Horse News

Twin Peaks Rush Creek Wild Fire Report: Where are All the Wild Horses and Burros?

Report by Grandma Greg©all rights reserved (Full 42 page comprehensive report available <HERE>)
Photos by Craig Downer

“Although there were a few animal tracks, we witnessed no wildlife – no sounds of birds, insects or rodents scampering…”

A wildfire started on Sunday, August 12th, 2012 from an apparent lightning strike and by the time it was contained on August 30th it had burned over 315,577 acres in California’s largest legally designated Wild Horse and Burro Herd Management Area, Twin Peaks.  Craig Downer, Wildlife Ecologist and “Grandma” Gregg, Environmental Researcher are experienced wild horse and burro observers and both familiar with the Twin Peaks Herd Management Area where the majority of the three days were spent searching for Wild Horses and Burros and documenting the extent of the fire damage.  Over 22 hours and 114 miles covered plus hikes into some remote off-road areas.  Travels included many stops to search with binoculars to look for any signs of wildlife – dead or alive.  Any live large and medium animals would be easier to locate in the burned areas due to lack of forage cover and any dead animals would be more difficult to find because of the grey-black color of the burned landscape. During our three long days of traveling through the Wild Horse and Burro Herd Management Area we only found 22 wild horses and 3 burros.

Red shows fire devastation, note all of California side almost totally destroyed. (X on map is of no significance)

Over and over we kept thinking about the Bureau of Land Management’s population reports claiming that more than 952 wild horses and 192 wild burros are currently living in the Twin Peaks Herd Management Area. There is significant evidence that the population is much smaller.  Since the 2010 roundup, we have made many trips into the Twin Peaks Herd Management Area and our trips have found very few horses and burros remain in this vast area. It is apparent that the BLM has overestimated the population of wild horses and burros that remain since the 2010 roundup.  Our observations are consistent with an independent aerial survey completed in 2010 after the roundup, which estimated only 84-265 wild horses and a small population of burros remained in Twin Peaks. The few that remain here in the nearly 800,000 acre Twin Peaks Wild Horse and Burro Herd Management Area are special and have the right to stay here and be protected as is specified under the law.

The BLM stated during the fire that in the course of aerial flights over the Twin Peaks Herd Management Area they saw only about 100 wild horses in the unburned eastern portion of Twin Peaks.  Furthermore, when we were searching the area we met several BLM employees surveying the fire damage.  One BLM employee said he had been observing the Wild Horses and Burros for thirty years and knew the area and animals intimately and although he said he had covered almost all of the HMA, he admitted to finding only one horse on the entire area in three weeks of searching.  The BLM employees made it very clear that in their opinions the fire crews made every effort to protect private property and utilities but let the rest of the public’s land burn almost uncontrolled and this was verified by our observations.

We drove to one of the largest water sources on the HMA. The springs were in excellent condition but since this is one of the few lush watering areas for many miles and because we arrived in the evening (normally the most active wildlife watering time of day), the stillness and lack of animals was very noticeable.   Although there were some animal tracks and lots of cattle feces, with the exception of some small fish in the pond area, we witnessed no wildlife, heard no sounds of birds or insects or rodents scampering; all the normal things a person would expect to encounter in this remote watering hole during the evening.  It was noticeable to the point of being eerie and indicated to a person experienced in nature to believe that the surrounding fire had caused far more damage than the obvious blackened sage and juniper and grass and that in fact, many animals had perished in the fire.  The silence spoke volumes.

Click (HERE) to download the complete, comprehensive Report

29 replies »

  1. It is time for the BLM to spend some of their funds and do an actuate count of our wild horses & wild burros in the wild and in holding pens… I just don’t understand why they haven’t done this yet… :/

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    • Lisa you’re right! There should be a complete census done in all our HMA’s but not by the BLM. It needs to be done by independent experts who aren’t afraid for their jobs and provide the right answers.

      I fear the same may hold true around the Ft. Collins area and most likely many others. We all know the BLM has been lying about the numbers. There are no where near the 38,000 they would like to believe.

      This report is quite disturbing if you supposedly had 952 and now can only find 22? The actual numbers in the wild may have dipped below 8,000 or even less.

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  2. Thank you , Grandma Gregg and Craig, for this extensive and depressing report. I know it was very hard for you to go there and do this. No tellings how long it will take for this area and wildlife to recover.

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  3. Thank you so much for the information. I have been contacting the BLM since I heard of the fire and have had no response to my e-mails about how the horses fared. Just another reason why the Wild horses and Burros and Herd Management Areas should not be controlled by the BLM. Corrupt bastards!

