Heidi Hopkins of HSUS: PZP on wild burros? I’ve got a question for you

whb.Par.48283.Image.-1.-1.1 (photo: BLM)

When I read a Letter to the Editor (below) written by Heidi Hopkins of HSUS, I almost had a conniption fit (whatever that is, I almost had one).  She asks “Why isn’t fertility control being used on wild burros?”

Fertility control shouldn’t be used on wild burros because there are hardly any left on our public lands.  On the BLM’s most recent “Herd Area and Herd Management Area Statistics” report, the BLM claimed there were only 8,394 burros in the entire U.S.

We all know that the BLM exaggerates its numbers by doubling or tripling the true number, so there may, in reality, only be 4,000 or fewer wild burros.  But even if there were 8,394 wild burros, 5,000 adults are the minimum number needed to preserve them.  Why suggest using fertility control on wild burros that are at such a low population level that they could be considered endangered?

You stated below that the BLM in Billings, Montana (Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range) said they’re “on the cusp of nearly eliminating the need for wild horse removals due to the use of PZP.”

The BLM established an Appropriate Management Level (AML) of only 90- 120 wild horses on the Pryors, excluding current year foals.  (Dr. Gus Cothran has stated that 120-150 BREEDING AGE ADULTS are needed for a viable herd.)  So, maybe there won’t be roundups, but the BLM is on the cusp of another way to get rid of wild horses & burros: minimally reproducing herds and non reproducing herds.

And I have a question for you.

Why isn’t the HSUS sending out e-mails to their members and writing letters to the Editor demanding an Amendment to ALL BLM Resource Management Plans to make sure wild horse and burro AMLs are set to viable herd levels (120-150 BREEDING AGE ADULTS)?  HSUS should move forward with this.    -   Debbie

SOURCE:  havasunews.com

Heidi Hopkins:  Why isn’t fertility control being used on wild burros?


The Bureau of Land Management should start using fertility control on wild burro herds right away (“Our View: BLM should trade in burro roundups for fertility control,” Mar. 23).

Fertility control, specifically porcine zona pellucida, is being used on various wild horses throughout the country and has proven effective. In fact, in a press release issued last week the BLM field office in Billings, Montana announced they are “on the cusp of nearly eliminating the need for wild horse removals due to the use of PZP.”

So why not use this same technology on wild burros? The Humane Society of the United States has proposed to the BLM a large-scale fertility control research project on wild burros and has stepped forward with funding through The Platero Project, a grant awarded to The HSUS to assist with the cost of the work. In the meantime, the burros have been busy reproducing.

Wild burros are extremely well adapted to the harsh desert environment and deserve to live their life out on the range where they have been for the past 200 years. BLM’s typical management actions of gather, remove and adopt are not sustainable.

There are currently over 800 formerly wild burros in holding awaiting adoption already. BLM should move forward with fertility control.

Heidi Hopkins

Forbes Billionaires Top US Welfare Ranchers List

“Wait until you see who is on this list!  (Hint, the list includes a big mining company.)  Another great article by Vickery Eckhoff.”  –  Debbie

SOURCE:  The Daily Pitchfork

They’re mega-rich, powerful and on public assistance. [Part IV of an ongoing series on ranchers in the media]

Guess who’s fleecing U.S. taxpayers over nearly one billion dollars in public grazing subsidies?

Americans love ranchers: Gritty ranchers, mom-and-pop ranchers, renegade ranchers — especially those who raise livestock on the vast open prairies of the West through hard work and rugged independence. But there’s another side to the ever-popular rancher mythology— a side the media doesn’t cover and the public never sees.

The Koch brothers, Ted Turner, the Hilton family and nine other powerful ranchers share an uncommon privilege: giant public subsidies, unknown to U.S. taxpayers. It’s the other side of the Cliven Bundy story, the other side of the Wright brothers saga—the bronc-riding, ranching family at the center of the New York Times photographic essay published March 11, 2015. It’s also the other side of the ongoing news feed in which ranchers work to remove wild horses from public lands.

That “other side” of those stories is the federal grazing program that enables the Wrights to run their livestock on public lands for cheap; allows ranchers to have thousands of protected wild horses removed from public lands at public expense. It’s also the program that earned Bundy the title of welfare rancher.

Bundy didn’t earn it by failing to pay his grazing fees, though. The welfare rancher label applies to all ranchers who hold permits to graze the vast public spaces of the West, both delinquent and not. It includes the Wright brothers; the ranchers in Iron and Beaver counties in Utah complaining that wild horses eat too much; and 21,000 others.

They are all welfare ranchers subsidized by US taxpayers, and you know who are the biggest welfare ranchers of all, grazing livestock across hundreds of millions of acres of public grass and forest land, all assisted by public subsidies paid for by US taxpayers?

Billionaires appearing on Forbes rich lists

The .01 percenters are the nation’s biggest welfare ranchers, according to numerous environmental and policy groups; and it’s time they brought some attention to themselves and the federal grazing program they’re exploiting to the tune of an annual estimated one billion dollars in taxpayer subsidies while causing long-term damage to one of the public’s most treasured assets.


