Comments against the Wyoming checkerboard roundup and removal

Via email:  blm_wy_checkerboard_hmas@blm.gov

    September 9, 2016

BLM Rock Springs Field Office

280 Highway 191 North

Rock Springs, WY 82901

Attn: Wild Horse and Burro Specialist

Subject: Checkerboard EA Comments

Project: Roundup-and-Removal — Announced

Document: Environmental Assessment ( EA )

NEPA ID: DOI-BLM-WY-D040-2016-0135-EA

This letter responds to your request for substantive comments and informed analysis that BoLM Rock Springs Field Office (RSFO) should consider regarding the subject EA.  I submit my comments as an interested party in behalf of the wild horses of the Adobe Town (AT), Great Divide Basin (GDB), and Salt Wells Creek (SWC) Herd Management Areas (HMAs) who are deemed to have roamed into the “checkerboard lands” — those where Federal and private property sections alternate in a checkerboard-like pattern — in numbers that exceed the arbitrary levels established by the Consent Decree.  Please note that in all instances where text has been emphasized, either through bold and/or italics, the emphasis was added by me.

For ease of reference, here are the links to the Dear Reader letter and to the Webpage where the EA is posted:

https://eplanning.blm.gov/epl-front-office/projects/nepa/59563/78510/89493/Dear_Reader_Letter_Public_Review_Checckerboard_EA_8-11-16.pdf

http://bit.ly/2bj4PzJ

Background

BoLM unwisely and unethically committed itself to reducing wild-horse numbers at harshly-low levels in the Checkerboard sections of three HMAs at issue.  Per the Consent Decree, once it was determined — or projected — that more than 100 wild horses were present (or might be) at some point in time in GDB, and/or that more than a combined total of 200 wild horses were (or might be) present at some point in time in AT and SWC, then RSFO would have them all removed.

Here are the number of horses that, BLM alleges that, per April 2016 surveys, were present in the checkerboard area of the following herd management areas (HMAs):

  25 Adobe Town

272 Great Divide Basin

187 Salt Wells Creek

——————————————

484 Total

RSFO proposes to remove not just the 484, but an additional 16, for an even 500.  RSFO acknowledges that it would not be removing “excess” wild horses.  RSFO further admits that the proposed removals would drop the population below the low-bound of the established arbitrary management level (AML).

Wild Horses Roam — Their Presence Is Fleeting, Their Numbers Are Fluid

Just because RSFO’s survey allegedly counted 484 wild horses in the Checkerboard does not mean that 484 are still there or were there the day after the census was conducted.  Wild horses are constantly on the move.  Just because they visit an area on certain days does not make them permanent residents.

Public Lands Commandeered by Private Interests

The Checkerboard area encompasses 2,427,220 acres, or 3,793 square miles.  Public lands total 1,695,517 acres — 2,649 square miles — and privately-held lands total 731,703 acres –1,143 square miles.  Thus, public lands constitute 70%, and private lands comprise 30%, of the Checkerboard.

Per the EA, the Rock Springs Grazing Association (RSGA) owns or “controls” the “majority” of the 30% of the privately-held Checkerboard area.  The EA does not reveal how significant that majority is, but it would have to be 51% or more, by definition, to be a majority.  If it were a “great” majority, then surely that point would have been made.  Thus, the conservative inference would be around 51%.  But to make the computations easier, and to give the benefit to the doubt, 60% will be used.

So, 60% x 30% = 18%.  What results is a minor percentage of private-profiteers calling the shots for how public lands are managed.  Unacceptable.

Wild-Horse Population-Density — Even If All 484 Were Only on Private Land

Let’s assume for the moment that 484 wild horses have established permanent residence in the 731,703 acres — 1,143 square miles — of privately-held checkerboard land.  The resultant population-density would be:

1 wild horse per 1,512 acres = 1 wild horse per 2.4 square miles.

Public Corruption — Appearance of

According to the Website of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, the Rock Springs Field Manager has stated publicly:

For all intents and purposes, we consider all of the checkerboard private.”

If this direct quotation is accurate, then the Field Manager appears to be encouraging the private takeover of public lands.  No wonder the Bundy brothers and company felt emboldened by such BoLM “dog whistles” to seize control of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge.  Announcements like that suggest public corruption — abuse of public office to benefit private interests.

