February 25, 2015
Bureau of Land Management
Cedar City Field Office
176 East DL Sargent Drive
Cedar City, Utah 84721
Attention: Elizabeth R. Burghard, Cedar City Field Office Manager
Project Name: Sulphur HMA Public Health and Safety
Wild Horse Gather and Removal
Document: News Release
I understand that your office has scheduled another roundup-and-removal operation pertaining to wild horses that allegedly have wandered outside the …
… and that are, reportedly, posing safety-concerns along Highway 21.
I am submitting substantive comments and new information that BLM-Cedar City should consider. I urge you to cancel the gather, correct the population-estimate errors, investigate the validity of the accusations, complete an environmental assessment, fence Highway 21, and take other preventive measures.
REASONS CITED BY BLM FOR SPECIAL ROUNDUP
Overpopulation, Forage Limitations
BLM’s News Release identifies the issue as being wild horses “causing public health and safety concerns along Highway 21.” BLM lists overpopulation and forage limitations as the causes for the horses having allegedly migrated to the outer edge of the Sulphur HMA, near said highway.
The Proposed Action
BLM-Cedar City plans to round up and remove a total of 100 wild horses out of a population that BLM estimates at “approximately 830” (versus 250, the high-bound of the AML). The gather, scheduled to begin only days after issuance of the News Release and in the absence of an environmental assessment, would be accomplished via helicopter-drive. The roundup would supposedly target members of the Sulphur herd that are “encroaching on Highway 21.” But, given wild horses’ propensity to roam extensively, it is unclear how the true perpetrators would be identified.
There are several important questions concerning the planned gather that BLM has not addressed.
What is the right solution for preventing vehicle-wildlife collisions?
What is the accurate estimate of Sulphur HMA’s wild-horse population?
Is there really an overpopulation? Has AML been exceeded?
Who has reported wild horses “along Highway 21”? Rogue ranchers?
How likely is it that 100 wild horses are encroaching on the highway?
Is the “public safety” excuse an end-run to skip an environmental assessment?
Was the snap-decision to hold a gather a strategem to avoid scrutiny of the data?
Are the pretty stories about adoptions and retirements-to-pasture just fables?
A review of BLM’s data — its assumptions, claims, population-estimates, gather-data, and PZP-inoculations — for the Sulphur herd disclosed
Failure to adjust for PZP’s contraceptive impact,
Failure to factor in wild-horse deaths on the range from natural causes, and
Ignorance of new studies that found herd-growth averages 10 percent — not 20.
FENCE OFF HIGHWAY 21
Outsiders — 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. Removing horses that have wandered outside the boundaries of an HMA — “outsiders” — just creates a vacuum for “insider” horses to fill. Thus, removing “outsiders” is an ineffective strategy. The elimination of mustangs from an open, accessible habitat results in recolonization by other mustangs. Absent barriers, the process begins almost immediately, as horses come upon an area and see that it is attractive … and vacant. This is exactly what has happened! BLM removed 30 wild horses “from the same area” just months ago. Yet, here we go again. Thus, removal is not the solution.
Recommendations: When horses stray, BLM-Cedar City should round them back in! Encourage the outsiders to return to their proper place, then address those factors that caused the animals to leave home.
Does the HMA have perimeter fences?
Do the fences need repair?
Do the gates need to be checked frequently and closed?
Would palatable plantings draw the wild horses back inside the HMA?
Have mineral licks been placed well-inside the HMA?
Have guzzlers been installed to provide water sources within the boundaries?
And, most importantly, …
Why hasn’t Highway 21 been fenced off near the HMA?
BLM-Cedar City should specify preventive measures in this regard as its management approach. Return outsiders to the HMA. Fence the HMA’s perimeters.
Fence Off Highway 21 near Sulphur HMA, Install Wildlife-Underpasses
Highways that cross near wildlife-habitat need to be fenced off. Installing safety-fences is certainly the indicated, cost-effective, and long-term solution. By preventing horses — as well as other creatures — from crossing directly over a highway, fences keep animals from endangering themselves and motorists. Underpasses allow wildlife to migrate freely, but safely.
I urge BLM-Cedar City to install a system of fences and underpasses along Highway 21, where the road approaches the Sulphur HMA. Highway 21 has been described as “remote,” suggesting that traffic on it tends to be sparse, which should minimize inconvenience during installation of these protective features. Funding should be sought from BLM-National, BLM-Utah, your own Field-Office budget, and other state, local, and private sources.