Upcoming National Wild Horse & Burro Advisory Board meeting

From the Federal Register:

SUMMARY: The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announces that the Wild 
Horse and Burro Advisory Board will conduct a meeting on matters 
pertaining to management and protection of wild, free-roaming horses 
and burros on the Nation's public lands.

DATES: The Advisory Board will meet on Wednesday April 22, 2015, from 8 
a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern Time and Thursday April 23, 2015, from 8:00 a.m. 
to 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time. This will be a two day meeting.

ADDRESSES: This Advisory Board meeting will take place in Columbus, 
Ohio at the Hyatt Regency Columbus, 350 North High Street, Columbus, OH 
43215, telephone 614-463-1234.
    Written comments pertaining to the April 22-23, 2015, Advisory 
Board meeting can be mailed to National Wild Horse and Burro 
Program,WO-260, Attention: Ramona DeLorme, 1340 Financial Boulevard, 
Reno, NV 89502-7147, or sent electronically to wildhorse@blm.gov. 
Please include ``Advisory Board Comment'' in the subject line of the 

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Ramona DeLorme, Wild Horse and Burro 
Administrative Assistant, at 775-861-6583. Persons who use a 
telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal 
Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 1-800-877-8339 to contact the above 
individual during normal business hours. The FIRS is available 24 hours 
a day, 7 days a week, to leave a message or question with the above 
individual. You will receive a reply during normal business hours.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board 
advises the Secretary of the Interior, the BLM Director, the Secretary 
of Agriculture, and the Chief of the Forest Service on matters 
pertaining to the management and protection of wild, free-roaming 
horses and burros on the Nation's public lands. The Wild Horse and 
Burro Advisory Board operates under the authority of 43 CFR 1784. The 
tentative agenda for the meeting is:

I. Advisory Board Public Meeting

Wednesday, April 22, 2015 (8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.)

8:00 a.m. Welcome, Introductions, and Agenda Review
8:50 a.m. Approval of August 2014 Minutes
9:10 a.m. BLM Response to Advisory Board Recommendations
9:30 a.m. Wild Horse and Burro Program Update
12:00 p.m. Lunch
1:15 p.m. Program Update continued
3:00 p.m. Public Comment Period Begins
4:30 p.m. Public Comment Period Ends
5:00 p.m. Adjourn

Thursday, April 23, 2015 (8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.)

8:00 a.m. Program Update continued
12:00 p.m. Lunch
1:15 p.m. Working Group Reports
2:45 p.m. Advisory Board Discussion and Recommendations to the BLM
5:00 p.m. Adjourn


What is BLM Director Neil Kornze saying about wild horses?

“According to the article below, Kornze didn’t even mention wild burros, probably because there are hardly any left on public lands.  It is troubling if he brought up sterilization of the herds.  And, if Kornze thinks capturing wild horses and maintaining them throughout their lives is “too expensive,” he should leave them on their federally protected Herd Management Areas.”  – Debbie

“Kornze also asked for more money to reduce the herds of wild horses that trample sage-grouse habitat and otherwise imperil the rangelands, as HCN has reported.  He said some 50,000 wild horses now roam BLM rangelands, about twice what the territory can handle.  Some $10 million of the funding would go to develop better techniques for birth control vaccines or sterilization of the herds. 

Kornze suggested that capturing a horse and maintaining it throughout its life with federal funds is too expensive. “We spend $45,000 on that horse, and that’s a good college education,” Kornze said.  The government already supports 50,000 in captivity.”

NeilKornze  Neil Kornze

SOURCE:  High Country News

BLM seeks Congressional OK for new fees, private donations

by Elizabeth Shogren

The director of the Bureau of Land Management sat across a big oval table from members of the U.S. House of Representatives this week and made his case for more money. The agency needs increased funding, he said, to manage challenges as diverse as a drilling boom and an overabundance of wild horses across vast stretches of public lands.

But before BLM Director Neil Kornze even had a chance to pitch President Obama’s $1.2 billion budget proposal for his agency, the chairman of the panel, Rep. Ken Calvert, R-CA, said the request didn’t match the “very constrained funding environment” in Congress.

Kornze pressed for approval of proposals to expand BLM’s funds without getting more cash from Congress. He asked the panel to create a BLM foundation, so the agency can raise private funds, and to approve BLM’s plan to charge the oil and gas industry for inspections on federal land.

Currently, the BLM has 159 inspectors for 100,000 wells, but Kornze says it needs at least 220. “This is a major industrial activity on public lands and it needs oversight,” he said.

The administration’s proposal would raise an estimated $48 million in 2016, but cost companies only about $1,000 per well, which Kornze said isn’t much for companies that have invested at least $8 million to drill each well.

The BLM also wants to start charging an administration fee for grazing, which would help the agency clear its big grazing permit backlog more quickly.

Calvert, who chairs the House Committee on Appropriations subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, did not oppose the proposals outright but said they should be considered by the House Natural Resources Committee, which oversees BLM, not the panel that funds the agency.