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  4. This is so obvious that BLM cares nothing about our wild equines/wildlife. Don’t follow how cattle deposits would be noticeable but not cattle. Advocates are absolutely correct in calling for a complete halt of wild equine roundups and verifiable count of equines have to be made since BLM’s overestimates are a total lie. A thank you goes to Craig and Grandma Greg.

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  5. Grandma Gregg, your love and commitment to the Twin Peaks Herd Management Area shines through in all that you have written. It had to be extremely painful for you to write this forensic report. So much destruction of precious Wildlife is hard to witness. The second part of this report is very telling, with many photos that further document this report. I urge readers to continue reading. Here are a few excerpts:

    An old white horse skeleton hanging on the fence post and other old white bones scattered about and a sign that said keep out Garate Ranch hunting preserve.

    The BLM representatives said that in three weeks they had covered almost all of the HMA and had only seen one wild horse, near Painter’s Flat. They obviously appeared to be trying to dissuade us from searching and BLM representative even said “well, if you want to waste your fuel, then go ahead”.

    Photo of “three cat cliff”. One of the BLM employees said “I always see those 3 cats [mountain lions] on that rock mountain – every time I’ve been in here … but not now”. The other BLM employee stopped him from saying more. This led us to believe there was other fire related information and discoveries that they had observed, but didn’t want us to know. One reason this caught my attention is because BLM normally states that the wild horses and burros have no natural predators on the herd management areas although scientific research shows that mountain lions are a significant predator for wild horses and burros

    One black stallion and two mares – one bay mare w/blaze and one palomino mare – all three in good health and “mid” age but both mares looked like they had swollen udders but no foals. Quoting from a Wild Horse and Burro expert, “Full udders and no foals mean dead foals – either they could not keep up if the mares were in a panic and fleeing the fire or predators got them due to loss of small game due to the fire” – we may never know for sure.

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  6. The fact that the fire stuck the horse lands in times when the BLM is desperate to capture the horses and burros is suspicious to me. I have a very strange feeling in my heart…..All of this is not adding up.

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  7. It is a shame that big business try to play God and destroy ever living thing. I hope that that the rapt of God will fall upon the person/ persons behind any plan in destroying any of Gods creations.

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  8. More excerpts:

    One of many livestock fences off Rye Patch Road that could have trapped wild horses and burros and livestock during the fire. When the fire started, the Eagle Lake (Twin Peaks) BLM office was notified of the known wild horses and the potential for them to be trapped by the numerous livestock fences in this area and we were told that this information would be passed on to the fire crews and “they can and will cut fences”. THEY DID NOT.

    We continued on Shinn Ranch Rd. to get as close as possible to epicenter of fire as shown to us by BLM. Two BLM employees were doing grass evaluations and taking notes. One had a “Rush Fire” map that I asked about and he said I could not have one and would not show it to me – assume it had fire progression and other information on it to assist the BLM with post-fire observation and data collection … but why was I not allowed to even see it?

    These BLM employees told us that they thought the horses had really scattered during the fire and some going east into Poodle and Buffalo Hills (Nevada side of HMA) but that they had not left the Twin Peaks HMA and that some had gone to tops of peaks where they could get away from the fire. One BLM co-worker then contradicted the other and said the wild horses had gone to Black Rock Desert. The Black Rock Desert is in Nevada outside of the Twin Peaks Herd Management Area. Furthermore, Twin Peaks is covered by livestock grazing allotment fences that restrict the wild horses and burros movement and they cannot easily leave the Twin Peaks area. Why were these supposed BLM wild horse and burro and range specialists not aware of or admitting to us that the numerous grazing fences would have stopped most wild horses and burros from moving very far?

    All three horses in healthy condition and trying to find dry grass in and around the lake area but this area had already been devoured by hundreds of sheep in June of this year (photo below).
    This is another example of BLM’s setting up of Wild Horses and Burros for failure by allowing livestock to strip the nutritious forage earlier in the year leaving the wild horses and burros very little to survive on during the winter months. Photo of sheep in Pilgrim Lake

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  9. I agree that an independent group needs to do a head count. I also feel that BLM needs a committee to oversee them as well. I think the outright lies and animal abuse has earned them our skepticism and mistrust.
    Thank you for all you do!

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  10. I also don’t understand how the Humane Society of the US is turning a blind eye to the round up abuse. I couldn’t even finish the videos from Antelope Valley this week. Where is PETA?

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  11. I cant imagine how hard this must have been for both of you –
    Sure doesnt sound good at all for the horses & other wildlife.
    But if you didnt do this – who would?
    Thanks, Maggie

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    • That is the same way here with the wildlife. They need to do a better count to get a better count, maybe they need to get some help from local people. So they will know what the real number is. They need to try and save what few of wild horses and burros are left before it’s to late.

