Cherry Picking our Public Lands and Resources to fuel the Selling of America
The Selling of America is not happening fast enough for two Congressmen from Utah, Senator Orrin Hatch and Representative Bob Bishop. They have introduced companion bills in the House and Senate, H.R. 2852 and S. 1524 respectively. The bills share a similar title that invokes righteous and beneficial intentions, and indeed provides additional funding to the “State Educational Fund” for 13 western States. The title both share is, “Action Plan for Public Lands and Education Act of 2011”.
I don’t think that too many people will argue that the education of our youth and citizens is extremely important and like many government programs could certainly use some extra money to provide quality education. But like many actions proposed and taken by our governments the devil is in the details.
By virtue of provisions in the Federal Acts admitting them into the Union, these States have received benefits to give them equal footing with the original States. A typical one was receiving Federal contributions to a permanent fund, the interest of which is to only be expended for the support of the common schools within the State. The contributions have come from 5 percent of the proceeds, after deducting all the expenses, of the sales of public land lying within the State, which are sold by the United States after the State received Statehood. This was all fine and dandy until 1976 when Congress passed the Federal Land Policy and Management Act and declared that the policy of the United States was to retain the public land that the Public owned and the federal government managed (Federal Lands).
Despite the fact that on average the State and Local taxes in the Western States is comparable to other States the growth rate of real per pupil expenditures in the 13 Western States is substantially less than the rate in the 37 other States (56 percent versus 92 percent). These Western States, as a group, are falling behind in education funding as measured by growth of real per pupil expenditures from 1979 to 2007. Nine of the 12 States with the largest pupil-per-teacher ratios are Western States.
The solution, and in their opinion obligation, of the two Congressmen is for the Federal Government to just give each Western State 5% of the Federal Lands that are in the States border. These Congressmen feel that because of the provisions in the Acts of Statehood for the Western States, the Federal Government has broken its promise which the Congressmen interpret was to sell ALL of the Federal Land and give the state 5%. So since the Feds stopped the policy of selling off America and the Western States can’t provide enough funds for education like the other States are able to do with the same State and Local taxes and all of that Federal Land does not generate any property taxes and on average 51 % of the land in each Western State is Federal Land compared to just 4.1 % for the other States. these Congressmen want to get some free land from which revenue could be generated from to help fund the gap in educational funds.
Not only to these Congressmen want to be given free land they want to be able to pick the 5%. And they want to get it free and clear, to do with whatever they want whether it is to sell the land, lease it, sell the rights for the resources or receive royalties from the removal and sale of any resources contained on/in the land they pick.
These Congressmen admit that the Western States can’t budget their revenues to provide funding for the education of their States citizens like the other States can do. So rather than fix their budgeting problems they want the rest of America to bail them out and let them have the cream de la cream of our Public lands. They don’t want to just ask that maybe we could help by allowing them to receive 5% after expenses of any proceeds that are generated from the public lands in their State, no they want it all and they feel they have the right to it and are OWED it.
Hey, don’t get me wrong educating our Citizens, all of them, is a big deal and something the Federal Government should assist in. But common guys you can’t be a little creative and unselfish? You want US to bail you out? You are ready to go forward with Selling America (your 5%) to whomever just because you can manage your own State Budgets. Isn’t it already bad enough that WE are all losing OUR land and receiving pennies on the dollar for it or OUR resources?
And what is really bothersome is the Public Land these Congressmen feel should be immediately available for them to pick from. They call it “Un-Appropriated” lands. Oh they specify certain exclusions that are pretty obvious.
(Lands: (A) held in trust as the part of an Indian Reservation;
(B) located within a United States military reservation;
(C) a unit of the National Park System;
(D) a Wildlife Refuge;
(E) a Wilderness Area designated by Congress;
(F) a National Historic Site;
(G) a National Monument;
(H) a National Natural Landmark;
(I) an Area of Critical Environmental Concern; or
(J) a Wilderness Study Area)
But it’s the land that is missing from their definition. Specifically the land Congress set aside for the principle use of our Wild Horses and Burros by the Free Roaming Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971. Could this be another reason for the push to remove the WH&Bs from the public lands since if there are not any Horses or Burros then it could certainly be argued that those lands aren’t being used for anything by the Federal Government and should be eligible for their “Land Grab”.
The arguments should be: Don’t give land away but change the existing policy of providing Federal funding to State Educational Funds by including 5% of all revenue from Federal Lands not just from Sales. Next, exclude all public land that was designated as Herd Areas in the 1971 act regardless of what designation changes the BLM has done since then and whether Wild Horses and/or Burros currently exist on those lands. Congress unanimously decided that those lands should be set aside for the WHBs, not just if they currently live on it right now, because Horses and Burros naturally are roaming animals and the land should be there for them to roam on to and off of.
During “Normal” times such proposed legislation would be considered selfish and possibly ridiculous but when our Country owes Trillions and Trillions of dollars to suggest we give away 5% of our prime real estate and natural resources is just plain CRAZY!! Give away a portion of our natural wealth and not even to offset the money we owe, come on how does this even make sense let alone fiscal sense?
For information on these two bills, their sponsors and the committees that are hearing the bills go to the following links:
For additional opinions visit:
The Wilderness Society and their article http://wilderness.org/content/sneak-attack-americas-lands .
If your Senator or Representative sits on one of the committees hearing these bills let them know you don’t support the continued and proposed escalated selling of our country. And if your Congressmen does not sit on a committee tell them the same and if either bill gets to the floor for a vote, you expect them to NOT SUPPORT these bills.
Special thanks to Laura Snyder Klutey for bringing attention to this potential travesty and attack on not only our Public Lands but OUR Wild Horses and Burros.
Preface: I am writing a more technical over view of my time in Ely and will be posting when done. Though I want to share with some of you how this personally affected me. I had never been to a roundup and thus was not sure what to expect. I wasn’t sure how it would affect me nor how I would handle what I saw and experienced. Going into it I knew that I am good at coping in highly charged emotional situations. I am able to compartmentalize very well when I need to. I also knew that I am not intimidated easily, so whatever the BLM might throw my way I could take it. Seeing the first group of horses brought in by the helicopter was surreal. I have watched videos, seen pictures and heard first hand accounts but watching these frightened animals fearing for their lives coming across the range through my own eyes was almost too real. I think I was so focused on trying to get good pictures and catch any wrong doings that I was able, in a way to disassociate. Once they were finally being driven into to the jute it was painful to see their last moments of freedom, their last run through the range as a family, the last time their destiny was in anyway their own. Yet somehow I didn’t cry, somehow I continued to ask the BLM liaison questions and act like the “gathers” weren’t unconscionable and unnecessary. I wasn’t a complete turncoat I think it was clear I was on the side of the horses but I tried to come across more middle of the road and less emotionally invested than I was. While watching the horses leave for the temporary holding site I felt sorrow for them. Once the day was called we loaded up into our car and followed the Rangers and BLM staff out to the temporary holding site. Once in the car driving alone with my fellow advocates, I felt dirty, dirty for “playing nice” with the staffers, dirty for acting like maybe I believed the BS they gave me about how they cared and it was all so necessary, dirty for acting like I was interested in their lives and perspectives. I was ashamed. But my dear hippie friends told me they knew why I was doing what I was doing and that it was the right thing. That it was what I needed to do for the horses so that I could get more information and make better contacts that we could use later. So once again I pushed my emotions to the back and trekked on the 1.5 hour drive to the temporary holding facility. There they were these horses that hours ago were Free beings, now corralled in pens like prisoners. Mares with foals in one pen (wet mares), mares (dry mares) in another and stallions in a third. I took pictures and watched them, looked for injuries and marveled at their beauty. As I looked through the lens or with my naked eye I could see many of the horses mares especially look right back at me. Which I should have expected I have been around enough horses in the last 12 years I have been training them. Yet to have a wild horse, free but moments ago look you straight in the eye, look straight into your soul was both touching and heartbreaking. It seemed as if they knew that I wasn’t like the other people (Sun J and the BLM) and it felt like in some way they were asking, “If you feel this is wrong why don’t you help me?” I would have given anything to be able to do so. We left for the day and drove back toward Ely. The start of the next day allowed us to follow the Rangers and a new team of BLM liaisons out to the temporary holding site first, in order to watch the stallions loaded to be shipped to Gunnison prison. We arrived there in time to watch the loading process. Some of the stallions went easy, being run into a chute and then up a ramp into the trailer. Others spun and jumped trying to avoid compliance. One stallion jumped the 6 foot panel of the loading chute and back into the holding pen. He wasn’t hurt from what I could see but was eventually ushered back into the loading chute and onto the trailer. It was beautiful and sad. Beautiful seeing them move, seeing their spirit ornery to the last moment and sad obviously knowing this was their last stand. As the trailer was closed and began to pull away it brought about the most heart wrenching moment of the whole experience for me. I will always remember this moment and I know (even as I write now) it will always bring tears to me. As the trailer began to pull away, the mares without foals began to whinny to the stallions, then the mares and foals began calling out, then stallions answered. All calling to each other, the last time they would ever hear each others voices. The sorrowful goodbyes of families torn apart. I cried just a little not wanting the wranglers and BLM see me weak. But burning inside with sorrow, knowing that these horses would never see each other again. That now truly their lives had been shattered. That this was the end of their way of life. Now seeing a roundup firsthand and seeing how the horses behave once in the trap, how relatively calm they are once the helicopter is no longer chasing them and the are once again together even if it is in the trap, it makes me think… They run and fight to try and avoid the trap and to escape the helicopter. Once in the trap and nothing is chasing them they think that their immediate danger is over so they calm down and try to recollect for what the next danger is. They are in the lions den but the lion is not trying to eat them so for the moment there is some feeling of safety. It is how a horse thinks, survive the immediate danger to my life. What they can’t comprehend is that the danger is more present than ever. If they knew what awaited them I know they could break through the panels, jump them to freedom but they think they are safe for now. There is no way they can know the purgatory they face for it is only something that humans can do to them. Perhaps worse in away then the death they thought they fled from. A lifetime of loneliness, a lifetime of wondering what happened to their family members, an existence and way of life ripped from them. Alive yes but perhaps in some ways a fate worse. I think if they knew what danger they truly faced they would fight even harder. Alas for these horses there is no way to know what kind of enduring purgatory the humans have in place for them. I walked away from the trip feeling like a learned a lot and made some difference as to how the horses were treated. I think if we weren’t there and Sun J and Ben Noyes (the wild horse and burro specialist) were not being watched they wouldn’t have been as gentle in certain circumstances. By playing friendly I was able to make inroads and lull them in to a false sense of security thus gaining more information than I would have been able to otherwise. When I did have concerns they were addressed and looked into because I believe the liaisons didn’t feel like I was an adversary. I think we gathered strong data and I will share pictures and footage I have when it is compiled. In those regards I think “playing nice” helped the horses. For me though, it cost me. I am an actress I lived in LA for years doing it, I know how to play a role and I did that. But it cost me something, a piece of me. All I can do is try to take solace in the fact that I truly feel I made in roads and gathered useful information that I would not have been able to otherwise. And I will sell a little bit of myself over and over again if I think it will help the horses… This was my experience. I will be putting out a more detailed fact driven overview as soon as it is completed. So please be watching for that… ~Cinnamon
The United States Federal Government has a Department and agency that has been quietly operating under the radar and out of control by most of the past Administrations, Congresses and the citizens for quite some time, The Department of the Interior (DOI) and its Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
The DOI administers all of the lands and resources within the boundaries of the United States that are under Federal Jurisdiction. This includes the National Forests, Parks, territorial waters and Federal lands. The BLM is responsible for managing the Federal lands per the direction of Congressional laws and following the Code of Federal Regulations.