The highest-ranking Democrat on the panel articulated the problem with that logic. “How do we get the authorizing committee to do their job?” said Betty Louise McCollum, D-Minnesota. “Maybe they should stop doing leases then if we can’t do inspections,” she said, adding quickly that no one wants that outcome.

The biggest increase in the administration’s budget is the request for $60 million — a four-fold increase — for the agency’s sage grouse program.

Republicans on the panel seemed inclined to provide that money — if cuts are found elsewhere in the budget. As HCN has reported, the 11 states with grouse territory are working with the federal government to try to reduce risks to the bird, so that it doesn’t end up on the endangered species list. In part, the money would go to plant strips of fire-resistant vegetation and cut down juniper and piñon trees that have flourished over what had been native sagebrush and grass habitat. This will increase the birds’ territory and reduce the risk of wildfires, which burn millions of acres of rangeland each year.

“If we go ahead and do everything — from this committee, the states, localities —and the sage grouse is still listed; that’s not going to bode well for future cooperation,” Calvert warned.

Kornze also asked for more money to reduce the herds of wild horses that trample sage-grouse habitat and otherwise imperil the rangelands, as HCN has reported. He said some 50,000 wild horses now roam BLM rangelands, about twice what the territory can handle. Some $10 million of the funding would go to develop better techniques for birth control vaccines or sterilization of the herds.

Kornze suggested that capturing a horse and maintaining it throughout its life with federal funds is too expensive. “We spend $45,000 on that horse, and that’s a good college education,” Kornze said. The government already supports 50,000 in captivity.

McCollum pressed Kornze on what the agency is doing about Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who as HCN has reported had a standoff with BLM officials about a year ago at his Nevada ranch. Bundy has yet to be charged for illegal grazing or his unpaid grazing fees. At least one of the hundreds of people gathered at his ranch aimed a rifle at federal agents; that person has not been charged either.

“Mr. Bundy and his band of armed thugs are dangerous. They have committed acts that are criminal by threatening federal employees. They should be held accountable. They should be prosecuted,” said McCollum.

Kornze failed to specify what the federal government is doing about Bundy. “It is absolutely essential that those who have broken laws are brought to justice,” he said.  “The grazing issues persist. This will be something that will continue to get my highest level of attention.”

BLM to hold public hearing in Fallon, NV, on Thursday (3/19/15)

Flanigan_Dogskin_Mountain_and_Granite_Peak_Horse_Gather.-WidePar-000101-Image.WideParimage.2.2 photo:  BLM

Wild horse & burro advocates, please attend if you can.  All future roundups and Environmental Assessments in this BLM District will be based on this 10-15 year Resource Management Plan (RMP).  Tell the BLM to make sure to use a viable herd number, 120-150 breeding age adults, for the Appropriate Mangement Level (AML) of wild horses and burros on each of the HMAs.  Also, ask the BLM if they are counting the foals as part of the total number.  The Carson City District Office has many wild horse Herd Management Areas, and we have put the low to high AML (from BLM statistics as of March, 2014) next to the name of the HMA, along with the number of acres in the HMA.

Sierra Front Field Office:
Dogskin Mountains (10-16 wild horses)  6,895 acres

& Granite Peak (11-18 wild horses)  3, 886 acres
Flanigan (80-125 wild horses)   17,101 acres
Pine Nut Mountains (118-179 wild horses)   90,000 acres

Stillwater Field Office:
Clan Alpines (503-979 wild horses)   314,986 acres
Desatoya (127-180 wild horses)   161,000 acres
Garfield Flat (75-125 wild horses)   141,800 acres
Lahontan (7-10 wild horses)  11.000 acres
Marietta Wild Burro Range (75-104 wild burros)  68,000 acres
Pilot-Table Mountain (249-415 wild horses)   255,040 acres
South Stillwater (8-16 wild horses)  10,000 acres
Wassuk (109-165 wild horses)  54,000 acres

For more information, click HERE.

Written comments can be sent to:  Carson City RMP,  Bureau of Land Management,  Carson City District Office, 5665 Morgan Mill Road, Carson City, NV  89701    FAX: (775) 885-6147    Email comments can be sent to blm_nv_ccdo_rmp@blm.gov   (You can put your name and e-mail address, but if you put your home address, make sure to prominently state in your letter that you don’t want your home address to be made public.)

BLM to hold public meeting in Fallon on Thursday

Source:  Nevadaappeal.com

The Bureau of Land Management Carson City District is holding on Thursday a public hearing on the Carson City District Draft Resource Management Plan.

Speakers will be required to sign in to speak. There will be a three-minute time limit for each speaker and a court reporter will be present to document all public comments.

Public hearing comments will be incorporated into the official record and will be included in the final document. BLM managers and staff will be available from 5-5:45 p.m. to interact with the public and answer questions.

The formal public hearing will begin at 6 p.m. The public hearing will take place from 6-8:30 p.m. in the Churchill County Commission Chamber, 155 N. Taylor St.

