Waiting gameWritten by Christy Martinez
The BLM released on June 13 an environmental assessment and decision record to implement a wild horse gather and fertility control program on the White Mountain and Little Colorado Herd Management Areas (HMAs) in Wyoming to bring the horse populations back to a level consistent with land capacity.
However, Public Lands Council (PLC) President John Falen says it is extremely concerning that BLM has since backtracked and announced it is re-evaluating the decision.
“The public comment period closed in May and the final decision to allow a gather was finalized. Why is BLM reopening its decision now?” asks Falen. “It appears the agency has decided to disregard science and its own environmental assessment to once again bow to animal rights extremists.”
Dick Loper of the Wyoming State Grazing Board agrees, saying, “The BLM put out a decision in mid-June that said they would spay as many as possible of the mares, but then they got calls from D.C. and the horse groups, and Washington caved to the horse pressure and told the agency to rewrite the decision and rewrite the spay program for minimal instead of maximum spay.”
“There’s no reason to give in to those people,” says Loper. “We’re doing what we can, but BLM is still willing to cave in to the horse people instead of doing what’s right for the land and the horses. We’re pretty unhappy about that.”
According to BLM, the maximum Appropriate Management Level (AML) on the White Mountain and Little Colorado HMAs is 400 horses. However, BLM estimates the current population is nearly 1,000 horses. The modified decision returns about 177 geldings to the two HMAs, and does not include spaying.
“The goal of the gather is to help create a minimally reproducing herd,” says BLM of its decision.
AML for White Mountain HMA is between 205 and 300 horses, and for Little Colorado HMA the number is 69 to 100. The two HMAs were last gathered in November 2007, and the 2011 gather is scheduled to start in mid-August, concluding in early September.
“The decision record is out, and we plan to gather at this time, but that could change,” says Wild Horse and Burro Specialist Scott Fluer of the BLM Lander Field Office.
“What we see is a continued degradation of the issue, and there’s no justification to wait for any study when land, horses and other multiple uses are in severe competition with each other,” says Loper. “All we need is a tough winter or a dry summer to create a real ecological disaster.”
Fluer notes that, because of the wet, cool spring, Fremont County, which contains seven out of 16 Wyoming HMAs, has very favorable conditions.
Loper notes that the BLM has backed off any gathers scheduled for late summer or early fall.
“We don’t know the schedule after late summer, but after the new BLM horse lead starts around July 1 we’ll start to get a better handle on what we might see in late summer and fall, but those gathers are almost entirely controlled by D.C.,” he adds.
Although many things are up in the air, Loper says the fertility treatment PZP for mares is still in the plans.
“They still intend to do that, but it’s a short-term fix and is very expensive, so that’s why we’re looking at other options,” he states. “The draft proposal that came out two years ago had the option of a spay program in select areas, but the draft that came out last winter didn’t including spaying mares. That’s why we’re waiting on the final, final rule, to see if spaying is even in it. It’s still an option at the field level, but the political support isn’t there.”
Fluer says the Red Desert HMAs in Wyoming, which are under the management of the Rawlins and Lander BLM field offices, plan to booster the 200 mares that were first given the PZP treatment in 2009.
“We treated them initially in October 2009, and if they were pregnant they still carried the foal to term, so in 2010 we still had a foal crop,” says Fluer. “The drug should have kicked in for 2011, and we’ll fly the Red Desert in late July or early August to count total horses, as well as the foal crop. We’ll know then if the fertility drug application worked in 2009.”
Because the boosters must be given in late fall, those gathers will take place from mid-October to mid-December. But, he notes, that could change, as could any plans to gather wild horses at this point.
Loper says that grazing groups and multiple use interests have had a good relationship with BLM staff at the Wyoming level, but it’s the national program that’s top heavy and prevents people at the state level from doing what they need to.
Wyoming interests are discussing their legal options regarding the BLM’s reluctance to follow through on any of their plans, however, Loper says that, until Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar releases his final plan, it will be impossible to evaluate any real options.
“Right now we’re pressing for a final plan, but so far they’re just caving in to the horse groups,” says Loper of the agency at the federal level, adding that the final decision, which was revised in mid-June, was recently released.
Regarding Wyoming’s consent decree, which dictates that the BLM keep Wyoming’s HMAs at AML, Loper says a meeting is being scheduled to discuss its renewal with the Attorney General’s Office.
“It does expire in a couple years, so it’s timely for us to be talking about it,” says Loper.