Wildlife Underpasses — Historical Perspective
Utah can rightfully claim that it was the first state to install a wildlife-crossing in North America. In 1971, such an overpass was constructed south of Beaver.
Fast-forward to 2013, when a partnership of governmental agencies and private groups in Utah installed a system of fencing and underpasses along a 12-mile stretch of US Highway 89. The purpose of the $2.6 million-project was to protect Paunsaugunt mule-deer-herd during the animals’ seasonal migrations. The subject deer are considered trophy-caliber among sport-hunters, many of whom spend thousands of dollars to shoot one. But, prior to the installation of the fences and underpasses, an average of 100 mule-deer a year were being killed by collisions with automobiles.
What caught my attention was that the project was largely funded by … BLM — even though only 23 percent of the Paunsaugunt Plateau is on BLM-administered land.
The State’s management-objective for the mule-deer herd in the Paunsaugunt is a population of 5,200 to 6,500 wintering deer. In addition, predators — specifically, cougars — are “managed” … by hunting them … to “benefit” the deer — or is it to benefit the hunters wanting to kill the deer? Thus, the natural ecological balance is disturbed for the sport of humans.
Interestingly, the most recent data I could locate on Utah’s mule-deer population indicated that, post-harvest of 25,000-plus bucks in 2013, there were 332,900. Unlike neighboring states, Utah has a thriving mule-deer population. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) categorizes the mule deer’s conservation-status as a species of “least concern” (LC). Mule deer have even been introduced to … Kauai, Hawaii. Yet, BLM was willing to spend millions to keep 100 of them safe. Surely, BLM will find a way to protect our precious-few-remaining wild horses. The answer is: Fence Highway 21 near the Sulphur HMA!
How Well Did the Highway 89 Underpasses Work?
Not perfectly, but pretty well, according to the article linked below. Deer-deaths are down. Reportedly, it takes about three years for wildlife to become accustomed to the new funnel-structures, so results should continue to improve. One snag was cited: Opportunist-hunters set up camp near the underpasses, and shot deer passing through the funnel. Consequently, other deer, sensing danger, avoided the structures.
Wildlife and Roads — Decision-Guide
At the link below, you will find information and resources regarding the use of overpasses, underpasses, and crosswalks for mitigating collisions between wildlife and vehicles.
You already have the template from the Highway 89 project. Lessons have been learned — what worked, what didn’t, and how the system could be improved. Thus, implementation of a corresponding project for Highway 21 should go smoothly. Fence it, and they will cross through the underpasses.
FLAWED 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.
Population and Gather Reports — The Data
Per a review of the …
HMA and HA Statistics reports for the Sulphur herd from 2008-2014,
Completed Gathers reports from 2009-2014, and the
Population-figure referenced in BLM’s News-Release,
discrepancies are evident.
Sulphur HMA — Utah — Herd Population Changes — 2008 to 2015
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. The beginning-of-the-year figure for 2015 — the pre-gather estimate — is per the BLM’s News Release.
Year AML Estimate R-up Done Foal-Crop and Other Figures, Estimates
—— —– ———– ————– —————————————————
2008 250 435 + 87 BLM estimated foal-crop @ 20%
November 522 Pre-gather estimate = 435+87
362 Rounded up
160 Assumed to have evaded capture
1 Tacked on
190 Post-gather estimate = 29+160+1
2009 190 + 40 BLM estimated foal-crop @ 21%
230 End-of-year estimate = 190+40
2010 230 + 67 BLM estimated foal-crop @ 29%
December 297 Pre-gather estimate = 230+67
250 Planned to gather
90 Rounded up — 36% of plan
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%
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%
But that 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%
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.
August 36 Rounded up — “outside”
826 Assumed: Still present in HMA
– 2 Subtracted
830 Current estimate = 718+144-30-2
2015 830 Public health and safety excuse used to justify removing 100 wild horses without an EA.
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.
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 in an uproar over an “overpopulation” that BLM’s faulty figures portrayed.
Recommendations: BLM needs to correct these errors and, more importantly, acknowledge them to the public. You must correct the record and make genuine efforts to stop this phony-story-gone-viral of a wild-horse population-explosion in Utah.
Mistakes Cost Wild Horses Their Freedom
The planned removals appear to have been hurriedly scheduled 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 faulty figures.