In the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 the DOI/BLM was charged with managing these lands for Multiple use between the public, commercial interests and established Congressional Interests. The Congressional Interests included the natural resources on in and under the land, environmental, native and endangered species and, by the passage of the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, Wild Horses and Burros that live on the public lands.
Prior to the 1971 and 1976 Acts the BLM pretty much managed the land and resources with “Who has the best offer or is the closest Friend” method more commonly know as “The Good Ole Boy Network”. After those Acts and subsequent establishment of specific Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) on how those Acts should be regulated the BLM was faced with a difficult challenge. How could they continue their same method of operation given the new directions from Congress? Well unfortunately or it could be said by design the 1971 WFRHB Act had some wiggle room in it and the 1976 Act provided an array of “Justifications” that the BLM has been leveraging to keep up business as usual.
For the past 30 years or so the BLM has been quietly running it’s same game pretty much on their own with little attention from Congress and the public. Some of the benefactors are clear. Those are in the public records. Others may not be so easy to spot. It is now a matter of public/Congressional record the BP/DOI-MMS (Mineral Management Services) fiasco and collusion. It has been reported that in the mid 1990s the DOI/BLM conducted its own internal investigation and uncovered a scheme that involved BLM’s own employees that were selling some of the “Excess” Wild Horse gathered from the public lands that Congress mandated should be theirs to freely roam. This wasn’t some fly by night operation where a couple of horses here and there were sold off, no this was a well thought out scheme with purposeful intentions to deceive anyone that might try looking into the numbers. And it’s worth noting that these “Gathers” were the method that the BLM chose for managing the Wild Horses and how they determined the number of horses to take on the public land (they call them “Excess” horses) was to set a number of horses that could be in an area without disrupting the ecology or preventing other multiple uses of that land. The BLM calls this number “Appropriate Management Level” (AML). That investigation was put to a stop when the path started to climb up the ladder. Now over ten years later the “Gathers” are still going on at an accelerated rate and similar situations that led to the investigators discoveries then are occurring now. The BLM publishes statistics on their own website that don’t make sense and cause their actions to be questioned once again.
Speaking of the official method for managing Wild Horse and Burro populations on OUR public land on the surface it sounds like a reasonable approach to monitor the populations and when the population starts to exceed the “Capacity” of the Herd Management Area move off excess horses and/or burros. But that presupposes that the number of Wild Horses and Burros that the HMA can support is an accurate number. But how does the BLM establish such a number for AML? Well they use all kinds of factors like average rainfall, amount of forage for grazing, estimates of the number of horses that live in the Herd Management Area (HMA) the number and available water sources and what they think the possible damage a horse can do to the land. There are other factors and the BLM would have you think that they spend a lot of time and effort to determine those. Like how much acreage is needed for a horse to get food for a month. But the ones that they have really liked to use are how much acreage of public land is needed to feed a cow.
A couple of years ago the Government Accounting Office (GAO) issued a report that basically said the DOI/BLM method for setting AML numbers was not based on current science and there were no official or consistent guidelines used by field offices for coming up with those numbers. Just during the past couple of weeks the BLM issued a press release that it has asked the National Academies of Science to prepare a report reviewing the reports done over 30 years ago and give recommendations on what the best science and methods are for making environmental assessments used in planning for the public lands. That’s a good step, to try and use actual science and methods by the folks that know what they are talking about but the report is not due for 2 years and until then it’s going to be business as usual for the BLM in spite of outcries from the pubic and a Congressional Letter to the Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, to cease “Gathers” until the NAS had weighed in.
Now you may ask why do we care how the DOI/BLM does their job and if they are going to try and improve it then that’s a good thing right? It is good that finally there will be serious efforts with the appropriate resources using the most current available sciences to determine the best and right way to management OUR public lands based on what Congress has mandated. But and it’s a big but, the carnage that is the BLM is continuing and there are resources that quite possibly could be gone within the next several years or degraded to the point of no longer being sustainable on their own. There is contamination of the land that might be irreversible or take billions of dollars to clean up and restore. There is land and water that will be lost to Corporate interests and some of those interests are outside of our own country. OUR public lands and resources are being sold out from under us to the highest bidder and in some cases without limitations.
For many years there have been Advocates that have tried to make a stand for the Wild Horses and Burros on OUR public lands that Congress mandated in 1971 should be principally although not exclusively used for them to live free. Those Advocates have tried to bring to the attention of the public and elected officials, at the local and national level, the plight of these Wild Horses and Burros and how the BLM is not managing them properly. There have been documentaries made and news specials but the travesty that the BLM is perpetrating on these magnificent animals and icons of the Freedom and Spirit that built this country is just the tip of the iceberg for the atrocities the BLM is doing to OUR public lands.
You should ask yourself “Why is it that of the millions of acres (26.6 million managed by the BLM) that are now where Wild Horses and Burros are “Allowed” to roam, that the BLM says only 27,000 should be there?” And this amount of land has been reduced from 40.3 million acres when Congress first mandated that the Wild Horse and Burros should have that land as their principle home. Does it even make sense? 26.6 million acres and only 27,000 wild equines? That’s 985 acres per horse/burro!! The BLM states that on the worst rangeland, grazing wise, it only takes 240 acres per year for a horse to feed. That’s rangeland with the least amount of forage and water in some of the harshest areas of Nevada where Horses and Burros are now living. What makes this even more incomprehensible is that for that the BLM manages over 250 million acres, 11% of that is for the Wild Horses and Burros, and the say it’s ok for up to 12.5 million livestock to graze on the land. And on the same land that the Wild Horses and Burros are allowed by the BLM to be on the majority of the resources are allocated to private livestock use. In some areas there are 13 times more livestock than horse or burros. And it’s ok for cattle to graze on OUR public land since the land should have Multiple Uses and we can charge for the grazing of livestock right? It would be except WE don’t make any money for charging grazing fees. WE actually lose money because the permit fees are set so low and the cost of managing that program are so high (one of the management costs is the removal of “Excess” wild horses from the land so that livestock can graze and the cost of a “Gather” of “Excess” wild horses and burros can easily exceed several million dollars). And just to illustrate how crazy this management is the BLM is supposed to follow CFRs (Code of Federal Regulations) that say when it comes to determining when to remove “Excess” wild horses and burros (because the BLM arbitrarily set a level, AML, and then decides there are more animals than that level) the BLM should remove grazing livestock from that same land before removing any wild horses or burros. That makes sense right? Not in the BLM logic of decision making.
That’s because the 1971 Act that Congress passed has been a thorn in the method that the BLM operates under. They have to make efforts to follow the law but the 1976 Lands act gave enough ambiguity for the BLM to basically do what ever they want, as long as they follow the guidelines in both Acts and the CFRs that are pertinent. Which means they don’t have to provide any real valid data and they can pick which guidelines and CFRs are pertinent to support or justify the decisions and management methods they choose.
What does all this mean? It means there’s a new bidder in town. Actually a couple new bidders and some newly empowered ones. The previous BLM favored Rancher and their cattle are fast going the way of the Wild Horses and Burros. That’s off OUR public land to make way for the Big Business of Energy and Mining. You see it’s not a matter of if you are for keeping OUR public lands available for Wild Horses and Burros to freely roam or allow livestock to graze on the land, it’s about OUR government doing the job that they are mandated from OUR Congress to do. It’s about protecting OUR interests and not the interests of particular Politicians, appointed officials, government employees, friends/family/good ole boys or Corporations. It’s about working to find solutions that satisfy all interested and effected parties and not just taking the easy course at the expense of OUR lands, resources and Wild Horses and Burros. It’s about responsibility and accountability. It shouldn’t matter which side of the fence you stand on or which issue you advocate because the way things are going there will be no winners when the dust literally settles on OUR public lands. Wildlife will be affected, habitats will be impacted, resources will be gone, Wild Horses and Burros will be gone or not viable to survive, water sources will be contaminated and the wilderness that was supposed to be preserved for the benefit of this country’s citizens and our future generations will not be what it was. It will just be land with nothing for anyone or anything to benefit from.
4 Days in Wells, NV
Day 3, Friday
Part I – Predator in the Sky.
(Author’s note: I apologize to those who have been waiting or anticipating this post in the continuing chronicle of a 4 day trip during the final days of the BLM Antelope Complex “Gather” February 2011. Life get’s busy but the affect this experience had on Aaron and myself generated much passion in me to post what occured. Hopefully the final part of the chronicle will follow soon. Thank you in advance for visiting and reading.)
Friday morning started of pretty good, probably from getting a much needed 8 hours of sleep. I actually had a hard time getting to sleep the night before because I couldn’t get out of my thoughts the events at the Holding Pen facility with the BLM Ranger and the efforts to intimidate Aaron and myself by the “Warning” I was given. I had reviewed the photographs that Aaron took as we had approached the facility from the rear entrance and it was clear, there were not any people in the pens with the horses and the justification used by the BLM for my “Infraction” was completely bogus. I was also bothered by the profiling that was done by the BLM Public Affairs Specialist (PAS) and I was sure that it was the real motive behind my “Warning” and scolding. I knew what was going on and I knew that I had actually been fortunate that during the incident, the Government Videographer had started recording it from when the Rangers and the PAS had met Aaron and I as we were getting out of our vehicle. This was going to be my trump card. As my exhaustion finally caught up with me I accepted I had worked through all of the events and tomorrow the BLM would find out that some of us know how the game is played better than they do. Feeling that I had worked through all my thoughts thoroughly I drifted into a peaceful sleep.
