Going back to the rogue ranchers in open rebellion against BLM, it is likely that real use is much higher than “actual.”
BLM Hauls Water but Fails to Install Guzzlers

BLM states that water is the limiting factor for wild-horse populations, and claims to have hauled 160,000 galllons of water into the HMA last summer for the wild horses. EA pdf-page 20 What this points to is the need for guzzlers — trick-tanks — to capture and store whatever precipitation there is.
BLM Falsely Blames Wild Horses for Damage to Riparian Areas

In its zeal to condemn the wild horses, BLM lumps wild horses in with livestock as responsible for damage to riparian areas. Yet, the EA also notes that it “is not the nature of wild horses to rest exceedingly at water sources.” EA pdf-page 53 Stop the false accusations. Your bias is showing.
BLM Plans to Use Barbed Wire for Safety Fence

Horses and barbed wire do not mix. Yet, the EA states that barbed wire will be used for the fence along Highway 21. That is not good enough. You need to use appropriate materials that pose less risk of injuring the horses.

Here are some links to information on the various types of fences and their price-ranges. Note: I have no connection whatsoever with any of these groups.
BLM Notes Interior Fences Block Wild Horses

The EA admits, without further explanation: “Construction of fences within Sulphur HMA boundaries could inhibit the free-roaming nature of wild horses.” EA pdf-page 42 It is time to remove interior fences, not to install more. This matter needs to be resolved.
Finally, Some Truth-Telling

It was refreshing to encounter at least some truthfulness in the EA:

At the turn of the century, large herds of livestock grazed on unreserved public domain in uncontrolled open range. Eventually, the range was stocked beyond its capacity, causing changes in plant, soil and water relationships. Some speculate that the changes were permanent and irreversible, turning plant communities from grass and herbaceous species to brush and trees. EA pdf-page 43

BLM needs to stick to the facts and cease blaming wild horses for what livestock already did.

Please consider these substantive comments and new information — new to BLM — and make the necessary course-corrections and reforms.

Marybeth Devlin

2 thoughts on “Marybeth Devlin comments on the Sulphur Wild Horse roundup plan

  1. This letter and the links provided, should be copied and presented to our elected officials as well as the Dept. of Justice. With Marybeth’s permission, I will gladly present it to my senators and congressman.

  2. This is just excellent. I shared widely with this comment: Excellent! How can these ogres in the BLM and their complices continue to get away with this farce?!

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