FRAUDULENT POPULATION ESTIMATES

Birth Rate versus Herd-Growth Rate

Before we examine BLM’s reported herd-growth rates of these HMAs, 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 of about 20% a year in wild-horse herds.  But the herd growth rate is unlikely to be that high.  Here’s why: Horses and burros die.

An independent study (Gregg, LeBlanc, and Johnston, 2014) reviewed BLM roundup-records for a representative sample of four herd management areas and a robust sample-size of 5,859 wild horses.  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.  It is wrong for RSFO to use 20% as the growth rates.  It may be administratively convenient to equate the birth rate to the growth rate, but it is not valid.   

Adult Wild-Horse-and-Burro Mortality Rates Must Be Factored

But it is not only foals that die.  Adult wild horses also perish.  They succumb to illness, injury, and predation.  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, a practice 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 birth rate.  When BLM reports alleged herd-growth rates many times higher than 20% (horses) — that would necessarily mean birth rates substantially higher still.  Such implausible rates are routinely found in BLM’s population data, including the year-to-year figures for the subject HMAs.  Stealthily inserting bogus birth-rates into the data, wrongly conflating birth-rates with population growth-rates, and failing to factor in mortality-rates — those are just some 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.

http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-saiga-antelope-die-off-20150531-story.html

Imagine if such a catastrophe were to befall the subject herds.  Note that the Saiga deaths involved antelope-mothers and their calves.  What if these HMAs’ mares and their foals perished all of a sudden, leaving mainly stallions and sterile elderly mares?  BLM must proactively manage the herds per IUCN 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 the subject HMAs.  What is the MVP?  According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature: 2500 per equid species, which could easily be accommodated by the acreage composing each of the subject HMAs.

Fraudulent Population Figures

BLM-RSFO’s data reports that the herds-in-question grew at biologically-impossible reproduction-rates.  Further, BLM-RSFO asserts that 484 of these imaginary horses were spotted in the checkerboard, thereby triggering their removal.

Name of HMA Population Population Percent

National OfcNational OfcIncrease

March 2015 March 2016

Adobe Town      602     1,030     71.0%

Great Divide Basin      199       670   236.7%

Salt Wells Creek      117       728   522.2%

BLM’s population-growth figures are fraudulent.  They are biologically impossible.  Even if the “data” represented only the birth rates, they would be as much as 100 times the normal birth rate.  Moreover, the bogus birth rates have been conflated with herd-growth rates.  The mortality rates were not factored.  Consider how such errors will compound and magnify over time.

In light of these fictitious figures, no action is the appropriate alternative.  BoLM-RSFO should be subjected to a forensic audit to determine who is behind the phony data.  Those staffers must be held accountable.

But Is There a Mandate to Practice Scientific Integrity?

Yes.  The Department of the Interior’s (DOI) Code of Scientific and Scholarly Conduct applies to all staff members as well as to contractors, partners, permittees, and volunteers.  The Code states: “Scholarly information considered in Departmental decision making must be robust, of the highest quality, and the result of as rigorous scientific and scholarly processes as can be achieved.  Most importantly, it must be trustworthy.”

BLM-RSFO’s wild-horse population estimates are without merit.

Societal Impact of Inflated Population-Data

The population-estimates for the subject HMAs are flawed, exaggerated.  The political fallout of this error has been to keep the public — particularly state and 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.

Fraudulent Data Emboldens Scofflaw Ranchers, Costs Wild Horses Their Freedom

In many allotments throughout the West, permit-holders have refused to recognize BLM’s rules regarding season-of-use.  The notorious Cliven Bundy and permittees Kevin Borba and Dan Filippini blatantly defied BLM’s authority; yet they were pacified with non-enforcement and concessions.  BLM enables and rewards such bad behavior by caving in to it.  Meanwhile, poor LaVoy Finnicum lost his life because, per precedent BLM stand-downs, he concluded that BLM and FBI would not enforce the law.

There are likely permittees in Wyoming emulating Bundy, Borba, and Filippini.  Certainly RSGA has no respect for the Act that was meant to protect America’s mustangs.  Wild horses must not lose their freedom merely so that BLM can placate greedy and rebellious elements in the human population.  If you “come clean” and admit your errors, it will tend to deflate the “head-of-steam” that elected officials and ranchers are building due to the false appearance created by fictitious herd-growth figures.    

Voluntary Non-Use of AUMs Reflects Lowered Demand for Beef

BLM and its permit-holders protest that a lot of the livestock AUMs are in non-use, sometimes mandatorily, other times voluntarily.  They complain loudly, pointing to the seeming excess of wild horses — an illusion caused by BLM’s phony figures.