The message on the “Gather” hotline number said that we were to meet at 6:00 AM at the same Truck Stop parking lot we had met the previous day. I had set my alarm on my phone for 4:30 AM but ended up sleeping in a bit longer. I finally got out of bed around 5:00, hopped in the shower to help get the blood flowing and called Aaron around 5:45 so we could head over to the Truck Stop just on the other side of the freeway. Well I underestimated how much time it would take to gather everything for the day, cameras, warm clothing, laptop, extra batteries and power cords so I ended up outside of Aaron’s room straight up 6:00 AM. It had snowed a little overnight or the early morning and the sky looked like more could be on the way. We head off and hoped that with the weather conditions, everyone might be running a little late and we would still make it before the BLM caravan left. When we pulled up there were two BLM Ranger trucks parked and another vehicle with other observers for the day. I quickly parked and walk over to the Rangers to ask if we had time to fuel up and get some coffee. I was told that we still had time since the Public Affairs Specialist (PAS), Lesli, was on the road driving from Elko, about 60 miles away and the weather and road conditions were pretty much the same as we were having so she would be delayed.
We drove to the fuel pumps, started pumping and went inside to get supplies. (Water, snacks, some fruit and a couple of breakfast pastries. I had to get my morning coffee and 5-hour energy drink. Aaron was a little better with his beverage choice, at least it only had sugar in it.) We drove back where the caravan was parked and found a spot to wait for the BLM PAS to arrive and find out if the roundup was still going to happen this day since the weather looked pretty nasty. After a couple of minutes another BLM Public Affairs Specialist arrived in his Government SUV along with the Videographer. I had been informed that this PAS was based out of Colorado and was attending this Roundup to assist Lesli. I noticed Videographer, Jim, walk in front of us to the Truck Stop store. I figured this was a good time to show my trump card or at least put it out there I was holding one. I knew that if it came down to it, via FOIA I could get a copy of that video tape from the day before when I received my scolding and was profiled by the BLM Public Affairs Specialist. When Jim came out of the store I stepped outside my vehicle and walked over to him for a morning conversation. I re-introduced myself and we cordially discussed the weather and odds of the roundup being called off. I then asked him how I could get a copy of the video he shot of my incident at the holding facility since I thought it was a little out of line and excessively harsh. He told me he wasn’t quite sure but I could follow up with Lesli or check the BLM website where they probably had a document for such requests. Jim also told me that he didn’t even have a way to review any of the footage or know how to access the footage because he wasn’t familiar with this particular camera. This was the first time he had used this specific model. It had been sent from Washington DC to him in California before he came to Wells, NV and when he was done he would send it back to DC where the video would be downloaded by someone there. I told him I understood, thanked him for sharing the information and I would follow up checking the website. He went back to the BLM SUV and I returned back to the warmth of my vehicle.
I told Aaron about my conversation and we discussed how my request was going to either add fuel the fire that got started or add another item in the BLM’s attempt at trying to figure out just who Aaron and I were and why we were there. Either way I just wanted to let them know the actions they took the previous day were not going to get the results they apparently were seeking and this ole boy knew the rule book and how to play these types of games pretty good. Lesli arrived shortly and after she had spent some time with the BLM team she headed over toward us and the other vehicle of observers to give us an update. She told us that we would not be leaving for the trap site right away since the weather was still not looking very good and the forecast was for more of the same at best or the snowfall amount could increase. If the latter was the case, they would be calling off the day’s Roundup. She said we would give it a little while since her communication with the Contractors at the trap site indicated that the conditions there were not as bad as where we were at and so we would hold off for a bit and she would be checking back with the trap site a little later to make a final decision. I told her that was fine since we didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks traveling to the site and if we had to wait for a while or the Roundup was called off for the day we completely understood. I took the opportunity to ask her about obtaining a copy of the video from the previous day, as Jim suggested. I wanted to be sure she knew I was not pleased with the treatment I received the day before and was too excessive. Also I felt that the motivation was not to insure the safety of the contractor’s staff but based on something else. She assured me that they were just concerned for everyone’s safety as well as that of the horses in the pens. She went back to the BLM SUV and we stayed warm where we were in our vehicle.
When I got back into our vehicle Aaron brought up a good point. If the result of my inquiry on obtaining a copy of the video did end up adding fuel to their efforts to intimidate us, we should be sure to not give them any possible innocuous justification to further their strategy and put us in a position we didn’t want to have to deal with. We decided that it would be best to “Clean” our vehicle of any items that could be twisted by a surprise “Search” from the Rangers or possibly other local Law Enforcement, especially since I had already disclosed I had my personal handgun with me. We had seen a Highway Patrol cruiser pull up to one of the Rangers truck and have a conversation of some sorts. Now maybe Aaron and I were just being a bit paranoid, but from accounts I’ve read previously of people who have had “Run-Ins” with BLM Rangers and coupled with how they had really reached hard to find a “Justification” for berating and issuing me a written warning the day before, we agreed that an ounce of prevention would be well worth it in this case. Additionally both Aaron and myself experienced odd cell phone behavior the night before. Aaron’s phone indicated he had good cellular signal but could not stay connected when calling home and his texts weren’t working well either. It could have just been the fact that his phone experienced some challenges being dropped off the side of the road, possibly being driven over by me and spending a sub-freezing night in the Nevada desert. But I had the exact same problems and we have different carriers. My phone indicated I had 4 bars of signal strength and 3G connectivity. When I was trying to call home I attempted at least 10 times before getting the call through and each attempt never even started dialing. When I was able to establish my call after just a few minutes the call was dropped. I tried off and on for the next hour getting the same results of not even a dial tone. I was finally able to get through again just long enough to tell Debbie my phone was acting up and good night. It was pretty strange and added another justification to do anything we could to not give anyone any reasons for additional harassment and/or acts of intimidation. I asked Lesli if we had time to drive back to the hotel and she told me they would not be leaving for at least awhile longer. So Aaron and I headed back to the hotel to take any items from our vehicle that could be used as cause to harass us more. Pocket knives, my handgun and extra shells, my radar detector and even the propane tank for our camping heater. We then headed back to the Truck Stop and checked in with Lesli. She was still waiting to hear from the Trap Site on the weather conditions there so we once again parked and cranked up the heater.
After about 10 minutes or so Lesli made rounds from the BLM SUV over to the other Observer’s vehicle and then to us. She told us that the weather conditions at Trap Site was much better than where we were at, it was still very overcast and lightly snowing. That being the case, we would go ahead and proceed in a caravan towards the site but due to the weather we would just take it slow. The roads had been previously plowed but snow and slush were already accumulating again. Our caravan consisted of the lead BLM vehicle with 2 Public Affairs Specialist and the Government Videographer. Next was the vehicle of the 3 other observers that day (All 3 had Name Badges that indicated they were related with some media organizations. I had met one lady previously and read online articles from the other two and I understood all three as being active Wild Horse and Burro advocates.) Aaron and I came next and behind us completing the caravan was one of the BLM Rangers. It was now snowing pretty good and I wanted drive a bit slower. Even our Ranger escort was dragging uncharacteristically farther behind us. Meanwhile the lead BLM vehicle and other observers were speeding down the highway. Aaron and I thought it was a little odd with the Ranger staying back almost a mile and the BLM PAS’s just about as far ahead of us. It was probably just a bit of paranoia again on our part but we were happy that we had “Cleaned” up our vehicle regardless.
We came to the turn off that would lead to the trap site and to my surprise it was the same place we had gone to the previous day. Lesli had indicated the day before that the Roundup for today was going to be closer to the Holding Facility so I thought maybe we would be taking a short cut across the HMA and just followed along. As we headed down the BLM dirt road our Ranger stayed back at the gate and let us get further ahead before continuing to follow behind. Since this was the same road where we had literally run into Cattle being brought onto the range the day before, Aaron scoured the horizons with binoculars as we drove along. About a mile down the road he did spot some cattle off in the distance but they didn’t look like the pregnant cows and there certainly were not near as many as had been dropped off so we figured the rancher who had the lease and cattle had pushed them further back in the range. The weather was definitely much better than back in Wells. There was even some sunshine breaking through the clouds with just one dark group way off to the east. As long as it wasn’t moving towards us or that was not our destination the day would just be a cold one. The temperature outside was in the low 20’s. This day we just followed the lead BLM vehicle without any stops for calls to the trap site. Apparently the extra time we had spent at the truck stop was used to be sure everything was good at our final destination. We followed the exact same path from the day before and low and behold we were going back to the same trap site.
When we arrived and parked I asked Lesli about the location and why they had not moved to the one she had told me about just yesterday. She responded with a puzzled expression that this was where they had planned to be and from her expression and tone implied she had no idea of what I was talking about. I just shrugged it off as another case of BLM doublespeak. I did make a point to show Lesli a receipt I had in my camera bag from a recent Supercross event in San Diego that I had attended with my daughter a few weeks earlier. I wanted her to know that I had not, nor was I trying to be deceptive regarding anything I had told her. I was not a professional photographer just because I have a nice camera and telephoto lens. I do use it primarily for taking pictures at Motocross and Supercross racing events along with nature pictures for my own pleasure as well as that of my family’s. Aaron and I did not openly specify why we had come to Wells, NV and to a BLM public operation but that is not a prerequisite for observing this “Open to the Public and Media” BLM operation. There was no reason for us to explain, justify or inform anyone about why we were there. These “Gathers” are open to the public for observing, Period. We are not required to inform anyone on why we are observing, what we are observing or how we observe. As long as we adhered to the list of guidelines given to us and followed the instructions of the BLM representatives we are entitled to be there for whatever reason we choose.
Our Ranger escort had caught up with us and Aaron struck up a conversation because he noticed the Ranger had a Satellite Phone with him so Aaron inquired to him about why he needed one today. We had also noticed that my “Cub scout” Ranger was already there when we arrived. We discussed amongst the two of us what where the possible reasons for these two things. Remember we were still expecting more of the same treatment from the BLM as we had received during my scolding and disclosure that the BLM was aware of my views and opinions towards the BLM. We figured my Ranger was there for one of two reasons. 1.) His supervisor thought that he had screwed up with his Cush assignment at the Holding Facility and he had “Earned” himself a day in the field escorting us observers and braving the harsh weather. Besides the mishandling (in my opinion) he did when issuing me a warning, he should have been paying better attention at the Facility. If the public was not to use the rear entrance then he should have been keeping an eye on it and interceded before we drove right up to the facility. Additionally if I had truly committed an offence that justified receiving a warning he should have done that at the moment he stopped Aaron and myself. Instead of instructing us to go back in the direction we had come from and follow the power line road until we could get back onto the highway to use the front entrance. 2.) The other reason was to have him where I was going to be in case I had another infraction, in which case as the Ranger who had gave me my warning and explained the ramifications if I had another infraction he would be justified in any actions that he decided was warranted. The satellite phone, we thought, would be to call for assistance if necessary since cell phone coverage was spotty at the trap site.