BLM to Hold Scoping Meetings on Fate of Near Extinct Wild Burros

“Attention all wild horse and burro advocates; our disappearing wild burros need your voice at an upcoming BLM scoping meeting to be held April 1-2. If you can arrange to attend please do so and speak on their behalf. Thanks, in advance, for your dedication and commitment…keep the faith.” ~ R.T.

The information below supplied by “The Daily Miner

Wild Burros in BLM holding ~ photo by Terry Fitch of Wild Horse Freedom Federation

Wild Burros in BLM holding ~ photo by Terry Fitch of Wild Horse Freedom Federation

KINGMAN – How the Bureau of Land Management manages burros will be the topic of discussion when a pair of scoping meetings are held in Mohave County April 1-2.

The bureau will focus on the management of wild burros in the Black Mountain Herd Management Area, located about 15 miles west of Kingman. The area parallels the eastern bank of the Colorado River for 80 miles, from Hoover Dam south to the Needles Bridge on the Arizona-California border.

The first meeting takes place in Bullhead City from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. April 1 and the second will take place from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. April 2 at the BLM Kingman field office, 2755 Mission Boulevard off of Hualapai Mountain Road.

The first half hour features poster presentations for viewing. The formal presentation begins at 6:30 p.m. and the following topics will be discussed:

• The current population estimate

• Vegetation utilization data

• Fertility control

• The appropriate management level

• Burros outside of the herd management area

Attendees can comment on issues, data and any other concerns following the presentation.

For more information, contact BLM Wild Horse and Burro Specialist Chad Benson at (928) 718-3750.

Proposed Collection of Information on Wild Horses and Burros; BLM Requests Comments

The BLM is now planning to do a “knowledge and values study” on wild horses & burros using focus groups.  The focus groups are to include the usual special interest groups (the same ones that are so vocal against wild horses & burros on the BLM Resource Advisory Councils/RACs).

Most of us aren’t perusing the Federal Register on a daily basis, but an advocate alerted us to the notice below.  We should all ask WHO will APPOINT/SELECT the people who will take part in these focus groups.  The BLM proposes to have “guides” (a prepared agenda) for the groups, presumably to limit the topics you can talk about.  The questions/discussions will then likely be designed to lead you to whatever predetermined outcome the BLM wants.  Read HERE about the BLM and use of the Delphi Technique.

This is not free speech.  Will the topics include the delay of the issuance of the investigation report of the 1,700 wild horses Tom Davis bought?  Will the focus groups be updated on the current number of deaths of wild horses at the BLM’s Scott City, Kansas feedlot?  Will the participants be able to review any vet reports or necropsy reports from the Scott City feedlot?

This undemocratic process seems to be a way for the BLM to feign interest in listening to the public,  while in reality, it continues its efforts to contrive what could seem to the public to be some sort of a consensus.

I wonder if the BLM will ever have focus groups or advisory councils on wild horse & burro issues that are composed ONLY of real wild horse & burro advocates, who all care about the welfare of the wild horses and burros (instead of special interest “stakeholders” who focus on how to get rid of them).  The comment period for this proposed focus group farce ends May 11, 2015.  This is destined to be another unscientific “study” as the BLM continues to operate like a dog chasing its tail. – Debbie Coffey

This document has a comment period that ends in 58 days (05/11/2015) How To Comment


60 Day Notice And Request For Comments.


In compliance with the Paperwork Reduction Act, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will ask the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to approve the information collection (IC) described below, and invites public comments on the proposed IC.

Table of Contents


Please submit comments on the proposed information collection by May 11, 2015.


Comments may be submitted by mail, fax, or electronic mail. Mail: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, 1849 C Street NW., Room 2134LM, Attention: Jean Sonneman, Washington, DC 20240. Fax: to Jean Sonneman at 202-245-0050. Electronic mail: Jean_Sonneman@blm.gov. Please indicate “Attn: 1004-NEW” regardless of the form of your comments.


Sarah Bohl at (202) 912-7263. Persons who use a telecommunication device for the deaf may call the Federal Information Relay Service on 1-800-877-8339, to contact Ms. Bohl. You may contact Ms. Bohl to obtain a copy, at no cost, of the draft discussion guides for the focus groups and in-depth interviews described in this 60-day notice. You may also contact Ms. Bohl to obtain a copy, at no cost, of the regulations that authorize this collection of information.


I. Proposed Information Collection

Title: Knowledge and Values Study Regarding the Management of Wild Horses and Burros.

OMB Control Number: 1004-NEW.

Frequency: On occasion.

Respondents’ obligation: Voluntary.

Abstract: The BLM protects and manages wild horses and burros that roam Western public rangelands, under the authority of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act (Act), 16 U.S.C. 1331-1340. The Act requires that wild horses and burros be managed in a manner that is designed to achieve and maintain a thriving natural ecological balance on the public lands. 16 U.S.C. 1333(a). Stakeholders and the general public hold a variety of views on how wild horses and burros should be managed. The BLM has determined that conducting focus groups, in-depth interviews, and a national survey will lead to a better understanding of public perceptions, values, and preferences regarding the management of wild horses and burros on public rangelands.