Bloomberg News published an article recently concerning the state of the beef market.  In the US, consumer-demand for beef is down to levels not seen in 40 years.  The US cattle-herd population is at a 60-year low and is expected to drop further.  The article explored why this situation exists.

Bloomberg noted that beef is a premium product, with a significantly higher price-point.  US consumers are turning to lower-cost meats, such as pork and chicken.  Further, the strength of the dollar makes US beef exports less competitive in the global marketplace.  Thus, it does not make economic sense for a rancher to produce more beef, given current conditions.  So, reduced demand and lowered cattle-population are important reasons why AUM-usage is down.  It has nothing to do with wild horses.

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-10-04/beef-isn-t-for-dinner-anymore-as-americans-devour-cheaper-pork

Authorized v. Actual Livestock Use

BLM also argues that actual livestock use is lower than authorized or permitted use.  But because actual use is whatever the permit-holders report on Form 4130-5, and because BLM essentially takes the permit-holders’ at their word and bills accordingly … eventually … after-the-fact … maybe … or maybe not — see Bundy, Cliven — the actual-use number is unverified and likely grossly under-reported.

Actual Grazing Use Report — Form 4130-5

As alluded to above, permittees are required to submit an annual report of how many livestock they put out on their respective allotments and for how long.  Form 4130-5 “Annual Grazing Use Report” is used for this purpose.  It’s a one-page document that BLM estimates to take 15 minutes to complete “… including the time for reviewing instructions, gathering and maintaining data, and completing and reviewing the form.”

http://www.blm.gov/style/medialib/blm/noc/business/eforms.Par.2064.File.dat/4130-005.pdf

http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2014-08-22/html/2014-20049.htm

Form 4130-5 is the basis on which BLM bills the permit-holders.  It is also the basis for the claim of reduced-use.  Thus, grazing-use is a self-reporting, self-certifying system that is rarely verified.  The ease with which permittees could game the system is obvious.  Consequently, the veracity of the reports is suspect.

USDA Reports Beef-Cattle Now Weigh More — AUM Calculations Need to Be Reformed

The same Bloomberg article noted that the average weight of a beef-cattle animal has increased to 1,385 pounds, up 32 pounds from just the previous year.  Please note that the AUM was originally set per a weight of 1,000 pounds.  But, in the meantime, what the industry refers to as “genetics” — technologically-advanced selective breeding — has increased average weight by 38½ percent, with better-than two percent of that increase coming in the past year alone.  BLM needs to charge more AUMs for cattle — as well as charge more per AUM — in accordance with true market-rates.

On the other hand, the AUM for a horse presumes a 1,000-pound saddle horse.  But mustangs tend to be smaller and lighter, weighing 700 to 800 pounds.  Moreover, in contrast to cattle, wild horses are “easy-keepers” that thrive on poor-quality forage.

BLM needs to revisit and reform how it assesses forage-usage for cattle versus wild horses.  Cattle need an AUM surcharge; wild horses need an AUM discount that reflects the less-than-one AUM per horse, giving BLM the flexibility to place more wild horses on the range.

HELICOPTERS — Inappropriate for Counting Wild Horses

Aerial Inventories Produce Gross Over-Counts

BLM likes to attribute impossibly-high estimates to “improved inventory methods.”  But as has been pointed out to BLM previously, the “mark-resight” and the “simultaneous double-count” methods, conducted by helicopter, overcount the population.  Indeed, as the report by the specialty-contractor who conducted the Red Desert Complex (also in 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.  See pdf-pages 84-87 at the link below.

http://www.blm.gov/wy/st/en/info/NEPA/documents/rfo/red-desert.html

I note that the 2015 Checkerboard Census Report also mentioned that assumptions had been used but contended that an under-count was likely.  That assumption is not only incorrect but opposite to the facts.  When more horses are “seen” than could possibly exist, the method is faulty and likely fraudulent, given the “cooperation” of RGSA.  Finally, I note the absence of photographs.

Both the Roundup-Contractor and BoLM Are Looking to “Make Their Numbers”

A glance at the map of the HMAs in question reveals that they are contiguous, and public lands are interspersed with private lands.  How easy it would be for a profit-motivated helicopter-pilot to “poach” wild horses from strictly public lands by driving them into the target-area.  What would stop the helicopter-pilot from capturing wild horses that never set hoof outside outside their rightful HMA?