However based on the conversation Aaron had struck up with the Ranger who had brought the satellite phone, our assumption was not correct on that one. Evidently the previous night in Wells, NV there had been a shooting of a Sheriffs Officer and a couple of Highway Patrol troopers during response to a domestic violence call. The shooter had used a semi-automatic assault weapon and was on the loose. So the BLM Rangers were “On Call” in the event they would be required to assist in searching for the suspect. I was on my best behavior minding my P’s and Q’s because I was not about to provoke or provide cause for additional actions from any of the Rangers or BLM staff. I followed everyone navigation directions from our Ranger escorts as we made our way to the observation area. I made it a point to be sure I was close by either a Ranger or one of the Public Affairs Specialist. I also made sure that it was noticed I was complying by announcing that I was making sure to follow the rules and instructions that were issued. A bit to my surprise Lesli made lighthearted remarks to me and let me know that I was fine and didn’t have to worry. I thought that was nice but still maintained my “Stick to the Rules” approach.
When we arrived at the Observation area, the same location we had been at the previous day, the “Box” was missing. There wasn’t any yellow warning tape anywhere. I asked Lesli where we were supposed to settle in at. In a very nonchalant manner and with a noticeable effort to be friendly she indicated that we could pretty much pick any spot in the area but just not up along the top of the crest of the ridge directly behind us. Of course this would have been a prime location since from that vantage point you could view the valley in front of us where the horses would be driven down toward the trap, plus it provided the best view available of the Trap pens since they were pretty much blocked by that HUGE boulder from the views that were available for us to choose an observation spot. Also from the crest of the ridge a large valley on the other side could be viewed and it seemed from the previous day, the helicopter was pushing horses from that area. She told us the reason we could not choose that location was that the silhouette of our bodies could be noticed by the horses as they were being driven into the trap and they could be spooked by seeing our silhouette and run away from the trap entrance. Just to be sure I confirmed with the Ranger Aaron had been talking with and he too supported that wherever Lesli said we could be was alright. Aaron pointed out that my “Personal Escort” Ranger took up a spot on the crest of the ridge that was almost directly behind the spot I had selected. I found it curious that the justification we were given as to why we could not be on the crest was apparently not an issue for the Ranger. Evidently the horses must be used to seeing Ranger silhouettes LOL. Aaron suggested that I take a couple of pictures since he was part of the “Roundup” and being such was eligible for “Observation” as much as anyone else or anything else. I took Aaron’s suggestion and snapped a few pictures and I think it made him feel uncomfortable because when he noticed me taking pictures he auspiciously turned away and then a bit later choose another spot to keep a watchful eye from.
We all settled in to the spots we had selected. Aaron got one of the video recorders set up on a tri-pod to hopefully get better quality footage. The other observers were doing the same as was the Videographer. I had previously decided I was going to call out Lesli about how she had basically “Profiled” me the other day and the article she had read was pretty much stating the same general issues that Bob Abbey and included in a press statement that ironically was issued that same day. The points in my article highlighted the same items expressed in Abbey’s press release. However I felt, and stated in my article, that the program needed a complete overhaul that was based on a detailed analysis whereas Abbey’s take was that the program is broken but can be fixed and he is committed to making changes. I was about to point out to Lesli that I had checked my business website and there was no link or mention of any of the articles I have contributed but before I could do so she acknowledge she had misspoke the previous day and she had found my article on the another website. So I then asked her if she had read the other articles that I also have done for the BlogTalk radio show and online magazine BigBlendMagazine.com. She admitted that she had not and I explained to her that I was a regular contributor to their Business section because of my background and profession as a Business Systems Consultant. I let her know that the particular article she had read was one that I had written from a special request to assess the Wild Horse and Burro program from the perspective of analyzing the system and how it could be improved. Because of my profession and also horseperson with 18 horses on my ranch, which include 6 former BLM mustangs, it seemed like a topic that I could comment on from several viewpoints. I suggested that she go back and read some of my other articles as well and not judge me solely on one article that pertained to the program and agency she worked for.
She did point out that there was an inaccuracy in my article, although minor, where I referenced another agency by its abbreviated letters and that the agency was not part of the DOI. I was confident in the accuracy of the content in my article but told her I would review the article and make any corrections necessary. This sparked a discussion amongst one of the other observers, Lesli and myself on how confusing it can be to try and discern all of the relationships and responsibilities of the various government organizations. Lesli was noticeably more cordial today which surprised Aaron and I due to the air of suspicion we received and then the treatment by the BLM staff during our/my scolding and warning. We both had expected our every action was going to be scrutinized even more than it had been the day before. It seemed that Lesli was going out of her way to be as helpful and nice as possible. It was a pleasant and welcomed surprise and Aaron and I took full advantage of the image change. Even the one Ranger who Aaron had spoken with seemed a bit friendlier.
The conversations were silenced with the sound of the helicopter off in the distance. We all trained our focus towards where the sound was coming from, far up towards the top of the valley that led down to the trap. A few moments later we saw off in the distance a group of horses galloping from around a hill on their path towards the trap at the bottom of the valley. Through camera lenses we followed the horses with the helicopter hovering behind them. They continued on course when they suddenly slowed their pace. I could make out a black horse in the group towards the back. I immediately thought it was the same stallion from the day before who had turned away with his mare just before the final run into the trap with the Judas horse in the lead. I felt my suspicion was confirmed when just as he had the previous day only before making it down the valley he halted at turned abruptly and headed back towards from where they had just been driven. A few of other the horses followed this stallion who was not going to be fooled. The rest of the group still proceeded down the valley. The helicopter paused for a moment and then decided to continue pushing the group that was on their way towards the trap. This re-engagement of the group caused 4 of them to break off and head toward the rocky hill that made one side of the chute. The remainder of the horses continued down the valley followed by the helicopter which caused them to start back galloping towards the trap. As they neared the Judas horse was released and the group of 9 wild horses followed, about to relinquish their freedom at the end of a narrow pipe corral hidden behind rocks. That was it, one group brought in and the helicopter headed back to find and push those that had, momentarily, gotten away.
The pilot turned the chopper and headed back to the top of the valley to obviously go after the group that had broken off. The exhausted and bewildered group was loosely spread out back up the valley in a relatively flat spot. Confused as to where the rest of the band had gone and resting for a few moments. Their rest was about to end. We spotted the helicopter coming from the same direction where he had started earlier driving the horses from. It looked like he had the stallion in the helicopter’s pursuit from above. I focused my camera in as did Aaron with the video recorder. I witnessed this stallion’s attempt to defy the Predator from the sky. I could now make out the stallion was a bay not fully black. The pair, predator and prey, came up on a pregnant mare who became caught up in the chopper’s chase. The stallion galloped past the mare since she could not match the pace of the stallion but tried to keep up as best she could. Separated from her band and alone on the range of a small valley, she instinctively followed the stallion on a path that would hopefully lead to safety. The path that the stallion was taking was towards a pass on the east side of the valley made up of small rolling hills. It was the escape route. The pilot must have known this as well because the chopper sped up along the side of the galloping stallion and came down low in an attempt to push the horse back towards the downward slope of the valley. The stallion continued undaunted in his flight for freedom. The pilot continued parallel to the stallion as the stallion galloped along the crest of a small hill towards the open pass. Then the pilot accelerated the helicopter to get ahead of the charging stallion and cut into the horse’s path. This did it, their flight to freedom had been blocked and the stallion sharply cut back with the pregnant mare following.
The pair headed back from where they had just been chased from and apparently the pilot was satisfied they would not escape or spotted 3 other horses who had wandered up the rocky hills of the mountain face that made one side of the trap chute. The 3 were aimlessly wandering, scanning the hills and valley for their band, now separated and confused without guidance on where to go next. They were precariously close to the pass the stallion had been making his escape for so I’m sure the pilot didn’t want to let these 3 slip over and through it either.
Watching these events Aaron and I both had to make a point to state what we have previously discussed with the BLM Public Affairs Specialist, Lesli. They should have had a cowboy on horseback up there because a saddle horse with rider would have only had to come up over the hill and all of the Wild horses would have turned back down into the trap valley. The pilot moved up and over the 3 horses to push them back down but instead the horses started moving parallel on the hills but towards the trap. As the small group attempted to avoid the Predator in the sky they started moving farther up the rocky slope of the mountain. Again Aaron and I pointed out a cowboy on horseback would have been a good idea. We both would discuss later, what were those saddled horses tied behind the trap for and why wasn’t the contractor using them? The pilot again rose above the 3 and attempted to change their direction but they only moved further up trying to find safety in the large boulders. Finally, after several attempts of being pushed further up the mountain face and then having the helicopter move back and then try again from a different approach the 3 horses started making their way down towards the valley floor and trap. The pressure of the Predator above forced the small group into a gallop down the mountain stumbling across the rocky surface. They eventually reach the valley floor and with the helicopter positioned to prevent heading back up the valley the 3 continued towards the trap. As they approached the final several 100 yards and the Judas horse was released the lead Mare slowed her gait viewing the rock opening that led to the hidden corrals. It appeared that she could sense what was hidden behind, but just as suddenly has she had slowed and started to turn away, the Predator behind in the sky descended and she made a choice, her final choice, to avoid the clear danger and keep moving. Willing to take a risk on the unknown she headed down the chute to the waiting trap with the two other horses in the newly formed band following with her. It was done. That group was in and once again the helicopter pilot turned and headed up to the top of the valley for the two that had got away.