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 …
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 inadvertently portrayed an incorrect picture — an exaggerated picture — of the herd’s population.
HOW THE ESTIMATES SHOULD HAVE LOOKED — PER BLM METHODOLOGY
Projections per a Twenty-Percent Foal-Survival Rate
Let’s see how the population numbers should look if we used BLM’s assumption of a 20-percent foaling-rate. I have run the numbers, both including 2014 foals (inequitable) and excluding 2014 foals (correct).
Why 2014’s foals should be excluded: When determining animal-unit-month (AUM) use, BLM counts a cow and her calf as one unit. Likewise, a wild mare and her foal should also count as one unit. But in recent years, BLM has been counting foals as separate units. BLM has even been caught estimating wild-horse populations — and thus, AUM-use — to include newborn and even unborn foals. The correct and equitable approach is not to count foals, and certainly not to count fetuses.
Note about birthdays: Some might argue that all horses celebrate their collective birthday on January 1. But that practice is merely a convention of breed-registries, causing their members to employ artificial means to force mares to ovulate out-of-season in order to avoid their offspring being at a physical-maturity disadvantage vis-à-vis competitors. True age is biological age, and wild foals will not be true yearlings for several more months, until spring.
Factoring in PZP’s Impact: Herd size was affected by removals and by PZP. Removals, we know. As for PZP, the picture becomes murky.
Dr. Jay Kirkpatrick, the developer of PZP, claims that PZP treatment of wild horses is greater than 95-percent effective.
BLM-Billings, which has been employing PZP for many years to contracept the Pryor Mountain herd, has found that PZP’s efficacy averages 90 percent.
A study by Turner et al. (2007), which was cited in the National Research Council’s report Using Science to Improve the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program: A Way Forward, found that PZP-22 remains 85-percent effective after 22 months. Moreover, PZP is known to exert significant contraceptive effect in the third year and beyond.
However, there are too mainly unknowns for me to factor in PZP’s effect on the Sulphur herd’s growth. So, to proceed conservatively, the estimates below ignore PZP initially and, thus, overstate the population to an unknown extent in that regard. An adjustment will be applied at the end to offset this.
Deaths on the range: Finally, it is assumed — wrongly, but for sake of initial estimates — that no horses died in the past seven years. The estimates ignore fatalities and, thus, further overstate the population. An adjustment encompassing PZP and fatalities will be applied to arrive at a working-estimate.
Bottom line: Every benefit-of-the-doubt has been given.
Sulphur HMA — 20% Growth — Reflecting removals, but not PZP or deaths
2008 — 190 — BLM’s population-estimate post-gather November 2008
2009 — 190 — Foal-crop: 38. Those foals would have been born in spring.
2010 — 228 — Foal-crop: 46. Dec. gather removed 30 horses, PZP 38 mares.
2011 — 244 — Foal-crop: 49. PZP does not affect already-pregnant mares.
2012 — 293 — Foal-crop: 59. Even though PZP at maximum-effect.
2013 — 352 — Foal-crop: 70. Even though PZP still in effect.
2014 — 422 — Foal-crop: 84. But gather in Aug removed 30 horses.
2015 — 476 — including the 2014 foal-crop
2015 — 392 — excluding the 2014 foal-crop
It is clear that, using BLM’s own data and the “20-percent-per-year” rule, BLM’s population-estimate, with or without the 2014 foal-crop, was about double that of a properly-calculated estimate.
Conclusion: If we were to accept BLM’s thesis that the herds grow 20 percent every year, then a good working-estimate of the Sulphur herd excluding the 2014 foals would have been about 350. That rounded number reflects a modest 10-percent adjustment to account for the effects of PZP and for deaths-on-the-range that would have reduced the population.
Yes, the estimate exceeds the assigned AML. However, in this case, being “over AML” is not meaningful because the AML and the working-estimate reflect a herd-level that is …
Below minimum-viable population.
No wild horses should be removed. Complete an environmental assessment as required, and fence off Highway 21.
Planned Roundup Would Have a Devastating Impact on the Sulphur Herd
Per the working-estimate of 350, if BLM were to remove 100 horses from the Sulphur herd, it would be a sudden, drastic reduction — nearly 30 percent of the herd. In addition, the type of roundup — targeting horses near Highway 21 — would ignore bloodlines and essentially be a “gate-cut.” Thus, the herd’s genetic viability would be further impaired.