In its response to this topic, which was raised during scoping, BoLM said that it would monitor the helicopter’s flight-path to keep this from happening.  But BoLM’s purpose in conducting equid cleansing is to please the permittees.  BoLM has committed to removing 500 wild horses to comply with the Consent Decree, and the roundup-contractor expects to earn the amount that corresponds to 500 captured wild horses.  The helicopter-pilot is looking to “make his numbers” but so is BoLM.  Thus, BoLM has a conflict of interest in needing the contractor to remove any 500 horses that he can find.  The wild horses are fungible — one is as good as another — to make the pilot his money and to enable BoLM to fulfill its agreement with the arbitrary Consent Decree.  Consequently, wild horses would lose their freedom for the private profit of RSGA and the helicopter-contractor, and for the administrative convenience of BoLM.  Unacceptable.

Dealing with Roving Equids

Horses will roam.  It is their nature.  It is management’s duty to keep them from places they should not be.  Prevention is key.  However, removing horses that have wandered into the checkerboard area just creates a vacuum for other horses to fill.  Thus, removing them is an ineffective population-control strategy.  The elimination of mustangs from an open, accessible habitat results in repeated colonization by more mustangs.  The process begins almost immediately, as horses roam into the area and see that it is attractive and vacant.  Thus, removal is not a true solution — it just perpetuates the situation and leads to the elimination of more mustangs than necessary.  Moreover, the wanderers may be only temporary visitors or refugees, not permanent residents.  Worse yet, they may have been driven into the checkerboard by the helicopter.  RSFO acknowledges as much in the EA, but still pursues the removal-without-return alternative.

Recommendations:  In legitimate instances of straying, RSFO should first encourage the wild horses to return to their proper place, then address those factors that caused the animals to leave home.  Would palatable plantings draw the wild horses to the areas RSFO wants them to use?  What about siting mineral licks deep inside the HMAs, away from the Checkerboard?  Have guzzlers been installed to provide water sources deep within the boundaries?  Aversive conditioning could also be employed to shoo the wild horses into the solid-block public lands.  Certainly, positive reinforcement coupled with aversive conditioning would be an effective and cost-effective solution.  RSFO should specify preventive and reactive measures in this regard as part of its management approach.  Return outsiders to the solid-block public-lands areas of the HMAs, reward that return (hay, mineral-licks, guzzlers), and encourage their “retreat” from the Checkerboard (aversive techniques).

HELICOPTERS — Dangerous to Humans

Scheduled Airliners — Safe; Helicopters — Crash-Prone

As cited in my scoping comments but reiterated here out of concern for staff-wellbeing, the American public considers travel-by-air to be safe, even routine.  Crashes are rare, and fatalities, few.  Thus, it is easy to assume that all flight is safe, which is not the case.

Helicopters are notorious for crashing.  Please compare and contrast Wyoming’s aviation crash-records of scheduled air carriers versus helicopters during the 10-year period from January 1, 2006 to December 31, 2015 — per the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB):

Scheduled Air Carriers (“Part 121”)

    1  — Accidents (minor events excluded)

    0  — Accidents that resulted in fatalities

Helicopters

  13  — Accidents (minor events excluded)

    1  — Accident that resulted in a fatality

    1  — Number of persons that died in that accident

In Wyoming, for the period in question, there has been 1 accident involving a scheduled air carrier.  Nobody died.  Helicopters, in contrast, have had 13 accidents — 13 times more — including 1 that involved a fatality.  At the link below, you can replicate the searches to verify these data.

http://www.ntsb.gov/_layouts/ntsb.aviation/index.aspx

Helicopter Census Method Puts BLM Personnel at Risk

BLM’s environmental assessments often allude to the use of “multiple experienced observers” (presumedly BLM staffers) to count and photograph wild horses — or what they think are wild horses — while being flown in grid patterns over the range.

Given the crash-proneness of helicopters, BoLM could face a tragedy — with the loss of key personnel, friends, and colleagues in an accident.  Counting wild horses does not justify this risky method.

HELICOPTERS — Dangerous to Horses

Inhumane Roundup Method

BoLM’s use of helicopters to round up the wild horses is inhumane.  The horses are terrified by the thunderous, high-intensity noise as they are pursued by the low-flying helicopter.  They are blasted with sand, dirt, and gravel from the rotor wash.  Panicked by the chaos, they stampede, injure themselves, and become separated from their babies and bandmates.  Mares miscarry.  Foals become orphans.  Many horses die from stress, even more have to be euthanized.  Helicopter-style roundups are abusive, especially to foals, older horses, and pregnant mares.  This is unacceptable.