After reviewing public comments and making appropriate revisions, the BLM will include the discussion guides in a request for OMB approval. Upon receiving OMB approval, the BLM will conduct the focus groups and in-depth interviews. The results of focus groups and in-depth interviews will be used to help design a national survey, which will be the second and final phase of the research.

The BLM will prepare a draft of the national survey and publish a second 60-day notice and invite public comments on the draft national survey. After reviewing public comments and making appropriate revisions, the BLM will include the national survey in a request for OMB approval. Upon receiving OMB approval, the BLM will conduct the national survey.

Need and Proposed Use: The proposed research was recommended by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences in a 2013 report, Using Science to Improve the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program: A Way Forward. Conducting the focus groups and in-depth interviews will enable the researchers to characterize the range of preferences that exist for wild horse and burro management. The national survey will then assess the distribution of these preferences across the larger population. The research results will assist the BLM to more effectively manage wild horses and burros by providing information to:

  • Help evaluate the benefits and costs of competing rangeland uses and various management options;
  • Help identify areas of common ground and opportunities for collaboration with stakeholder groups; and
  • Communicate more effectively with the public and with stakeholder groups.

Description of Respondents: The BLM intends to survey a variety of respondents for this project by conducting focus groups, in-depth interviews, and a nationally representative survey. For the focus groups and in-depth interviews, the primary respondents will be individuals belonging to a variety of organizations that have previously lobbied, commented on program policy or activities, or have otherwise sought influence with the BLM in regard to its wild horse and burro program. Representatives of wild horse and burro advocacy groups, domestic horse owners, wild horse adopters, the Western livestock grazing community, environmental conservationists, hunters, and public land managers will be included. Nine focus groups across three locations around the country and up to 12 in-depth interviews will be conducted with individuals from these groups. Focus group participants will be recruited by BLM’s research contractor through a variety of approaches tailored to the communities participating in the discussions. In addition, four focus groups (spread across two locations) will be conducted with the general public to explore public understanding of various terms and issues involved in wild horse and burro management so that the questionnaire for the national survey can effectively communicate the relevant topics.

II. Estimated Reporting and Recordkeeping Burden

The estimated reporting burden for this collection is 142 responses and 272 hours. There will be no non-hour burdens. The following table details the individual components and estimated hour burdens of this collection.

Activity Estimated number of respondents Estimated number of responses per respondent Completion time per response Total burden hours
Focus Groups 130 (13 groups) 1 120 mins 15,600 mins/260 hrs.
In-depth Interviews 12 1 60 mins 720 mins/12 hrs.
Totals 142 272 hrs.

III. Request for Comments

OMB regulations at 5 CFR 1320, which implement provisions of the Paperwork Reduction Act (44 U.S.C. 3501-3521), require that interested members of the public and affected agencies be provided an opportunity to comment on information collection and recordkeeping activities (see 5 CFR 1320.8(d) and 1320.12(a)). The BLM will request that the OMB approve this information collection activity for a 3-year term.

Comments are invited on: (1) The need for the collection of information for the performance of the functions of the agency; (2) the accuracy of the agency’s burden estimates; (3) ways to enhance the quality, utility and clarity of the information collection; and (4) ways to minimize the information collection burden on respondents, such as use of automated means of collection of the information. A summary of the public comments will accompany the BLM’s submission of the information collection requests to OMB.

Before including your address, phone number, email address, or other personal identifying information in your comment, you should be aware that your entire comment—including your personal identifying information—may be made publicly available at any time. While you can ask us in your comment to withhold your personal identifying information from public review, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so.

 Jean Sonneman,

Information Collection Clearance Officer, Bureau of Land Management.

[FR Doc. 2015-05623 Filed 3-11-15; 8:45 am]


Foreign-owned mines operate royalty-free under outdated US law

blackhillshorses-1200x639 (1)

SOURCE:  revealnews.org  from The Center for Investigative Reporting

By / January 21, 2015

Let’s say you own 245 million acres.  And underneath that land are billions of dollars worth of minerals – gold, silver, copper, uranium and more.  Would you let foreign companies in to tear up your land, put your water at risk and take those minerals without paying royalties?

You already are. That’s the amount of public surface land controlled by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the federal government’s biggest landholder. And companies that mine these lands are exempt from federal royalty payments.

And it’s happening right now.  Take, for example, the Dewey Burdock uranium project in South Dakota.  It encompasses 240 acres of public surface land, plus more than 4,000 subsurface acres of uranium-rich earth.

As of two months ago, a Hong Kong-based company had secured the right to mine and profit off that uranium, used to replenish nuclear power plants around the world, particularly in China.  In November, Hong Kong’s Azarga Resources merged with Powertech to become Azarga Uranium and manage the Dewey Burdock project.

Azarga will pay no royalties to the United States government.  Thanks to the Mining Law of 1872, which still governs uranium and other “hardrock” mining to this day, any company can extract and sell minerals from public lands without paying a cent in royalties to the federal government.

A spokesman for the mine, Mark Hollenbeck, points out that the mine will be paying South Dakota a severance tax, which is a tax on extracting nonrenewable resources.