But it gets worse. Recent studies have shown BLM’s “20-percent-per-year” rule to be exaggerated by double.
TRUE HERD-GROWTH RATE, FOAL-TO-YEARLING SURVIVAL RATE = 10%
Longitudinal Study Demonstrates Growth-Rate of Five-to-Ten-Percent
The International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros (ISPMB) has just completed a 14-year study of wild-horse population-growth. The ISPMB herds have been managed per the “hands-off” minimum-feasible level specified in the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act.
Results: The study-herds grew from 5-to-10 percent a year. During the study, there were …
Here is the link to the letter sent in this regard from ISPMB to the Department of the Interior and Bureau of Land Management.
The ISPMB study casts doubt on BLM’s standard “20-percent-per-year” rule for estimating herd-growth. Certainly, assumed growth-rates of 29 percent IN 2010 and, especially, the 87 percent growth-rate the BLM assumed for 2014, are implausible. Further, because subsequent estimates were based on false, inflated previous estimates, the errors compounded.
Independent Research Discloses a 10% Foal-to-Yearling Survival-Rate
A study of BLM roundup-records for a representative sample of four herd management areas was recently published (Gregg, LeBlanc, and Johnston, 2014).
The researchers found an effective foal-to-yearling survival-rate of just 10 percent. No matter the birth-rate, what counts is survival. The same pattern likely holds true for the Sulphur herd. Per this study, BLM-Cedar City’s assumed growth-rates for the Sulphur herd are deemed not credible.
HOW THE ESTIMATES SHOULD HAVE LOOKED — PER NEW RESEARCH-FINDINGS
Projections per a Ten-Percent Growth-and-Survival Rate
Let’s see how the population numbers would look if we correctly assumed a ten percent foaling or survival rate. I have run the numbers, both including 2014 foals (inequitable) and excluding 2014 foals (correct).
Sulphur HMA — Per 10% Growth — Modified by Removals, but NOT by PZP
2008 — 190 — BLM’s population-estimate post-gather Nov ’08
2009 — 190 — Foal-crop: 19.
2010 — 209 — Foal-crop: 21. Dec. gather removed 30 horses, PZP 38 mares.
2011 — 200 — Foal-crop: 20. PZP does not affect already-pregnant mares.
2012 — 220 — Foal-crop: 22. Even though PZP at maximum-effect.
2013 — 242 — Foal-crop: 24. Even though PZP still in effect.
2014 — 266 — Foal-crop: 27. But gather in Aug removed 30 horses.
2015 — 263 — including 2014 foals
2015 — 236 — excluding 2014 foals
It is clear that, using BLM’s own data and the “10-percent-per-year” research-finding rule, BLM’s population-estimate, with or without the 2014 foal-crop, was more than triple the properly-calculated estimate.
Conclusion: If we were to accept the new research-findings that herds grow 10 percent a year, then a good working-estimate of the Sulphur herd excluding the 2014 foals would have been about 210. That rounded number reflects a modest 10-percent adjustment to account for the effects of PZP and for deaths-on-the-range that would have reduced the population.
However, please note that the working-estimate derived per the independent research’s findings of 10-percent growth reflects a population that is …
Below AML and
Below minimum-viable population.
It is clear that BLM should be estimating the wild-horse population according to the latest scientific knowledge. Therefore, no wild horses should be removed. Instead, complete an environmenal assessment and fence off Highway 21.
Could There Really Be 100 Wild Horses Wandering onto the Highway?
Out of a herd best-estimated at 210, it seems implausible that 100 horses — virtually half the population — would have left the 265,711 acres of the HMA and begun hanging out near Highway 21. Indeed, the public safety “concerns” appear phony — like they might well have been concocted by rogue ranchers and seditious county commissioners. The safety-complaint seems more of a ruse to push BLM into conducting a major removal-action that will inure to the benefit of permit-holders. Those parties are agitating to have the State of Utah take over Federal lands and the management of our wild horses. Getting rid of the horses is the ranchers’ goal.
Unfortunately, BLM’s previous erroneous population-figures made it seem that the ranchers were right about an overpopulation of wild horses, and that by removing just 100 of them, BLM would hardly be making a dent. Thus, it is imperative that BLM set the record straight.
