Guest OpEd by Lisa LeBlanc
“BLM Field Report, Wild Horse and Burro Area CA96123
September – October, 2013
WH & B Quadrant ‘North/ East’, Units A – F1
Field Agents: J. Hunter, B. Fischer
Horses: 32 (-9)
Burros: 18 (+6)
Typical for late summer/early fall, most forage is dry, but seed heads are abundant. Exceptions are in valleys & creek beds in H&B Units B, C, & D; several days of mild precipitation in early September produced some late season green growth. Two springs – Dark Spring in Unit C and Big Spring in Unit E – are running moderately slow; water is shallow but clear. Banks are showing slightly heavier tracking than previous report (July-August, 2013).
Ford Reservoir is also higher than normal for this time of year due to rains in early September. We observed 24 horses, 9 burros and other wildlife congregate together several days in a row for morning water ‘rituals’ before departing in different directions for grazing.
Noted changes in herds:
- Bachelor band which frequents Unit B has a new leader. From photo gallery: 18 year old Palomino Paint stallion. Emigrated from West/North Quadrant.
- Two burro herds are missing 2 foals each. Six new adult burros were observed. Five were traveling as a herd. One jack has joined bachelor band in Unit E. Compared and confirmed i.d.’s in photo gallery; all are from Quadrant East/South.
- Three horse herds are also missing foals – at least four since July-August report. Also missing – 4 adults and 1 yearling*.
- Various harems have changed members; have uploaded data and photos. A bit unusual for this time of year.
- Observed gray stallion (HM) and sorrel mare (H) still have no foal. Both appear healthy and of breeding age, and have been paired exclusively since at least 2009. (Would be interesting to discover why. J.F.)
*Found remains of 4, possibly 5, adult horses skeletonized or in various stages of decomposition. Most notable: 30 year old buckskin mare, a favorite of agents for many years. (Many of the horses in all quadrants are her descendants.) Found in tree cover near a livestock trough in Unit B, there appeared to be no trauma (body is in good condition comparable to age, though desiccated and partially mummified) and little evidence of animal scavenging. Other remains indicative of cougar predation, heavily scavenged or scattered. Remains were discovered in relatively close proximity to each other in Units E and F1 near Apex, over an area of about three miles, in moderate juniper cover.
Noted injuries and infirmities:
- 24 year old bald face Bay stallion with large healing skin avulsion on left shoulder (does not appear fight-related). Will scar significantly, but at this juncture, is dry and free of infection.
- Yearling Pinto filly with pronounced lameness of front left canon. Wound is fresh and moderately severe; blood flow visible, but filly is able to keep pace with herd. (Will perform follow-up on wildlife data cams.)
- 15 year old Blue Roan mare, Henneke score of 3. Noted blood & pus discharge on mouth and chest, indicative of a ruptured oral abscess. Mare was foraging on green grass, chewing cautiously. Other herd members were healthy, so it’s unlikely a contagion. (Will follow up on wildlife data cams.)
- 18 year old Bay hinny, designated ‘Bea’ and 22 year old jenny (dam): both displaying massive wounds and cuts in various stages of healing. (No signs of other herd members.) Jenny was down and in distress; her wounds do not appear survivable. Observed in tree cover in close proximity to Big Spring.
Of 24 wildlife data cams, 2 were non-operational and have been replaced. One, in Unit C near Apex, is gone. It appears to have been deliberately removed sometime after July-August field study. (replaced.)
Majority of herds are in good physical health, with body scores of 4 among the older horses and burros to 5 or 6 for Alphas and younger animals. Population is small but stable, owing to attrition meeting foaling rate. Overall, quadrant range is rated ‘good’; there is plenty of forage in Section North/East to prepare for fall and winter. Uplands showing good green; some herds have begun emigrating to take advantage of extra forage before late-season precipitation and winter snowfall.
Schedule for removal not recommended at this time.”
Said no Wild Horse and Burro Field Study Report, EVER.
If wild horses and burros are to be managed efficiently, based on science and equitable policy, shouldn’t it follow that every effort should be made to monitor wild horses and burros? Instead of assessing only the environments in which they live while ignoring the animals themselves, rendering ‘estimates’ of populations or aerial census without accompanying visual documentation virtually useless.
No one who supports free-roaming wild horses and burros has faith in the assessments written to remove them. And no one who approves expenditures for the Wild Horse and Burro Program budget should, either. In the imaginary scenario above, a Herd Management Area, divided into four sections, each section divided into units; two agents assigned to observe a specific section, 10 days out of every 60. A photographic data base and reference program. Wildlife cameras to gather additional data. All combined to create a direct insight into those animals within the sections, and the HMA as a whole.
More than four decades after passage of the Wild Horse and Burro Act, little has changed in how these animals are managed. Except the agency, which in theory should be protecting wild equines, is now creatively imposing the responsibility for some of these animals onto agencies under no such obligation. While it might be considered a ‘reform’, it’s hardly an improvement. But it probably looks good on official paperwork.
For the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Program, a challenge: Rather than continue with the failed methods and policies in interpreting the Act, begin again. Put wild horses and burros at the forefront of the Program, in field research and population monitoring. Require that at least as much of the Budget allocated to gather and remove – 10% – is also aimed at diligent monitoring of herds on the range, year round.
For the House Appropriations Committee: Take a moment; give serious consideration as to why this Program’s budget continues to climb, despite more than four decades of promises of ‘reformation’, the removal of over 200,000 wild horses and burros and four independent reports commissioned to the National Academy of Sciences – which illustrate nothing more than the Program’s self-perpetuation of In-holding costs, contractor obligations and an ever-dwindling wild population that remains, absurdly, ‘in excess’.
The Program has the funding and tools at hand to do better for free-roaming wild horses and burros, and those in captivity. The question is – why doesn’t it.
(Author’s Note: The ‘field study report’ is based in small part on my own observations, and in larger part on accounts by fellow researchers who actually do this work of their own accord. And occasionally – at great personal cost.)