Off in the distance we could only see one lone horse in the valley floor. She was the pregnant mare. Still bewildered, she paused to rest and look all around for a horse from her band, any horse. The stallion had gone while the helicopter had been chasing the 3 down the hill to the trap. She was now alone. She wandered towards where she knew the band had gone, down the valley, while the helicopter was searching for the stallion. She wandered somewhat peacefully in that there was no longer any sense of immediate danger. She was no longer in flight mode from the Predator in the sky although it could still be heard in the distance behind her. She knew of only one safe place to go, that was where her band had gone. Her safety would be in reaching her band but it was clear the mare was exhausted. Through the lens of my camera I could see the sweat and lather building on her coat along with the steam it generated in the sub-freezing air. She trotted toward where she thought her band was, down the valley to the trap, trying to conserve her energy. Now mind you this mare would have trotted and walked herself right into those corrals at this point. But in the most egregious demonstration of cruelty and clear disregard for the safety and care of the Wild Horses being captured from their home, the helicopter pilot returned. Apparently not being able to find what he was looking for and wanting to get on with the capture of another group of horses he focused on this last pregnant mare. The pilot was not satisfied or did not have enough time to just allow her the time and dignity to continue with her intentions and trot to her destination and his trap. No he had to come in closer to the mare and push her into a gallop, once again. The fear could be felt and was visible in the image I witnessed through my lens. She did not hesitate or look back. She only wanted one thing, to get away from the Predator in the sky and to her band. As she approached the trap and final trail of the chute the mare did not hesitate or look around. The Judas horse was released but it was not even necessary. The mare was not stopping. It looked like she might just pass the loping Judas, still in her full gallop, but her energy was spent. She had no more. The wranglers came running out from their hiding spots with bags waving. But again there was no need. The Pregnant mare passed out of our sight behind the giant boulders that blocked our view of the trap entrance and corrals hidden behind. She had made it. She had escaped from the Predator in the sky.
The helicopter flew in front of us and over the tight corrals packed with the horses that had just been driven in. There was no regard for the horses below, who surely had thought they had escaped the Predator in the sky, and what final fear might be generated in those below now trapped with no place to flee. The pilot wanted to quickly head out to start his task once again with a new band.
All of the observers where saddened by what we had just witnessed with the last lone Pregnant mare being stampeded the final stretch of her freedom down the valley and to the trap entrance. Some were very upset and did not hesitate to speak so and others just tried to contain the mix of emotions, anger, pity, sadness, empathy and disgust that many of us were having. I had previously seen videos taken by observers, some of whom were there to witness and document once again, from past BLM captures or in BLM speak “Gathers”. Capture is the more accurate term that describes what we witnessed. Gather is surely the term used for Public Relations purposes in an attempt to convince those of the Public, in the Media or government officials that the act is a sensitive and caring one that is in the best interests of the poor Wild Horses that can scarcely survive living on the harsh rangelands. A word to create an impression in those same individuals mind’s that these Mustangs are being saved and done a favor by the BLM, via a contractor, in being “Gathered”. A term chosen in an attempt to create the illusion that these Horses are actually the lucky ones, because they had been selected this day to be saved. A Gather this was not. It was the instinctive flight of a prey animal from a predator and the fear generated was being leveraged by the contractor to capture these Wild Horses. It was deception by “Intelligent” beings perpetrated against another being, using a shared instinct, “Survival”, as the means by which to deceive.
Witnessing in person what I had only previously seen in video recordings made all of this very clear. Regardless of which side of the debate one is on whether or not the Horses should/need to be removed from their home land, seeing this transpire right before me made it clear that this is not the way it should be done. Aaron and I had already brought up many points of how this process was done wrong and how much more easy and calming the whole thing could be done and right now it was very apparent how flawed the BLM and their contractors method was. Aaron came to Wells, NV without preconceived opinions one way or another about “Gathers”. He had not viewed the videos I had. He owns horses and can appreciate the beauty and strength they exhibit and has compassion for their treatment. He’s heard the stories I have told but still was keeping an open mind. That was until this point. After witnessing the brutal forced gallop of a single Pregnant mare who was already moving to the trap, he could not contain his opinion of this event. Aaron stated for all to hear, he had an open mind before coming to the “Gather”, he hadn’t made a choice one way or another about the method or need of removing Wild Horses from the range but, “What I just saw was just plain cruel and inhumane. That helicopter pilot didn’t have to force that Pregnant Mare to a full gallop.” Right to the point. There was a moment of silence. I looked around and the BLM Ranger escorts had their heads hung. Lesli couldn’t dispute Aaron’s statement. Of course I had to add a few comments too but there wasn’t much more to be said or needed to be. All of who were there, public, media and government employees had just witnessed something that was totally unnecessary and mean.
We turned our attention to try and observe the next phase the formerly Wild Horses would have to endure, being forced from the small pipe corral pens into a gooseneck horse trailer which would be used to transport them to the Holding Facility. Myself and another observer struggled to lean back over the rocks and boulders that made up the ridge behind us in an attempt to get a view of the activities and look for the Pregnant mare to visually check her condition. I zoomed in as much as I could, jockeying around and between boulders but making sure to not move to a spot we had been told was off limits, the top of the Ridgeline. I’m not sure if it was due to compassion or concession or some combination of the two but Lesli saw us and told us we could move to other spots if we wanted since the Helicopter would not be back for a while. She even suggested some places where I was able to get a better view and not have to stand so precariously on the rocks. Still I did not want to go to the top but the other observer did take that opportunity. “My” Ranger escort had moved from his previous post protecting the Ridge to a spot further down and below the group behind a large boulder with only his boots visible. I took pictures and tried to find the mare but the HUGE boulder in front of the pens still obstructed the view and the snow fencing that was placed in front of the pipe panel hid any view that was there.
We continued discussing the awful and unnecessary driving of the Pregnant mare when it was clear she was not going to run away but was willingly trotting to the trap with only the sound and presence of the Predator in the Sky. How each instance where the Horses had not smoothly stampeded straight in to the trap could have been better mitigated and resolved by other means that would not present the hazard and potential for injury to the horses yet still yield the same result. I stated it appeared that the contractor did not understand basic equine behavior, wild or domesticated since they choose not to exploit those behaviors and tendencies other than the instinct to run away from a Predator. Whether the predator was chasing them on the ground or from the sky a horse will take just about any risk not to become a meal. After a while longer we heard the engine of the chopper once again and the sound was coming from the same direction as it had come from with the first group, far up the valley behind hills parallel to the ridge we were on. A few minutes later we saw off in the distance a herd of Wild Horses galloping from the danger behind them and then the danger they were trying to escape came into vision, the Predator in the Sky. There were 9 in this group and once they came into the open valley they slowed trying to access the best route for escape. The helicopter helped in making their decision by moving opposite the group and the end of the valley. The horses yielded and started down the path that was away from the Predator. As they moved down the valley the helicopter moved in and above the now galloping band keeping them aware of its presence. The horses tried to look for other routes but there was too much pressure, they could not slow their pace if they were going to have any chance of evading the Predator. They saw the rock pass at the end of the valley and headed straight for it on the path that was becoming beaten. As they neared the end, once again the Wild Horses instincts caused them to slow their pace. The surroundings were odd and seemed out of place. Bewildered, they started to move away from the trap and up the face of the rocky mountain but the pilot was prepared and moved up before the horses could completely change their course. They turned one last time from the Predator, back toward the trap. The Judas horse was released and headed straight towards the trap and the Wild ones immediately engaged with this horse and followed to apparent safety. That was it. Nine more captured and the helicopter turned once again back up the valley.
Not too long later the sound of the helicopter was heard again from the now familiar source, the top of the valley and hills along the ridge line. This time there were only four. This group was either completely exhausted or desperate in search of their herd because they put up no challenge. The horses followed what was now a familiar path, at least for us the observers. With the Predator’s constant roar above and behind them this 4 followed the route down the valley, to the chute and galloping as the Judas horse led them the final yards into the trap pens. The helicopter did what now seemed to be the victory fly over the trap pens and off into the large valley behind our ridge. That must have been the last of this group as the contractor’s wranglers moved into action starting to drive the just captured horses from the trap into the
gooseneck stock trailers. We were able to attempt at viewing and taking pictures. I took what images I could capture but still I could not make any assessment of the horses from this vantage. There had been several pregnant mares in this first group of 9 but their condition was hidden from us to observe. After the contractor had loaded the final horse there was a bit of commotion around the trailer. I focused in at what appeared to be the center of the attention. I watched as individuals went in closer to look at the rear side of the trailer opposite of us. It soon became clear, the trailer needed to have a tire changed. Evidently no one had checked before starting to load the horses. It was mentioned that down at the trap site the local BLM District and Field Managers were present. Aaron and I continued talking to the one of the Rangers, both of the Public Affairs Specialists and the other observers about how hard the horses were driven in. Clearly running hard for several miles prior to coming into view at the top of the valley. They all were visibly sweating even in the cold morning air. We discussed how you could see the stress of the Pregnant mares to keep up but never giving up. Aaron lightened the topic striking up conversation with the friendly Ranger. The two PASs spoke amongst themselves and us other observers continued talking of the events and wondering how many more horses would have to endure the same stampeded to captivity.
Lesli answered a radio call and a few moments later notified us she was going to head down to the trap site. The rest of us remained and waited for the next group to be collected by the helicopter and started on their fateful journey. After another 10 minutes or so the radio of the Public Affairs Special who had remained with our group crackled and he answered for a discussion. He finished and then informed us that the “Gather” was over for the day. Someone asked why but he didn’t have the answer just the message. We were a bit confused since the weather was not very bad compared with the day before and certainly what we had left back in Wells. The helicopter seemed to not have a problem locating horses but then again maybe that was it, they couldn’t find anymore. We packed up the cameras and tri-pod, collected up the gear and supplies we had brought for the day and once everyone appeared ready, started heading down the ridge back towards our vehicles. One Ranger leading the way and the other following up the rear with Aaron and I. I could see the contractor’s wranglers were already out taking down the mesh fence that had made our side of the chute, so it appeared this trap site was used up. As we walked back, the trailer loaded full of horse drove off to the Holding Facility. We were now anxious to go there so maybe we could find out how the Pregnant Mares had held up after their ordeal.
We know that the BLM is as fallible as is anyone. We have seen in the past that at times their math does not add up correctly. One instance I mentioned in Phoenix, the BLM often in documentation has stated that Wild Horses have a 20% foal increase annually, then go on to say that in four years the heard increases by 100%. Simple math states that 20×4=80 not 100. This is one example of a mistake.
Now what if the BLM has made another mistake this time in regards to their calculated “Appropriate Management Levels” (AML)
I reviewed the EA (Environmental Assessment) for the Twin Peaks Gather last year. I wanted to understand what justified such large numbers of Wild Horses and Burros being captured and removed from what is supposed to be their home. In the EA, a chart is used in explaining how the AML is calculated for the Herd Management Area (HMA).
When calculating Appropriate Management Levels, they take the “Animal Unit Month” (AUM) divide it by the number of months an animal will graze on the land, which gives them the “Appropriate Management Level“.
Now in the “Twin Peaks E.A” An Animal Unit Month is defined as follows…
1/ Animal Unit Month (AUM) is defined as the amount of forage necessary for the sustenance of one cow or its equivalent for a period of 1 month.