Happy Tone, Ugly Reality
BLM’s News Release is deceptively friendly in tone — from naming a meet-up point from which BLM invites prospective observers to start the “escorted tours” to the standard feel-good language about captured horses finding “new homes with families” and pleasant-pastures-for-life for those horses not adopted. Behind the facade, the reality is another story.
Claim of exigency regarding public safety;
Claim that is unverified and reeks of maneuvering by local ranchers.
Pretense that 100 horses are “encroaching on Highway 21”;
Removing horses rather than installing fences along the Highway.
Pretense that population-estimates are reliable numbers;
Finding of huge discrepancies in those estimates.
Pretense that an environmental assessment isn’t necessary;
Reality that an EA is required.
Pretense that only 12 percent of the herd would be removed;
Reality that 50 percent of the herd would be unlawfully taken.
Feel-good stories of adoptions and wild horses peacefully living out their lives at pasture
Reality that many of them would be — as they have been — sold to slaughter
ADOPTION … OR HIGHWAY TO HELL?
Sale to Slaughter for Sulphur HMA Captives
BLM’s News Release is disingenuous where it claims that wild horses “removed from near Highway 21 will be made available for adoption through the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Adoption Program.” The News Release is also dishonest where it promises that wild horses “not adopted will be cared for in long-term pastures, where they retain their ‘wild’ status and protection under the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burros Act.” If only those fairy tales were true. Unfortunately, the opposite is the case. Said adoption program is conducted to bring “three strikes and you’re out” to as many horses as quickly as possible, making them eligible to be sold rather than adopted. The long-term pastures program is shrouded in secrecy. The public has no access to check on the horses’ welfare. Past scandals have revealed BLM staff involved in selling wild horses to kill-buyers.
A review of BLM records of recent “adoptions” of wild horses that were removed from the Sulphur HMA just six months ago as part of the earlier “near Highway 21” removal disclosed instances of the Adoption Program auctioning off horses online for just $25, with free delivery to sites known to be frequented by kill-buyers.
Were the mares at issue among those that the New Release reported to “have found new homes with families”? Or did BLM remove wild horses from “near Highway 21” only to send them down a “highway to Hell”?
SULPHUR HERD’S AML WAS SET AT A GENETICALLY NON-VIABLE LEVEL
AMLs Should Provide for Better Than MVP, but Must Provide for At Least MVP
BLM is required by law to manage the wild horses in self-sustaining herds. To be self-sustaining, a herd must be genetically viable. To achieve viability, sufficient population is necessary.
A scientifically-valid AML needs to comply with the recommendations of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) regarding adequate herd-size for equids. Increasing the AML per the IUCN guidelines also comports with the results of a recent meta-analysis regarding minimum viable population (MVP). Here are the links to the IUCN discussion on equid herd-size and to the MVP meta-analysis report:
BLM needs to increase the low-bound of the Sulphur AML to at least 2,500 and the high-bound to at least 5,000. BLM does have the authority to modify AMLs, and should correct Sulphur herd’s through amendments to the Resource Management Plan (RMP) and Herd Management Area Plan (HMAP). These actions should be taken right away. The corrected AML will result in a stocking-rate of one horse per 53 to 106 acres, which compares favorably with the one cow or calf per 38 acres that BLM allows on federal lands, as shown in the analyses that follow.
Sulphur HMA — Utah — AML, and Acres per Wild Horse — Current
AML: 165 to 250 — Below minimum-viable population
Total acres: 265,711 — which is approximately 415 square miles
Acres per wild horse: 1,063 – 1,610 — about 1⅔ to 2½ square miles per horse
Sulphur HMA — Utah — AML, and Acres per Wild Horse — Recommended
AML: 2,500 to 5,000 — Meets minimum-viable population per IUCN
Total acres: 265,711 — which is approximately 415 square miles
Acres per wild horse: 53 – 106 — about 6 to 12 horses per square mile
BLM’s National Authorized Livestock AUMs
But can the Sulphur HMA, composed of 265,711 acres sustain up to 2,500 mustangs at 106 acres per horse? What about 5,000 mustangs at 53 acres per horse?
BLM’s approach to determining appropriate levels of livestock-grazing suggests that the answer to both questions is “Yes”.
Below are the National statistics for authorized commercial livestock-grazing on BLM lands per animal-unit months (AUMs). Note the stocking rate: One cow or calf per 38 acres.
