by Willis Lamm
It is recognized by most wild horse advocates that the herds of wild horses that roam on our public lands require some degree of management. Herd population growth, loss of predators, intrusion by other land uses, extreme weather events, and the horses’ inability to migrate to new ranges due to man-made barriers require some intervention so that the horses remain in balance with range resources. It is in the application of horse management techniques where the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has demonstrated both competent resourcefulness and gross incompetence. The recent roundup of the iconic “Cloud” and his herd in the Pryor Mountains have provided a shining example of incompetence.
Once while observing a relatively safe and sane round-up in the Buck and Bald HMA (Nevada) I asked contractor Dave Cattoor why this particular gather was going so smoothly when a month earlier a gather at the Sheldon Wildlife Refuge was embroiled in chaos. The answer Cattoor gave was simple. “It’s the contract.”
Cattoor and others in his business are contractors. They perform to the specifications set forth in the gather contracts that they accept. At Buck and Bald, the BLM wasn’t Hell bent to bring in every horse. The horses were moved in slowly. Bands with young foals were left alone. Horses that showed lameness were left alone. Cattoor was not asked to bring in old horses and if some showed up in the corral, enough tail hair was cut so that the helicopter pilot could recognize them as being “releases” after they were turned back onto the range.
Apparently the specifications regarding Cloud’s herd were far different than what we in Nevada recognize as appropriate for “safe and sane” gathers of wild horses.
Perhaps what is far more telling than the poor gather specifications for the Pryor Mountains was BLM’s attitude. Gathers can be dangerous so it is appropriate for BLM to not allow people to just wander around during gather activities. Someone in the wrong place can spook the horses and get them hurt. However in Nevada the BLM customarily makes accommodations for responsible observers to see and report on gather activities. We stay at safe vantage points on the range that are designated by BLM. At the sorting corrals we usually find a spot atop a transport or water truck where we can see the whole operation and not spook the horses. While we may not agree with many of BLM’s gather decisions, Nevada BLM’s reasonable openness instills some confidence that the gathers here are not organized catastrophes.
I was not at the Pryor gather, however from first person accounts, videos, audio recordings and other evidence, the BLM’s whole approach to this gather was faulty. Instead of making adjustments and improvements where warranted, it appears that they turned this event into a covert operation and displayed a hostile attitude against some of the private citizens and advocates present. Having been a public employee myself for 30 years, I have to say that the snips of recorded conversations that I heard were totally improper.
The general attitude within the Department of Interior, of which BLM is a subordinate bureau, has fostered a new round of legal actions brought by private citizens and advocacy groups. There is evidence that some of the data upon which many of the Department’s past management decisions were based were altered. It is therefore reasonable for citizens to question the validity of reports and studies used to justify BLM’s current activities, especially when they simply seem wrong. In fact our Founding Fathers considered it to be our responsibility as citizens to hold our government and its agencies accountable. However the Department of Interior has apparently chosen to be confrontational with the American public rather than engage concerned critics and adjust its policies where appropriate. In this writer’s opinion, the present conduct of the Department of Interior serves as an example of bureaucracy at its worst.
Ironically, America’s wild horses are merely the immediate victims of tunnel vision bureaucracy. Over the long term it is likely the Department of Interior and its subordinate agencies that will suffer most. Aside from a growing pile of lawsuits, Congress is becoming increasingly tired of flawed policies that rack up incredible unnecessary costs and at the same time produce anger among the American constituency. If the Executive Branch of our Federal government doesn’t drag the Department of Interior onto a more appropriate path, Congress will. If one believes the lessons of history, Congress’ solutions may be far more burdensome on the Department than any prompt and appropriate corrections that Secretary Salazar or President Obama might impose.
Advocates across the world feel badly about the mistreatment of Cloud and his famous herd. However the Department of Interior and the BLM may have reached the proverbial “bottom” with respect to horse management policies. Surely they have no other direction to go than “up.”
Horseback Magazine just posted a story about Cloud’s roundup in which BLM spokesman Tom Gorey was quoted as saying, ” The Cloud Foundation is not a credible source for information.” In about 45 seconds a Google search returned scores of incidents where the Department of Interior and/or Bureau of Land Management personnel were involved in altering data, corruption involving millions of dollars, and even accepting drugs, sex and gifts from energy companies. I find it ironic that a spokesman for what could be reasonably be described as the most “incredible” department in our Government’s history would cast dispersions upon an established non-profit group for its criticism of the agency.
Here are but three samples of the reports that I found.
- Embattled Interior Official Julie MacDonald Resigns In Wake of Inspector General Report, E-Wire
- Interior Withdraws Legally Flawed Plan for Oregon Forests, Presses For Sustainable Timber Harvests , Department of Interior News Release
- Department of Interior: Ken Salazar, Politico.com