Recommendations:  Helicopter-style roundups must be abolished.  Roundups in extreme temperatures — either the summer heat or the winter cold — must end.  Stampeding horses for countless miles — causing them to lather with sweat and then bringing them to an abrupt halt — must be prohibited.  Forcing the horses to run long distances over rough terrain, thereby wrecking the delicate hooves of the newborns and resulting in lameness and even death — must never happen again.

BoLM should institute the kind approach to gathering wild horses.  Roundups should be done slowly, quietly, and gently using the bait-and-water trapping approach.  This method also tends to preserve family unity, which is essential to wild-horse social structure.

Abusive Behavior by Helicopter Pilots during Gathers

As has been documented on video, helicopter-pilots conducting roundups become frustrated by horses’ lack of cooperation.  Impatient to get the animals moving faster, the pilots ram the horses with the aircrafts’ landing skids, in some cases even flipping the creatures into a somersault.  There is video documentation of such abuses, and a court found that they had indeed occurred.  Worse yet, much of the abuse goes undetected because the roundup-pilot generally flies solo.

There has also been documentation of contractor-wranglers whipping horses in the face, kicking them in the head, dragging them by the neck with ropes, using electric prods on them.

No Horse Left Behind

Helicopter-contractors are incentivized to leave no horse ungathered.  In addition to the flat fee-for-service, they earn a per-horse-fee.  Thus, they have reason to go after every last horse in order to “make their numbers.”  Indeed, during the November 2012 Wassuk (NV) HMA roundup, we saw how determined the contractors were to get their per-horse payment.  We also observed how the attending USDA veterinarian and the BoLM officials present did nothing to stop the abuse.  What’s more, this cruelty took place in plain view of observers holding video cameras.  Imagine what went on out of sight and off camera.

HELICOPTERS — Dangerous to the Environment

Possibility of a Post-Crash Fire’s Leading to a Wildfire

The crash of a roundup-helicopter could result in a fuel-spill.  Especially in these times of drought, when there is an abundance of dry brush, a wildfire could be sparked.  Thus, even the environment is at risk from the use of helicopters to round up wild horses.  It bears repeating that, because herd management areas are typically in remote locations, it would be difficult to put out a post-crash fire and keep it from getting out of control.

CONCLUSIONS

1.  RSFO should repudiate the arbitrary and corrupt Consent Decree.

2.  RSFO’s Field Manager should stop making seditious announcements, leading rogue ranchers to believe that public lands are private and emboldening them to break the law, putting public safety at risk.

3.  RSFO should select either Alternative A — No Action, or Alternative C — Removal-and-Return.

———————————————-

Sincerely,

Marybeth Devlin

6880 SW 27th ST

Miami, FL 33155-2916

marybethdevlin@bellsouth.net

305  665-1727

———————————————-

References:

§ 1334. Private maintenance; numerical approximation; strays on private lands; removal; destruction by agents THE WILD FREE-ROAMING HORSES AND BURROS ACT OF 1971 (PUBLIC LAW 92-195) Retrieved from

18 U.S. Code § 2383 – Rebellion or insurrection.  Cornell University Law School.  Retrieved from https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/2383

18 U.S. Code § 2384 – Seditious conspiracy.  Cornell University Law School.  Retrieved from https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/2384

American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign.  (2016, August-September)  BLM Wyoming Wild Horse Wipeout Continues – Action Needed Today!  Retrieved from http://act.wildhorsepreservation.org/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=23543

Public corruption.  Definition.  Cornell University Law School.  Retrieved from https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/public_corruption

Romboy, Dennis.  (2015, December 18)  “Judge sentences San Juan Commissioner Phil Lyman to 10 days in jail, 3 years of probation.”  Deseret News.  Deseret Digital Media.  Retrieved from http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865643995/Judge-sentences-San-Juan-Commissioner-Phil-Lyman-to-10-days-jail-3-years-of-probation.html?pg=all

Protect Mustangs is a 501c3 nonprofit organization who protects and preserves native and wild horses.




One thought on “Comments against the Wyoming checkerboard roundup and removal

  1. why cant they use drones to count the horses and photograph them – these are silent and would fly at a height that would not distrube the horses

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