157,000,000 acres of public lands on which BLM allows cattle
1,033,333 cow+calf pairs that BLM permits to graze = AUMs annualized
2,066,666 cow+calf pairs per typical 6-month permit = annual AUMs x 2
4,133,332 cows and calves = pairs x 2
38 acres per cow or calf
BLM may argue 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.”
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.
Bundy-Supporting Permittee Grazed His Livestock beyond Authorized Use
In neighboring Nevada, permit-holder Kevin Borba, whose allotment includes land inside the Fish Creek HMA, engaged in unauthorized livestock-grazing “consistently for six months” outside the permitted use. He had his cattle out there year-round. He owes $29,410.62 in fees and fines for willful trespass, but has subsequently sued BLM over the loss of his “rights” and to stop BLM from returning any wild horses to the range following the recent gather.
Such abuses by permittees are likely widespread. Cliven Bundy and Kevin Borba are not alone in this regard. Utah has its share of rogue-ranchers too, as recent events have demonstrated.
What If There Is Not Enough Forage to Support 5,000 Horses?
Nature has its feedback mechanisms that function to right-size a herd to fit the land’s carrying capacity. Biologist Robert Bauer points out that
… density dependent inhibition plays an important role also. In this scenario, what that means is that the numbers or density of wild equine, versus competing ruminants, such as the pronghorn, each will fluctuate in response to the other based upon the carrying capacity of the land, yet always in perfect balance. In essence, the pronghorn need the presence of wild horses and burros, just as much as the wild horses need the pronghorn. Each population will have the effect of keeping the numbers of another competing population at levels that are ideal for the carrying capacity of the land.
LONG-TERM VIABILITY OF THE SULPHUR HERD
Genetic Evaluation of the Sulphur Herd
BLM notes that the Sulphur herd has Spanish Barb genetics. Many reportedly have the primitive dorsal stripe and “tiger stripes” on their legs.
Careless and excessive removals of wild horses can nullify preservation-efforts. Thus, the very characteristics for which this herd is known could be lost by ignorant management. BLM-Cedar City is duty-bound to conserve the Sulphur herd and manage it for a self-sustaining, genetically-viable population.
Recommendations: Perform a complete genetic study of the herd. Per test-results on DNA samples analyzed by the Equine Genetics Lab and per guidance from Dr. Gus Cothran, BLM must then develop best management practices to restore and maintain gene-pool diversity via robust population-levels. An AML is valid only if it provides for a optimal population — one that can easily self-sustain its genetic viability and bounce back from random catastrophic events. It is not scientifically valid to conduct removals blindly — without regard to the herd’s genetics. Submitting DNA samples after-the-fact has it backwards.
The correct order is:
Sample complete — 100 percent.
Manage per test-results.
There should be no removals or contraceptions without knowing and managing per the genetic data for each herd-member.
Drastic Limitation of Herd-Size Leads to a Non-Viable Gene Pool
I would urge the BLM-Cedar City to study the topic of “genetic drift.” An excellent resource is linked below. Please note that stochastic events — random, chance happenings — can eliminate important survival-supporting, adaptive genes from a population. BLM’s currently-inadequate AML, enforced through sudden, draconian removals and mass contraceptive vaccinations, could randomly wipe out certain traits that are valuable and well-worth conserving.
Please study the danger of creating a “population bottleneck,” which is especially risky when a population is small, as is the case with the mustang-herd in question. Please also review the topic of the “founder effect” — which occurs when a new colony is started by a few members of the original population. It too would apply to previous removals. Refreshing your understanding of these evolutionary impacts will surely make it clear that the proposed intensification of PZP treatment is contraindicated. Here is that link:
Removal of Young Horses that May Be Their Sire or Dam’s Only Offspring
Captured horses would likely consist predominantly of mares and their foals, along with band-stallions. Bachelor-stallions escape more easily, resulting in a gender-ratio imbalance post-gather. Too few mares and too many studs is bad for the gene-pool. BLM-Cedar City must be careful in this regard. Because the Sulphur herd’s current population is below MVP, and because mares have been contracepted, certain bloodlines could be extinguished by mass-removals.
A HELICOPTER-ROUNDUP IS ILL-ADVISED FOR SEVERAL REASONS
Helicopters Are Not Safe
BLM-Cedar City has been informed, in previous comments, that helicopters crash a lot. For that reason, helicopter-use should be restricted to functions in service of a higher good, such as saving lives or fighting fires.