Besides the royalties issue, some community members worry this mine will put their drinking water at risk.  In-situ uranium mining by nature takes place where there is groundwater.  The process involves injecting chemicals into the aquifer where the uranium ore is.  The chemicals leach the uranium from the rock, and the uranium is then pumped to the surface.  At Dewey Burdock, opponents are concerned that the radioactive, uranium-laden groundwater won’t be contained to the mining site.

Last week, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission released testimony from geologist Hannan LaGarry.  LaGarry found serious flaws in the company’s analysis of the groundwater geology.  He concluded that that there is a risk of groundwater contamination if the mine is allowed to go forward.

The mining company opposed the release of the testimony.

In the U.S., the aquifer by law must be restored to its previous condition when mining is finished.  That means the water must be cleaned enough to put it back to its pre-mining uses.

A Hong Kong-based company has secured the right to mine and profit off the Dewey Burdock uranium project in South Dakota.

But if that happened in this case, it would be a first.  A 2009 report from the U.S. Geological Survey says, “To date, no remediation of an ISR (in-situ recovery) operation in the United States has successfully returned the aquifer to baseline conditions.”

In August 2013, the Rapid City Council unanimously voted to oppose the project.  The proposal site sits on the southwest rim of the Black Hills at the South Dakota-Wyoming border.

Other groups, such as the Clean Water Alliance, the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary and tribal alliances also oppose the project. There are concerns about water quality, water quantity, Native American cultural preservation and effects on tourism – one of the state’s biggest industries.  The Black Hills are home to Mount Rushmore, wild mustangs and the Black Hills National Forest.

“We’re concerned tourists aren’t going to be excited being greeted by uranium mines and the water quality issues that go with them,” said Lilias Jarding of the Clean Water Alliance.

The project has its permit from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission but it is still waiting on approval from the Bureau of Land Management as well as permits from the Environmental Protection Agency and state mining and water boards.

So what is this 140-year-old law that allows foreign companies to make a profit off of resources owned by the collective American public?

The ‘lords of yesterday’

The Mining Law of 1872 is one of the more high-profile, outdated “lords of yesterday” policies created in a long-gone era of Western expansion that still govern our natural resources.  This law sets out how people and companies prospect and mine for certain minerals on public lands.

Today, we’re taking a big-picture look at what makes this law so outdated and how that’s coming back to haunt us.  But first, two quick facts:

  1. This law applies only to hardrock minerals – gold, silver, copper, iron, uranium and the like.  It doesn’t apply to oil, gas and coal.
  2. When I say “public land,” I mean land that’s managed by the federal government. Mostly, it falls under the Bureau of Land Management or the U.S. Forest Service, but there’s a handful of other federal agencies that also manage public land.

And a quick history: When the Gold Rush started, the government didn’t have much control over Western public lands.  Prospectors would discover gold on public land but it wasn’t clear what their rights and responsibilities were.  Most mining camps had self-governing bodies that allowed for unrestricted mining on public lands.  But some in the East saw the miners as stealing public resources. Westerners fought back.  They argued the miners were providing a public service by spurring economic and land development in the Wild West. Court rulings tended to side with the miners, and eventually the Mining Law of 1872 codified the right to explore and extract a range of minerals on public land.

So what’s the controversy now?  The law was written to encourage development when the West was still wild. You could hardly make the case that the West hasn’t been tamed.

Hardrock mines pay no royalties

To put it another way: Hardrock-mining corporations that profit off of public resources don’t pay the government for the privilege to do so.

Gas and oil companies, for comparison, do.  They pay 12.5 percent royalties.  In fact, the federal government made more than $11 billion from oil, gas and coal royalties in fiscal year 2011.  Royalties are based on revenue from the extracted resource.

We have only the vaguest idea of how much money the federal government is missing out on by not collecting royalties from hardrock mines.  The feds don’t even collect data on how many tons of minerals are extracted from mines on public lands.

A 2012 Government Accountability Office report attempted to pin this number down.  It couldn’t.

It nonetheless roughly estimated $6.4 billion in hardrock-mining profits from public lands.  If the industry paid royalties comparable to oil and gas, hardrock royalty payments would be as high as $800 million.

Typically, much more modest royalty rates of 4 to 8 percent are proposed.  Using that, the Pew Campaign for Responsible Mining cites a conservative estimate of around $100 million in foregone royalties a year.  A Democratic Party report last year, when a reform bill was in play, placed an estimate at $182 million.

That 2014 reform bill proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives would have established a royalties system.  The money collected would have gone to cleaning up waste at abandoned mines.  But that bill, along with many similar bills from past congresses, failed, largely thanks to industry lobbying.

The National Mining Association argues that the U.S. is the most expensive place in the world to mine.  Imposing royalties would put U.S. miners at an economic disadvantage, say the association and mining executives.

But the lack of royalties isn’t fair to taxpayers, especially when the federal budget is tight, said Autumn Hanna at Taxpayers for Common Sense.