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    • Who would? BLM would.
      I think most of us know the problem with that!

      Example: One of the BLM employees who was in the plane during the post-capture 2010 population count told me to my face (and another person on another day) that they counted 300-something WH&B left on the Twin Peaks HMA. They did an extensive three day aerial census count.

      That number closely agrees with an independent scientific study flight done at the same time which gave the range of 84-265 horses left on the HMA.

      “Funny” that by the time the official BLM count report had been adjusted through the BLM office the total population was reported as 953 !!!

      That is what known as “cookin’ the books” or “creative bookkeeping”.

      Personally … I call it something else that I cannot print here.

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  12. Went back & read the whole report – Sure does look like this HMA was just left to burn – I hope the horses that lived there did get out of the area in time. The ones you did see look good – in good flesh & healthy. If they keep the damn cows & sheep out of there – the horses would probably do fine. Especially the number that appear to be left!
    Good job, guys

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    • The few WH&B that survived are in great shape and that is a drop of good news!

      The fact of the matter is that the livestock here are allocated from 3-5 times more forage than the WH&B even if there WERE the “legal” number of WH&B (AML) on this HMA – which there is not. Not to mention that the WH&B must rely on the forage year round whereas the livestock are trucked in to eat during the best forage months.

      In addition, the Twin Peaks HMA is fenced and cross fenced which does not allow for the free-roaming and genetically viable wild horse and/or burro.

      For more information on the Twin Peaks HMA true facts (not BLM baloney) you may want to read this recent scientific report:
      csus-dspace.calstate.edu/bitstream/handle/10211.9/1492/WHB_Thesis_Final%2011.30.11.pdf?sequence=1

      The even bigger problem is that this HMA is typical of BLM miss-management for all of our WH&B … and some are even worse!

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  13. What makes this particularly heartbreaking for me is I had taken an excursion with a couple of research partners – and dear friends – to Twin Peaks just a month or so before the fire. And we traveled these same roads, saw these same pastures, ponds and dry lake beds – and very few horses or burros.

    I don’t imagine it occurred to anyone who makes the decisions that ‘legally’ evict a thousand horses and burros from their 800,000 acre home that there wouldn’t be enough of them left behind to keep the undergrowth under control. Only that they might eat too much, right?

    What we did see was hope, in Winter coming, and next Spring. What I see now is another opportunity for ’emergency’ removal of wild horses and burros so the cattle won’t starve next Spring.

    What I see now is an agency that simply WILL NOT acknowledge that these animals – our wild horses and burros – are less a burden on the ranges they occupy than a necessity for it’s health. Even their precious livestock – given every advantage in a legally-designated horse and burro Herd Management Area – were apparently no help at all.

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  14. The pictures tell the story in this report. Look at the cattle guards on page 15:

    “Both photos (above and below) are of Rye Patch cattle guard with safety rebar sawed out. Removal of “Wild Horse Annie” safety bars on cattle guards are documented as having caused broken legs and ultimate death when wild horses are being chased by helicopters or vehicles or panicked by fires”

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  15. I wouldn’t trust DOI OR USDA to pull my trash can to the curb, much more accurately census (censi?) any wild life, water or forage conditions.

    Maybe NOAA would do a better job? Regardless, someone or thing INDEPENDENT OF USDA AND DOI should be responsible for scientific population counts and surface, meteorological conditions and forecasts on these lands.

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  16. NOW…WATCH OUT FOR THE NEXT STEP. The native vegetation and forage has been destroyed by wildfire. NEXT….?

    Emergency Stabilization and Rehabilitation (ES&R)

    http://www.blm.gov/nv/st/en/fo/ely_field_office/blm_programs/fire_management/emergency_stabilization.html

    FOLLOWING WILDLAND FIRE, Ely District Office resource managers may determine that ES&R actions are needed to protect valuable resources such as soils, riparian areas, cultural resources, and/or to reduce the potential for invasive species spread.

    Specific actions taken following fire can include soil erosion prevention measures, SEEDING AND PLANTING OF native AND/OR NON-NATIVE SPCECIES, HERBICIDE TREATMENT, FENCE CONSTRUCTION and MANY OTHER RESTORATION MEASURES.

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  17. As stated in the 71 Act there needs to be independent study. Due to the manner we all have been treated by BLM (horses and burros foremost) I would not want them to do a ‘complete census’ because I would never believe their figures. Would any of you? The 71 Act emphasizes the use of Independent study! BLM continually acts with out this crucial element to proper management decisions. BLM continually refuses to set up the ability for independent study to become a part of their decision process.