Peculiar Way of Addressing Safety Concerns
Please note the irony of using a helicopter-stampede — a dangerous method — to deal with an alleged public-safety concern. Rather than increasing safety, this approach decreases it.
Helicopter-Drive — an Inhumane Roundup Method
Using helicopters to round up wild horses is inhumane. There is no way to make it humane. Helicopter-roundups are examples of worst management practices. It is a national scandal that they still continue, bringing disgrace to the Agency and reflecting poorly on the Administration.
Abusive Behavior by Helicopter Pilots during Gathers
As has been documented on video, helicopter-pilots conducting roundups become frustrated by the wild horses’ lack of cooperation. Impatient to get the horses moving faster, the pilots ram the horses with the aircrafts’ landing skids, in some cases even flipping the animals 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 wild 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
The 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 BLM officials present did nothing to stop the abuse.
An Angry Contractor May Be Headed Your Way
In case BLM-Cedar City were planning to employ the same helicopter-contractor who just worked the Fish Creek gather in Nevada, here is information you need to know.
Because that roundup was called off about 75 horses short of the planned number, the contractor was not happy. In fact, he tried to confront one of the humane-observers to make his displeasure known. She wisely refused to be provoked and just walked away.
Because the contractor’s profit-pump is primed, he could likely be more aggressive than usual. He could take out his frustrations on the horses.
Some Observers May Be Pumped-Up Too
Roundup-observers are bound to include anti-wild-horse parties — local ranchers, local elected officials. They are likely to be eager to bring a lawsuit against BLM on any pretext in sympathy with the Bundy-supporting, trespass-permittee in Nevada who, along with Eureka County Commissioners, just filed an IBLA appeal with regard to the Fish Creek gather.
The political weather is unstable. That is another good reason to call off the roundup.
Easy for Helicopter-Pilot to “Poach” Wild Horses from Neighboring HMAs
A glance at the map of the Sulphur HMA shows that Highway 21 approaches its boundary at one point before veering off again. The map also shows that Highway 21 passes by Blawn Wash, which is not-that-far east of the Sulphur HMA. Blawn Wash is associated with the Bible Spring Complex. However, having been downgraded to an HA, Blawn Wash is officially “off limits” to wild horses.
How easy it would be for a disgruntled and therefore highly-motivated helicopter-pilot to “poach” wild horses from the Bible Spring Complex by driving them into Blawn Wash. What would stop him from capturing wild horses that never set hoof near Highway 21? BLM needs to ask itself: Are we honestly trying to catch the Highway 21 trespassers, or are we allowing permittees to bully us into removing any 100 wild horses that the helicopter can find? The horses thus-captured might not even include the few that are — allegedly — “encroaching” on the Highway.
Possible Collusion with Permit-Holders
Perhaps, as you read this, permit-holding ranchers are in the HMA, pushing wild horses toward the Highway.
SUMMARY OF CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
1. Stop action. Cancel gather.
2. Complete environmental assessment.
3. Correct errors in the population-estimates.
4. Fence off Highway 21. Install wildlife-underpasses as needed. Apply the funds you would have used for this gather to begin construction of fences and underpasses.
5. Bring ’em back home. In the meantime, if a few wild horses really are straying onto Highway 21 — and the claim seems suspiciously-like a self-serving story that ranchers would invent — then BLM staff on horseback should be out on the scene “shooing” the mustangs back into the HMA. How else will the horses learn where they can and cannot roam? In short order, they will get the message.
6. Make it so they want to stay home. BLM should install multiple guzzlers deep within the HMA so that the wild horses will have water-sources available. That will reduce their dependency on stock-tanks operated by permit-holders. BLM should also entice the horses to stay home by placing treats such as mineral licks well-inside the HMA. BLM must remediate conditions that prompted the wild horses to wander. However, if the horses are following a seasonal migration route, then a wildlife corridor for them must be established. Regardless of these good measures, it is still essential to fence off Highway 21.
7. Amend the RMP and HMAP now to provide for a genetically-viable herd. The current AML and the actual wild-horse population of the Sulphur HMA are below mininum-viable population (MVP).
8. Increase the low-bound of the AML to 2,500 and the high-bound to 5,000.
9. Conduct a 100-percent evaluation of the Sulphur HMA herd’s genetic status.
10. Say “No” to helicopters.