“We are the owners of the resources,” she said. “We should be paid for the minerals taken off federal land.”

No environmental protections

Donkeys graze in the Black Hills mountain range in South Dakota near the site of a proposed uranium mining project.

For just 1 ounce of gold, a mine today can create 30 tons of waste rock.  That’s because we don’t mine today like we did in 1872.  Flakes of gold in streams are unheard of today. Now it’s all about wresting microscopic bits of dust from rock.  This method, called “heap leaching,” uses dangerous chemicals – cyanide in the case of gold – and creates literally tons of waste.

The writers of the 1872 mining law never imagined that.  Acidic rivers that can’t sustain life, ponds filled with chemical waste and threats to biodiversity weren’t on their radar. And so, the 1872 mining law includes no environmental protections.

Miners today have to comply with the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and other federal, state and local environmental laws.  Even so,conservationists argue, those laws aren’t specific to the mining industry and don’t provide adequate protections.  For example, a Bush-era change to the Clean Water Act actually made it easier to dump mine waste into streams.  And the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act was amendedto exclude mine waste from federal hazardous waste regulations.

“The environmental laws we have right now are not really covering the damage done by the hardrock mine industry,” said Lauren Pagel, policy director for the nonprofit environmental group Earthworks.

Mining wherever, whenever

Another major concern is that the government pretty much can’t say no to a claim application.  The “right to mine” is a long-standing interpretation of the 1872 law, meaning that as long as you pay your fees, you have the right to mine on that land. (Certain areas, including national parks and wilderness refuges, are off-limits, though). The idea behind this is that public land should be put to the “highest and best use.” Long ago, the Bureau of Land Management established a precedent that mining is just that. That means a mining company can mine where it wants, when it wants, regardless of whether or not it’s near a sensitive environmental area.

Another missing protection for more than 100 years was reclamation.  Companies could simply walk away from their mine when it stopped being profitable.  There was no requirement to clean up after themselves or reclaim the land.  By the early 1980s, new requirements were put into place to prevent that.  Nonetheless, there are more than 500,000 abandoned mines on public lands today, some of which pose serious environmental threats.

Laws of the past cost taxpayers today

Legacy laws like these are what legal scholar Charles Wilkinson dubbed the lords of yesterday.  In his 1993 book, “Crossing the Meridian,” he wrote that the lords of yesterday:

“… are the controlling legal rules, usually coupled with extravagant subsidies, (that) simply do not square with the economic trends, scientific knowledge, and social values in the modern West.”

Designed to spur development in the American West of the 19th century, these laws still govern our natural resources in the 21st.  Nowadays, long after the taming of the West, they contribute to environmental degradation, favor corporate special interests and cost the government and taxpayers hundreds of millions, if not billions.

“It isn’t that people back then were being stupid or ignorant or greedy,” Wilkinson told me.  “But they were responding to circumstances so different than we have today.”

Take, for example, the case of Cortez Mine in Nevada, one of the biggest gold mines in the U.S. Owned by Canada’s Barrick Gold, it produced 1.3 million ounces of gold in 2013. With gold averaging $1,400 an ounce that year, that’s a value of more than $1.8 billion. It paid nothing in royalties to the federal government.

That’s because gold mining is covered by this 1872 mining law.  It was originally supposed to make it easier for the “go West, young man” adventurer who trekked across the Rockies with little more than his canvas tent, a shovel and a pick.

But today, CEOs and giant earthmovers have replaced him and his sluice box.

We’re launching a reporting campaign digging into the legacies of these lords of yesterday.

I’ll be looking at mining, grazing and water issues, focusing in particular on how certain legacy laws and policies allow private interests to make a profit off public resources at the expense of the taxpayers and the environment.  Archaic laws allow ranchers to graze their sheep and cattle in national forests and on other public land for cheap and allow big farms to get subsidized water, even in times of drought.

Remember last year’s armed standoff between Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and federal employees?  The Bureau of Land Management was coming to impound his cattle because Bundy hadn’t paid (way-below-market-rate) fees for grazing his livestock on public land in decades.  Bundy’s belief that he has a right to graze on public lands unbothered and unregulated – and the government’s decision to back off and let him – are also holdovers from the 19th century rise of the West.

Stick with us as we explore the consequences of these outdated policies and figure out why they’re still around today.

If you have a personal experience or thoughts about how archaic natural resource policies affect us today, email me at rbale@cironline.org.

This story was edited by Robert Salladay and copy edited by Stephanie Rice.

Rachael Bale can be reached at rbale@cironline.org. Follow her on Twitter: @Rachael_Bale.

Federal lands must not go to the states

The opinion piece below makes one really important point: Public lands belong to the American people.  All of us.   If states obtain these lands, they will likely sell them off.  Unfortunately, we are seeing disgraceful corporate exploitation of public lands under the BLM and Forest Service, as well.  But we know things would be worse for the wild horses and burros if public lands were under control of states.   –  Debbie

th  photo:  BLM

SOURCE: dailyinterlake.com

By Riley McClelland

National forests and Bureau of Land Management lands belong to all of us. They do not and should not belong to the states in which they exist. These federal lands are much too important to be managed by state agencies guided by politicians. With federal ownership, each of us has a potential say in how these great landscapes are managed, no matter their location.