They then go on to define a Horse Animal Unit Month as…
2/ Horse AUMS are calculated using one mature horse (with foal) as 1 animal unit equivalent, for a 12 month grazing period.
(Within the following examples I will be referring to a fictitious Herd Management Area “Candy Land Peaks” for illustration purposes.)
Example A: There are 50 AUMs available for Cows on “Candy Land Peaks HMA”
These Cows are going to graze for three months. How many Cows can graze on “Candy Land Peaks HMA”?
The equation reads like this…AUM divided by number of months equals available AUMs per month for the cows…in our example it is 50AUM/3months= 16.666 Cows. So since we cannot have part of a Cow, the total allowed cows would be 16 Cows on “Candy Land Peaks HMA”
Example B: There are 50 Horse AUMs available for Horses on “Candy Lane Peaks HMA” These horses are going to graze for 12 months. How many horses can graze on “Candy Land Peaks HMA”?
Now here is where it gets tricky so stick with me…in the “2010 Twin Peaks Environmental Assessment” in a footnote it states…
2/ Horse AUMS are calculated using one mature horse (with foal) as 1 animal unit equivalent, for a 12 month grazing period.
With that in mind, back to our Example B
We have 50 Horse AUMs available for Horses on “Candy Land Peaks HMA” they are going to graze for 12 months. How many horses can graze on “Candy Land Peaks HMA”?
Since it is already stated that a Horse AUM represents the amount of forage for a 12 month grazing period it is not necessary to divide it by the number of months a
horse will be grazing. So the equation reads like this… 50 Horse AUMs= 50 Horses. So the AML for Horses on “Candy Land Peaks HMA” would be 50.
Here is the table from the EA:
|Table 1.5.2 Current Appropriate Management Levels for the Twin Peaks HMA Home Range||BLM Document(s)/Date||Appropriate Management Level (Numbers)||Forage Allocation (AUMs) 1/|
|Horses||Burros||Horses 2/||Burros 3/|
|Twin Peaks North||Multiple Use Decision/ EA# CA350-2000-16, 2001||155 – 288||22 – 42||1860 – 3456||132 – 252|
|Skedaddle||Multiple Use Decision/ EA# CA350-2000-16, 2001||58 – 108||10 – 15||696 – 1296||60 – 90|
|Dry Valley Rim||Multiple Use Decision/ EA# CA350-2000-16, 2001||39 – 72||15 – 22||468 – 864||90 – 132|
|Observation North||EA# CA-350-98-20, 1998; Land Health Evaluation for the Observation Allotment, 2008||150 – 216||5 – 8||1800 – 2592||30 – 48|
|Observation South||EA# CA-350-98-20, 1998; Land Health Evaluation for the Observation Allotment, 2008||46 – 74||20 – 29||552 – 888||120 – 174|
|Total||448-758||72-116||5376 – 9096||432 – 696|
1/ Animal Unit Month (AUM) is defined as the amount of forage necessary for the sustenance of one cow or its equivalent for a period of 1 month.
2/ Horse AUMS are calculated using one mature horse (with foal) as 1 animal unit equivalent, for a 12 month grazing period.
3/ Burro AUMS are calculated using one mature burro (with foal) as 0.5 animal unit equivalent, for a 12 month grazing period.
The total forage allocation for wild horses and burros combined in the Twin Peaks HMA ranges between 5,808 AUMs at the low AML to 9,792 AUMs at the high AML.
I believe this is clearly either a clerical error or a mathematical error. If it is simply a clerical error then once again it is another example of the faulty information and subpar standards that the BLM continues to provide. However if it is a mathematical error then it is an egregious mistake (purposeful or otherwise). If the AMLs are being miscalculated at such a large amount it would require an immediate halt of the roundups to remedy this error.
I hope that this assists in clarifying my statements and please let me know if there are further comments or questions…
Editor’s note: I’m new to “Blogging” and all that goes along with it. We did not have pre-conceived intentions when we left California about posting or sharing any images and video from our trip. It wasn’t until the 3rd day that Aaron brought up how much stuff we had and we should do something with all of it to help get the word out. Debbie suggested that people might like to “Get” a different perspective on these Captures from a couple of Boys from California so hence my posts have started coming. The previous video of the Cattle was uploaded by a Novice, Me, just trying to share what we witnessed. Then it was pointed out how the audio wasn’t playing. Well after SEVERAL attempts I was able to get a version for uploading to the internet WITH the audio but I still haven’t figured out how to get it on the blog LOL. So here’s a link to what I was able to upload on to YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IjExPY_frl4
After we pushed our way through all the cattle, banging on the vehicle door, hooting, hollering and whistling, we got back to the highway and headed south towards the Holding Facility where the 6 captured Wild Horses would be taken. We had told Lesli and the BLM Rangers who had been escorting us at the morning “Gather” that we would be looking for Aaron’s phone before we stopped by the Holding Pens and would start looking back behind the facility where we were hiking the day before. Aaron didn’t remember using his phone from that point on and that was where he had threw out the evil burger plus he had switched coats. So it seemed like the best place to start, being close to the Holding Pens, even if the phone wasn’t in the hills we would be real close to the facility and it would be a short drive plus the Holding Facility was the next place we had stopped the day before.
As we drove down the highway towards the Pens and our phone search location we notice a small herd of horses about a mile from the road. There were about 15 – 20 in the middle of a valley in the basin. Aaron pulled out a pair of binoculars and confirmed they were indeed horses and not cattle. We decided that on the way back to the hotel from the Holding Pens we would take a closer look if the horses were still there to see if we could tell whether or not they were Mustangs or those of a local rancher.
We followed the same route from the previous day driving past the Holding Facility off of US Highway 93a about 2 miles and turned onto a BLM road that headed up toward the foothills of the Mountain behind the Facility. Our first stop was where Aaron got rid of the burger and we had hiked up to the top of a hill. When we were there the day before, there were tracks of all sorts of game and horses. There were even some Big Cat tracks and Aaron told me I should bring along my hand gun just in case. Today, as I walked around the area where our vehicle had been parked, I noticed old twine from bales of hay and one spot where it was obvious someone had put out at least one bale because of the remains of the stick portion of the hay and twine that was still tied. Also there were old horse hoof prints and droppings in the small area of the remains of the hay and twine.
We found the evil burger and knew there must have been something wrong with it because it was still fully intact and clearly none of the critters in the area had given it even a nudge out of curiosity. We looked all around that spot and through the sage brush but nothing. The wind was still blowing really strong and the cold air pierced right through my clothing. Aaron headed up the hill in front of us following the path he had taken. I went back to the vehicle and bundled up to brave the cold. Aaron had cut the top off of one of his beanies so I could cover up my chapped lips. Man was that a lip saver. I too headed up the hill scanning the ground as I went. Because of the cold I never made it all the way to the spot we had checked for the vantage it provided but Aaron checked it pretty good and without finding his phone we headed back to the warmth of the vehicle’s heater and off to the next spot to check.
The next spot was back closer to the highway and the Holding Facility. We got there made a quick recon of the area and no phone. There was one more place before we had gone to the pens the day before. It was just off of the power line road that ran parallel to the highway and behind the pens. It was a small hill right before getting to the road that led from the power line road to the Holding Facility. The Holding Facility was set up in a Highway Construction/Supply location where sand, gravel, asphalt and some sort of excavated hole that was probably where all the sand came from. The road from the power line road wound past the big hole and mounds of sand/dirt. It split off at a couple of places but we followed the direction to the pens like we had done the previous day. As with that day there were still a couple of sets of orange cones but they still had no signs or warning tape and were spaced far apart. As with the day before we continued on not thinking much about it since the cones really didn’t block anything and we could have taken one of the other dirt roads that branch off anyways. We could clearly see there were two BLM Ranger trucks parked side by side in opposite directions so that one could see us and everything across the power line road and back to the hills. The other truck faced the entrance off of the highway.
We could see activity between the pens, the parked trucks, travel trailer (that we assumed was the contractors) and some trailers off to the side by the travel trailer and helicopter which was already loaded up for the day. Aaron took out a camera to see if he could get more pictures from the backside as we drove in. We continued driving heading towards the open area between the holding pens and travel trailer and parked trucks which was clearly being used as the main drive. All of the sudden one of the BLM trucks came speeding towards us from the opposite side of the facility, past the horse pens with warning lights flashing. I stopped and put the window down and the Ranger pulled up next to me. He started asking why we were coming back in this way after he told us the day before were the designated parking and observation areas were. I told him we had been looking for a lost phone at the spots we had been at the day before back in the hills and were coming here to look as well. He told me we had to turn around, go back to the power line road and follow it back to the highway and come in from there. I asked if we could just drive around the facility and park up front but he stood firm so we complied and headed back toward the power line road with the escort of the two armed BLM Rangers in their trucks. On our way out we took another dirt road to the power line road and both of us noticed there were no cones or signs anywhere along the way. The ranger had indicated that we should head in a particular direction down the power line road which was opposite from where we had come from. I thought it best to follow the directions. One of the rangers stayed parked in the back to make sure we did indeed drive out.
We drove down the dirt road for a couple of miles and discussed with each other what a pain in the ass the ranger was and having us go this direction was probably intentional since there wasn’t a road off to the highway for several miles. We knew having come from the opposite direction where the road was that way and it was just a couple of miles. In this direction we would probably be driving twice the distance and as it turned out we were pretty close in the estimate. This BLM road was not as good as the other and had a gate where it met up with the highway. Aaron got out, opened the gate so we could drive through and closed it back up. We got back on the highway and headed back to the pens. Aaron told me we didn’t have to go back since he had loss insurance and he didn’t want to be a pain. I said it wasn’t a big deal and I didn’t want to get “Chased off”. We had done nothing wrong and we had told Lesli, the BLM Public Affairs person and the other rangers at the “Gather” site, exactly what we had planned to do to look for his phone. I felt bad Aaron lost his phone since I had asked him to come on the trip with me. Besides it would only take a couple of minutes to find out if his phone was there and ask if anyone had found it. Boy was I wrong!
We turned into the Holding Facility from the highway entrance and proceeded to the designated parking area. As we approached the spot we were met by two BLM Ranger trucks heading straight at us. I stopped and Aaron and I got out of our vehicle to see what why we had been cut off from parking. The two Rangers had also gotten out of their trucks and met us. Lesli and the government videographer with his camera came over to join the encounter. The same ranger who had told us to drive back out to the power line road and come in from the highway came up to me and asked for my driver’s license. He was the ranger we had spoken with the previous day when we first went to the pens and he had given us the “Gather” hot line number as well then.