    There is an HMA to the South and maybe some of the animals have gone there. Someone should look in areas adjacent to twin peaks. We have here many animals who have fled from fire ravaged areas of Colorado.

    Unfortunately we know BLM has many times raised the number of animals to remove just prior to a round up. Then they take all they can and release fewer than promised. I hope some of these lovely horses left before becoming victims of the fire.

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    • Mar-
      Of course you are correct and independent studies should have been part of every HMA for the past 40 years – but that would not go along with the BLM agenda so it has not been done and won’t be because the BLM will do anything to distort the truth against the WH&B and in favor of “other interests”.

      There are adjoining HMA’s but the Twin Peaks WH&Bs are fenced in and cannot move to those and in addition, the Twin Peaks HMA is fenced and cross fenced and cross fenced (shown in the report photos) which does not allow for free-roaming and genetically viable wild horses and/or burros.

      Example: if you had a 100 acres of property and 20 horses (thus 2 horses per 10 acres fenced pasture) and each 10 acres had one stallion and one mare but was fenced (thus 100 acres cross-fenced) then it would not matter that you had 20 horses – the HORSES COULD NOT INTERMINGLE with the exception of the two in each 10 acre pasture. Not very many years/generations until inbreeding would be their only possible choice and thus in a few years you would not end up with a genetically healthy herd.

      Now multiply that to 800,000 Twin Peaks acres that are divided into designated “pastures” (not kidding!) and then those pastures are fenced and cross-fenced. The majority of the horses and burros CANNOT get to each other or get out or intermingle with the other HMAs or even within the HMAs.

      I hope I explained that correctly but for more information on the Twin Peaks HMA true facts (not BLM baloney) you may want to read this recent scientific report:
      csus-dspace.calstate.edu/bitstream/handle/10211.9/1492/WHB_Thesis_Final%2011.30.11.pdf?sequence=1
      Thanks, Mar!
      -Grandma

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  18. Mar, you are RIGHT….THOSE KIRI TREES!

    Comments? We don’t need no stinkin’ comments! “King” Salazar doesn’t really care what you think
    Marti Oakley
    July 27, 2010 by ppjg

    The BS coming out of the BLM regarding the wild horse and why they have to be zeroed out has been non-stop and now has been kicked into high fear with the hiring of the Kearns & West PR firm notorious for its promotion of Enron. Their function? To sway public opinion. They have absolutely no interest in the right or wrong of that swaying…just a big interest in making lots of $$. And who pays better than the fed? Nobody we know of.

    If it isn’t the Ruby Pipeline or the Vidler Water Company, its tellurium mines, silver mines, gold mines, gas and oil interests, many of whom get their foot in the door by obtaining “grazing permits”. Not only that, but as of the end of 2007, the last year we could find statistics for who got the permits; 40% of those permits on all public lands went to only three (3) individual cattle operations. Now add in the permits for grazing for companies who had no intention to graze anything, unless strip mining or drilling equipment can be counted, and it doesn’t leave much for the small guys, does it?

    Now lets add in the KIRI TREES SLATED TO BE PLANTED IN THE NORTHERN NEVADA DESERT AREA, (3 MILLION TREES…LISTED ON THE GLOBAL INVASIVE SPECIES LIST Kiri trees—global invasive species list ) right over the top of the aquifer that Vidler is draining and piping into northern California. Looks like Nevada could see some real water problems in the next ten years.

    These are just a few of the planned ventures for these areas occupied by the wild horses and cattle grazing operations. Neither equine nor bovine will be allowed to exist in areas where huge profits can be made plundering the land for other purposes.

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  19. And reseeding with NON-NATIVE GRASSES? What are the NATIVE WILDLIFE supposed to eat?

    OPEN LETTER TO THE BLM:Regarding the “Desatoya Mountains Habitat Resiliency, Health, and Restoration Project”
    April 7, 2012 by ppjg
    Debbie Coffey
    OPEN LETTER TO THE BLM:Regarding the “Desatoya Mountains Habitat Resiliency, Health, and Restoration Project”

    When your office prepares an EIS, please notify the public if GENETICALLY ENGINEERED (GE) SEEDS will be used in the “RESEEDING” project. If so, which seeds will be genetically engineered and what could the impact be to human health? (For example, cows that will eventually end up in the food chain, may be grazing on genetically engineered seeds.) What will the impact of genetically engineered seeds be on the wild horses ingesting GE grass on the range? In your EIS, please provide studies to prove the safety regarding this to animals and humans.

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