Montanans can influence how the Tongass National Forest (Alaska) is managed. Alaskans, or citizens of any state, have a right to help determine how the Flathead National Forest is managed. That is as it should be. These lands have multiple benefits for the entire country: the production of clean water, wilderness, diversity of natural habitats for wildlife, a variety of outdoor recreation pursuits, selective harvesting of second-growth timber, and mining at appropriate sites.

Transferring federal lands to the states could bring back the disgraceful corporate exploitation that occurred throughout the 1800s and early 1900s. Forests were plundered for timber, minerals, land speculation, and other utilitarian interests, without regard to the long-term interests of the general public. This land abuse motivated Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot to successfully fight for the establishment of forest reserves, national forests, and the U.S. Forest Service. In his first annual address to Congress (1901), Republican President Theodore Roosevelt said: “The forest reserves should be set apart forever for the use and benefit of our people as a whole and not sacrificed to the shortsighted greed of a few.”

It is true that there have been plenty of problems in the management of federal lands — for example the “timber mining” that occurred in the Bitterroot National Forest in the 1950s and 1960s (refer to the Bolle Report (1970), “A University View of the Forest Service,” Senate Doc. 91-115). Currently, the Forest Service and BLM are underfunded in critical programs. As a result, law violators go unprosecuted. Impacts of proposed timber sales, roads, mines, and motorized use are inadequately evaluated. Incomplete evaluation results in successful litigation by organizations, demonstrating that the agencies are not doing a satisfactory job in those cases.

Existing problems could be resolved by a Congress interested in furthering natural resource conservation. Federal management of public lands would greatly improve if agencies were properly funded and enabled to consistently follow sound ecological principles, rather than being pressured to adopt political goals. There is no way that state legislatures would improve the funding for managing these lands (note the failure to properly fund the state park system!). This would create an obvious rationalization for selling valuable parcels.

Read the rest of this opinion piece HERE.


Opposition Swells to Solar Plant Next to Mojave Preserve

SOURCE:  kcet.org


Looking toward the Mojave National Preserve from the site of Soda Mountain Solar | Photo: Michael Gordon


A proposed solar power plant that some opponents are calling “the worst renewable energy project currently under consideration” in California just found itself some significant opposition, as a public committee charged with advising the Bureau of Land Management on desert issues agreed to oppose the project.

In a nearly unanimous vote with just one member abstaining, the BLM’s Desert District Advisory Committee agreed at its February 28 meeting to recommend that the BLM say no to the proposed 350-megawatt Soda Mountain Solar project, which would occupy almost 4,200 acres of land adjacent to the Mojave National Preserve near Baker.

“No reconfiguration of this project would remove its harmful effects,” said Advisory Committee member Seth Shteir at the meeting. “And we plan to draft a letter with that statement in it.”

The lone abstention on the Advisory Council vote came from Council member Leslie Barrett, who represents the renewable energy industry on the Council.

The Advisory Council’s letter to State BLM Director Jim Kenna comes in a week when activists tracking the project have learned that the Interior Department is ready to make the project’s final Environmental Impact Statement publicly available. Once that happens, a decision on the project could come in as little as 30 days.

As currently configured, Soda Mountain Solar, owned by the engineering firm Bechtel, would occupy land on both sides of Interstate 15 a few miles southwest of the San Bernardino County community of Baker. So far no utility has stepped forward to agree to buy the power the project would produce.

Opponents of Soda Mountain Solar point out that the project would fragment important spring foraging habitat and migration corridors for desert bighorn sheep, as well as reducing habitat for desert kit foxes, desert tortoises, and burrowing owls.

The project has also come under fire for potentially threatening one of the last remaining populations of the federally Endangered Mojave tui chub, which lives downhill from the project site in Soda Springs near Zzyzx. A recent hydrological study by the U.S. Geological Survey, however, suggested groundwater pumping at the project site may not have much of an effect on Soda Springs.

Regardless of the arguably good news about the tui chub, opponents charge that the project’s location as well as its effect on local wildlife, make Soda Mountain Solar the wrong project in the wrong place, and are calling on the Interior Department to drop the project.

“The proposed Soda Mountain solar project site is clearly a bad spot especially due to the proximity to Mojave National Preserve, the area’s important bighorn sheep corridor and desert tortoise habitat,” said Dennis Schramm, the retired Superintendent of the Mojave National Preserve. “Interior should not be taking actions now which would prevent future restoration of this very important wildlife corridor.”

“The Soda Mountain solar proposal is the worst renewable energy project currently under consideration by Bureau of Land Management and the Department of Interior,” said G. Sidney Silliman, Professor Emeritus at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. “It would be a travesty if the Interior Department ignores its duty to protect our National Park System and sides with Bechtel, a billion-dollar corporation, versus the hundreds of thousands of people who visit Mojave National Preserve each year to view wildflowers and wildlife, camp, as well as hunt and explore the back country.”