I asked him what was the issue and he told me to just give him my license. I proceeded to start looking for my wallet to retrieve my driver’s license for this ranger who I had already concluded from the prior day’s interaction was probably a rookie and a budding hard ass. He seemed to be building up a bad case of roid rage and since we never had any intentions of causing problems and didn’t want to start now I just wanted to comply and get on with looking for Aaron’s phone.
Unfortunately my wallet wasn’t in my pants back pocket so I had to go to our vehicle and look for it, which I told the ranger I was doing. I ransacked around looking in my coat in the backseat, in the front door pocket, the armrest storage, back to the back seat and my coat since that was where I thought it was and dug around the backseat and floor board until I finally found it. It had fallen out of my coat in the backseat and was between some bags. During this time Aaron had spoken to the other Ranger. He was clearly a more senior and seasoned BLM Ranger and Aaron had already established a casual somewhat friendly relationship with him while we were at the “Gather” site earlier that day. Aaron asked him what was going on and he calmly told Aaron to just go back and sit in the vehicle and let the Junior do his thing. Aaron did as he was instructed and returned to the vehicle. He didn’t want to escalate the situation either but he found one of the video cameras and tried to get any footage he could without drawing attention.
After my ranger (I started referring to him after this incident as “Cub Scout”) received my driver’s license he asked for my vehicle registration. I told him that is was a rental vehicle and asked if he wanted the contract. He said yes and I went back to get that. Aaron was already on it and had the registration and contract so he handed it to me and I gave it to the Ranger. He then asked if I had a weapon. I told him yes, I had my personal protection hand gun. He then asked where it was and I told him it was in the car. He asked where in the car and I told him it was in the floorboard behind the driver’s seat. He then asked if there was anything else in my vehicle he should now about. I started running through in my mind the catalog of what was there. (The only item that I thought could be pertinent to his interest was a 5 gallon propane tank that I brought with a 15,000 BTU heater that attached to it in case we needed some extra heat during the trip. Since I had no idea exactly where we would be going and what we would doing during the 4 days but I did know in Wells, NV the temperatures were going to be cold and I wanted to be as prepared as I could be.) I told him I had a propane tank in the back. He appeared satisfied and began his berating.
Disclaimer: The following statements are probably not per verbatim but they are pretty close. Fortunately the videographer was taping a good portion so it is documented.
Ranger: “Do you remember me telling you yesterday that you could not use the back entrance to the facility?”
Dallas: “I remember you ……..”
Ranger: “Don’t’ Speak! Do you remember I told you that you could only come in from the highway?”
Dallas: “I remember you ….”
Ranger: “Don’t Speak! Do you remember I told you that if you wanted to see the horses you had to stay in the designated areas?”
Dallas: Pause…. “Can I answer?”
He continued with some bullsh## and Lesli jumped in and said that “We know what your opinion of the BLM is!” I asked her what she meant and she told me how powerful a tool Google was. They had read my article “Government out of control”. Here’s the link if interested : http://southwestblend.com/Dallas-Gulley/government-out-of-control.htm
At that point, to be honest I don’t remember what all was said because I knew what was going on and it would be pointless trying to have a reasonable conversation with anyone there.
My cub scout ranger told me how I was going to probably get a warning because by my driving into the facility from the back I put the contractor’s employees in danger. They had been in the pens with the Wild Horses and I could have caused the horses to spook. He also let me know that if I did anything else I could possibly receive a citation or be arrested.
He then recited the rules again and asked if I understood them and agreed that he had also explained them to me the prior day. I asked again if I could speak and he nodded. I told him I completely understood the rules but I could not agree that he had told me I could not use the back entrance. I agreed with everything else and I now knew there was only one entrance I could use.
He then told me to stay where I was and he went back to his truck with my driver’s license and rental contract. I had been standing there the whole time without my coat on (I had put it back in the vehicle after I had retrieved my wallet), with the wind howling and the temperature hovering in the high 20s to low 30s, a snow storm was on the way. I asked the senior Ranger if I could get my coat and he said that would be ok. I then asked Lesli what she had meant about her statement that they knew about my opinion. She told me that they found my article on my page. I asked her what page? She said it was my page unless there was another Dallas Gulley, and maybe there could be. Again I asked her what page and she told me it was my page. The only web page I have is one for my business and I told her that. She said that’s where it was and I told her that was a surprise to me. I told her I had written an article with that title for the Big Blend Magazine’s blogtalk radio show and online magazine but I never put it on my business web page.
I then told her and the other ranger that I knew what this whole situation was about and it was my article. She said that was not true and I had put her people in a dangerous situation by driving in from the back. She then left to go over towards the contractors, which was off limits to us. I asked the other ranger if my “Warning” wasn’t because of my article why his boy didn’t issue it to me when he first came up with his lights flashing. Why did he tell me to drive back and come around in from the highway entrance? He just said it had nothing to do with my article or opinion. I then just stood there and waited until the Cub Scout was finished. Finally he motioned for me to come over to his truck.
He told me I was receiving a warning this time and there was not any fine. He recited the warning and asked me if I understood. While he was telling me all this I was trying to stay warm and had my arms crossed. He told me to uncross my arms so I did. He then gave back my documents while he finished writing up the warning. I stepped back and asked the other ranger if I could zip up my coat. He said the other one was just worried I might be concealing a weapon and with my arms crossed….. but it was ok for me to go ahead and zip up my coat. I opened it wide so he could see I wasn’t concealing anything and zipped up.
The Junior ranger finished up and gave me my warning:
43CFR8365.1-4a2 “Creating a Hazard/Nuisance driving on rear roadway around cones”
I looked up that specific CFR and here’s what it states:
“§ 8365.1-4 Public health, safety and comfort.
(a) No person shall cause a public disturbance or create a risk to other persons on public lands by engaging in activities which include, but are not limited to, the following:
(2) Creating a hazard or nuisance;”
He reminded me that a second violation could result in a citation and/or arrest which could also carry a fine. He then said we were finished and I asked if Aaron could look for his phone. He said that was OK but to stay in the designated area. I told Aaron he could look for the phone and he did walk the places he remembered going the day before. He asked the rangers if they or any of the contractors had come across a phone last night or today and my cub scout Ranger told him no one had found a phone. Well that was it for us. We got back in the car and headed out to continue hitting the last spots where we thought Aaron’s phone could be on our way back to the hotel.
On the way Aaron and I talked about how weird the incident was as I re-told it him. He couldn’t hear too much and tried to video some of it but he wasn’t sure how much would be good. He did notice while watching in the mirror that at one point the senior Ranger walked up next to the videographer and said something to him while motioning “Cut”. The videographer then put down his camera and headed off so we figured they knew it wasn’t looking very good for them.
The first spot along the way back wasn’t too far from the facility on Hwy 93 heading north. It was where Aaron had made his final attempt at ridding himself of the evil burger the day before on the side of the road. We stopped at a couple of spots we thought looked familiar and had tire prints leading off of the road but had no luck.
Then we went to where we had made our first stop the day before and had followed the tire tracks and found the developed well. We went to both places and re-traced Aaron’s path and the area around where we had exited the vehicle. We dug through the snow in a couple of places but again, no luck. We both felt we had given it a really good attempt to find his phone and were pretty thorough searching for it going to each stop we had gone outside. When we got back to the hotel we were going to clean out everything inside the vehicle and Aaron’s bags because it either had to be there or he did lose it at the Holding Pens and someone there did have it.
We got back onto the highway had headed for the hotel. I was pretty tired still and was looking forward to a good meal and a good long nights rest. Aaron felt the same way especially after the day he had the day before. As we were driving I thought of one more place and we hadn’t stopped there. We had both thought Aaron was using his phone after we had stopped at that location but we couldn’t be sure so I said we might as well go check just to satisfy ourselves that we had done absolutely everything we could. It was about 10 – 15 miles in the opposite direction of the hotel but the hotel was still about 30 miles away so we went for it. It was an easy spot to find because there had been a squashed squirrel right at the turn off the highway. We slowed at each turn off that looked like a match for the location and looked for the squirrel. Finally we came to the one. It was more like the 15 miles. We spotted the squirrel and pulled off. Aaron started to get out to look around and I spotted it!! There it was, just laying there, Aaron’s phone. I yelled out to him and he went over to pick it up and check it out. Yes it was his phone but the screen was cracked. I don’t know if it had cracked when it fell out or if I had driven over it as we had left. Aaron plugged it in and turned it on. It still worked. He had cell connection and was able to get right on to the internet. I told him it always works that way. You find something at the last place you look, because you stop looking once you find it LOL.
Well we felt a lot better and head back. We had a decent hot meal and hit the sack to be ready for the next day.
Next up, Day 3 Friday. The BLM finds out ole Dallas always finds an opportunity from what appears to be adversity.
The day started around 5:30 AM and the temperature outside was 17 degrees. I really didn’t feel like getting out of the warm bed even though it wasn’t that comfortable, but after no sleep since 3:30 AM Tuesday morning any bed was a good one. I waited until about 6:00 AM to give Aaron a call since I figured the more time he had the more likely he’d kick the crap out of that rotten burger.
We headed to the truck stop indicated on the hotline message at about 6:15 AM. We noticed a couple of BLM Rangers parked in their trucks when we pulled into the truck stop so we parked next to them and I went over to ask about the Roundup. One of them told me they were supposed to meet and leave at 6:00 AM but the BLM Public Affairs Specialist hadn’t arrived yet.
So we drove over to the pumps and fueled up again since we wanted to be sure we had a full tank and we had no idea where we would be going. The Rangers didn’t know either and said we would find out once the PAS (Public Affairs Special) had arrived. We had driven over 200 miles the day before just on our excursions from Wells. It was over 70 miles alone from Wells to the Holding pens and then I had driven around looking for Aaron’s phone.
After getting gas and some food we drove back over to where the Rangers were parked and I went back to ask if they had heard anything. When I walked up between they’re trucks I hadn’t noticed that the one I had previously spoken with was on his phone, but when I did realized I stepped back and gestured to the other Ranger “Oops”. He asked me to step further back away from both of the trucks so I did and waited until I could tell his partner was off the phone. I then asked him if he had heard anything and was told the Public Affairs Specialist was on his way.
The PAS, Tom, arrived in a couple of minutes and after he had spoken with the Rangers I went over and introduced myself. He did the same and I told him how Aaron and I had found the Holding pens yesterday. We’d seen some really nice looking horses and were curious about how we would go about obtaining a couple that we thought looked really good. I told him how the Ranger at the facility had given us the hotline number so we showed up here. He explained the basic adoption process and I asked if we could “Reserve” one of those at the holding pens. He told me I would have to ask another PAS who was out where we were supposed to meet for the day’s roundup. He said he didn’t know where the roundup would be and he was waiting to hear from her. Once she would give him the information we would leave.
