Issue: The Calico Mountains Complex wild horse roundup.
Update: 2/1/10 Situation Report Update
According to BLM's Gather Activity Updates a total of 43 horse deaths have been attributed to the roundup of wild horses in the Calico Mountains Complex. These ominous statistics address the number of horses found dead or spontaneously aborted at the Indian Lakes contract holding facility. The facility is modern and well designed as these kinds of facilities go. The question being raised is, "What is happening out there?"
BLM has made the mistake of trying to dismiss the issue by attributing the deaths to horses being in poor condition. BLM spokespersons have gone to the media indicating that the wild horse advocates are simply emotional. Since anger is an emotion, there is some validity to such statements, however this anger is based on the fact that "advocates" have tackled large and difficult horse situations themselves with a much higher percentage success rate than is presently being shown by BLM.
In 2003 Nevada and California advocates "rescued" a group of 144 pregnant and nursing Shosone Indian mares and 82 yearlings that had been rounded up by the BLM and left to starve at a place called Fish Creek Ranch.
Typical condition of the horses photographed at Fish Creek Ranch
After 48 horse carcasses were found dumped on nearby BLM land and public agencies were impotent in resolving the matter, California based Lifesavers Wild Horse Rescue and the Nevada branch of LRTC took in the horses, with help from other groups such as Wild Horse Spirit. [Citation: Officials ponder charges over dead horses, Elko Daily Free Press]
This was not a new situation for Lifesavers, the group that was the principle engineer of the recovery. The horses that were fit for travel went to Lifesavers' facility in Lancaster, CA, and the weaker horses went to LRTC's Lucky Horse Corrals in Dayton, NV.
Ironically this rescue was further complicated by a helicopter rounding up horses from the adjacent Pine Nut Range that BLM had promised would stay clear of the Dayton rescue corrals where volunteers were trying to get things sorted out.
The largest horse rescue in modern California history occurred in Santa Barbara County where hundreds of former wild horses were left to starve to death and local agencies were unable to cope. Ojai based Wild Horses In Need organized and financed that recovery with the help of a number of other advocacy organizations and the effort was incredibly successful. (The LA Times determined that the Santa Barbara rescue was "probably the largest seizure of neglected horses ever in the United States." [Citation: Rancher saddled with problems, LA Times])
The horses in these examples were in far worse condition than the horses coming in from the Calico. BLM and the Nevada Department of Agriculture provided their classic boiler plate explanations that the horses were starving on the range - before they were brought in and actually starved. However once taken over by the advocate groups, not a single adult horse died. With the exception of two extremely underweight foals that didn't make it, all the Fish Creek the foals survived and the remainder of the mares foaled successfully.
The examples just cited are but two of of many where advocate groups have performed well in resolving difficult situations, including dealing with horses removed from the range and with wide area natural disasters such as floods, wildfires and hurricanes. The mainstream advocate groups are not some collection of emotional fools. They have taken on the challenges, done the work and in many cases established a better track record than BLM.
So what has been going wrong at Calico?
Many advocates have repeatedly made a few points over the years. One is that if agencies are going to gather wild horses, and especially in more difficult gather areas, safety and "safe design" in gather specifications has to be a reality, not just a phrase. Advocates have observed well designed and well organized gathers that have been relatively safe, as well as gathers that have turned into chaos for the horses. While advocates argue that gathers are inherently dangerous and that other management alternatives should receive higher priority, it is a rational position for advocates to insist that when gathers do take place, that they be conducted in the safest manner practicable.
Transition for horses at holding facilities also poses risks. Clearly the Indian Lakes facility is modern and structurally well designed, however the numbers of losses at the facility cannot be dismissed by BLM as simply attributable to poor horses coming off the range. By their own experiences the advocates know better. Something clearly needs to be fixed with respect to Indian Lakes' care and maintenance model, and it should have been fixed early on when suspicious mortality figures started to emerge.
The irony is that some people in the lower levels of BLM are being forthright in letting the public and advocates know what is happening, in objective terms, warts and all. Yet the people at the top who actually design, implement and defend present range management strategies still live in a state of denial and try to attribute BLM's mistakes to the weather or range conditions or the advocates themselves. Compounding this irony is that the experience of the man in charge involves cattle and he dares to tell horse advocates, many who deal with horses on the range and in captivity day in, day out, year after year, that he knows the right answer and they don't.
Clearly Mr. Salazar is the one who is confused over this issue. Sadly for both the horses and the taxpayers, there are dedicated employees at BLM who are trying to solve problems and who would like to follow a better course, but have to follow marching orders handed down from Washington DC by bureaucrats who may have less actual horse experience than the advocacy groups that they criticize.
Advocates and concerned citizens are simply left to ponder an age old question, "Why do we Americans still allow administrators of failed policies to continue pursuing their failures and dismiss those who may have relevant ideas and solutions?"