After a couple more minutes Tom came over to our vehicle and that of another group of observers to tell us we were ready to head out. We were told to follow his vehicle and that the Rangers would follow us. We proceeded down the highway heading south of Wells toward the Holding pens. After approximately 35 miles or so we slowed down and turned off the highway onto a pretty decent dirt road that led into BLM land. It was distinguished by an Orange/Yellow Cattle guard. We followed Tom along the winding road about 2 or 3 miles back. There we stopped and met another BLM vehicle. We were told we were waiting until they were told that the trap site was ready for us to proceed. After about 10 minutes or so the caravan head off again.
We drove for another 3 miles and ended at the base of a small mountain. We were showed where to park. The other Public Affairs Specialist , Lesli Coakley from the Elko District Office, introduced herself and went over the Gather Visitation Protocol with us. She gave me a packet of information that included the Protocol sheet and asked Aaron and myself to “Sign In”. We were told to bring everything we would need while at the gather as we would not be allowed to return to our vehicle unless it was to leave for the day.
We packed up some gear and followed Tom and Lesli as they headed to where we were going to be able to view the Gather. The two Rangers followed behind us and made sure we didn’t get too far apart. We noticed they were carrying side arms. We had to take a path away from the stock trailers, the contractor staff and the trap pens. We were also told we could not speak with/to any of the contractor’s.
The trap pens were located behind a rock ridge where a small opening in the ridge could be used to funnel the horses into the pens. We went past the pens and hiked up to the other side of the small valley and came to a location that had been marked off with yellow warning tape. The taped area was approximately a 30 ft. by 30 ft. square area. We were told that we could be anywhere inside of the “Box” but could not go behind the rocks at the top of the ridge directly behind us. I asked about sitting on a rock just outside of the Box but was told by one of the BLM Rangers to get in the box. There weren’t too many spots inside the tape to choose from so the Public Affairs Specialists said we could go ahead and find a place as long as it was next to the viewing area and did not stand on top of the ridge giving a silhouette because the horses might notice us as they were coming down the valley through the chute and into the trap.
We were also told that when the horses were coming in that we would have to remain still and might be asked to stay low. We all complied and to be sure we did, one Ranger was in the “Box” with us and another was behind us over the ridge line. It was about 8:00 AM when we finally settled in. When we had left our vehicle the thermometer indicated it was around 29 degrees outside and the wind was blowing pretty good.
Lesli explained the trap site and the chute to funnel the horses into the trap. Aaron asked about the horse (The Judas horse) the contractors had on a lead rope and was told that it is used when the rounded up horses are at a certain point and then released to run into the trap so the other horses will follow. On the other side of the net fencing used for the chute was the face of the small mountain which had a pretty steep incline and large boulders where other contractors hid themselves ready to run out once the stampeding horses passed by.
I should point out that from the location we were allowed to observe from there was a huge boulder that blocked our view of the trap pens. When the horses would pass through the natural rock opening they would run into the pens without seeing where they were running too. Those trap pens were pretty small too. From what I could see they were just the width of one standard Pipe Corral panel and broken into at least two sections. Each section looked to be the length of two panels.
While we waited for the first group to be herded in we talked with the Public Affairs Specialist, the other observers (4), the two Rangers and a government Photographer who was there to film the entire operation. We asked about the horses we had seen at the Holding facility since we were interested in a couple of them, a Black Stallion (or so we thought) and a big Buckskin. To our surprise it turns out the only horses we were able to clearly view from the designated viewing area were domestic horses owned by the contractor. Aaron and I also mentioned that we had our own horses back in California and I told them I had a 40 acre ranch with 17 horses and had grown up with horses. I was asked about the “Nice” camera I had and asked if I was a professional Photographer. I explained that my camera was just for personal photography and I mainly take pictures of Motocross and Supercross races that I go to with my daughter. I could tell that they were skeptical about who Aaron and I said we were and why we were there.
Aaron and I pointed out some areas of the trap site that presented difficulties for gathering horses, could be dangerous and even offered some suggestions on how the contractor could do a better job that would be safer for the horses and probably not create as much stress. After a while we heard the sounds of the helicopter being used to push the horses towards the trap site. We saw it fly around in the distance and then disappear over the hills. After a bit we heard it again behind those hills and could see a band of horses coming over the hills at the far end of the valley opposite from the trap, 2 mares a 2 or 3 year old and a single black stallion.
The helicopter hovered above and behind the 4 horses as they galloped down the hill toward the open land of the valley floor below. They dipped into a ravine and came up over it headed toward the chute of the trap that was still over half a mile away. The black stallion ran up alongside his band as the lead mare did her job, trying to avoid what was chasing them. As they got closer the sweat was clearly visible and shined on the black coat of the stallion. It was obvious they had been running for a while as he was lathering up. It was at least a mile just from the crest of the hill they had galloped over to the middle of the valley.
As the 4 got closer to the end of the valley and opening to the trap chute the lead mare tried to slow the pace but the incessant helicopter was unrelenting and continued to push dropping down lower behind the band. The mare gazed ahead toward the opening at the end of the valley behind which the corral trap was hiding. She sensed that was not where to go and started to head up the face of the small mountain were Aaron had previously point out that a wrangler on a horse should have been placed. Instead the helicopter moved to head off the group and the horses turned back into and down the chute. At this point the band was about half way down the chute heading where the helicopter was directing them about a couple hundred feet from the contractor’s guide (Judas) horse.
The mare spotted the Judas and headed toward it as it moved down toward the trap pens. Suddenly the mare slowed abruptly being startled by something at the end of the chute. Looking down in that direction it was clear what had caught the attention of the mare, the mesh chute fence was wildly flailing in the high winds. The black stallion had also noticed that something was wrong and followed the lead of his mare halting to scan the surroundings. I mentioned to Lesli that there was no way those horses were now going to follow down to the end of the chute without much more aggressive pushing from the helicopter.
As quickly as the horses had started toward the trap they turned heading away with the stallion still scanning the horizons but it was clear the intention of he and his lead mare was to move away from the trap. The helicopter dropped down low in front of the band but that only caused them to circle and headed up the hill of the small mountain. The pilot made a couple of attempts to turn the band but it was clear they were going to take their chances with what was above them versus what was on the ground back at the trap. They head back towards the hills they had been driven down and the helicopter accepted this group was a lost cause at this point and disappeared back over the hills.
Aaron and I discussed with Lesli and others our knowledge of a horse’s instincts from studying Natural Horsemanship for the past 10 years. Also of the 17 horses on my ranch, seven are mustangs that had come out of the BLM adoption program. The Natural Horsemanship method has been very effective for both us and the horses and even more so with the mustangs. It was clear the natural instincts of the horse were showing through, especially with the band that had just ran off back to the open range. Lesli commented that she thought maybe the horses had spotted us and that was what caused them to turn but it was clear from watching them through my camera lens it was the flapping chute fence.
During the down time a couple of the contractor’s wranglers attempted to secure the chute fence and tighten it up some but, for reasons we could not discern from our vantage point, they weren’t able to do much.
Not much longer the sound of the helicopter could be heard once again off in the distance of the hills at the head of the valley. A few minutes later we saw another band being driven out of the hills and down the valley towards the chute. There were 6 horses in this band. 5 Chestnuts and a White one. It was clear with this group the helicopter was pushing a bit harder and staying lower to the ground behind the band moving back and forth. The pilot did not want this group to turn or slow down and it almost looked like he was trying to make the flailing chute fence appear to be the lesser of the two evils the horses were being faced with.
With this band the pilot started them galloping much earlier up the valley and even though they zigged and zagged several times down the valley the helicopter kept applying pressure so the horses wouldn’t break the stampede pace they were running at. When they got closer towards the entrance to the trap pens, and exit from their freedom, it was clear the exhaustion they had from the sheen of sweat, steam rising off their bodies and obvious heavy breathing apparent from the visible exhales in the cool air from their nostrils. They had little fight left in them and when the Judas horse was released it almost looked like relief in the mustangs and they followed the horse straight down to the end of the chute. As they passed the crouching wranglers behind boulders the wranglers jumped out waving hands and sticks with plastic bags tied to the ends.
It was now about 10:00 AM and still cold with blowing winds. I could feel my lips chapping. After a short period of time, maybe 10 – 15 minutes the captured horses were pushed to load into a gooseneck stock trailer by the wranglers who were prodding and flailing the plastic bags at them. Shortly after, Lesli indicated that they were suspending the roundup due to the winds. We told her, the other PAS Tom and the Rangers that we were going to back track our stops from the previous day hoping we would find Aaron’s phone. We were then escorted down from our viewing area making sure to give a wide gap past the trailer and pens.
Lesli stopped by the area where the contractors were as we continued towards our vehicles under the watchful care of our armed Rangers who made sure we didn’t doddle along the way. We started packing back up our gear and then Lesli came up letting us know they were calling it a day due to the winds. We told her we were going to make our way back to the Holding Pen facility looking for the phone along the way. We followed out the vehicle of the other observers and one of the Rangers followed behind us. The vehicle in the lead missed the first turn and continued straight. The Ranger motioned to us to take the turn and sped off toward the other observers.
Aaron and I talked a bit about what we had just witnessed and also about where we might find his phone. About a mile or two from the highway we came around a bend and over a hill to a very startling image. COWS. Hundreds and hundreds of pregnant cattle. Maybe a thousand or more. These were not there when we drove in earlier. They were heading straight on towards us following the same BLM road we were on. As far as we could see were pregnant cows that had obviously just been unloaded to calve out on the range. We hooted, whistled and bang the side of the doors as the cattle slowly dispersed to the sides of the road ahead of us. We then saw a Cowboy on horseback, a truck pulling a stock trailer with some more saddle horses and another truck on the side of the road where a motorcycle was being worked. Aaron was filming the whole thing. It was unbelievable that we had just come from a roundup of 6 wild horses only to come upon so many cows being put on the same land where we were told there were too many horses for the range to support.
Whew. That was the first half of Day 2. The second half is still to come. We didn’t have a clue what was about to occur.
Note: Aaron and Dallas took off time from their work and were not reimbursed by any individual, group or organization. All of the costs they incurred and efforts given were for the sole purpose of becoming personally informed and supporting the plight of our American Wild Horses and Burros and those who spend their time, efforts and money doing the same.