(Picasso, wild mustang stallion of Sand Wash Basin in northwest Colorado. Photo by Carol J. Walker)
By Gayle Hunt, Central Oregon Wild Horse Coalition
U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management
Little Snake Field Office
455 Emerson St., Craig, CO 81625
July 5, 2018
To Whom It May Concern:
The Central Oregon Wild Horse Coalition received notice of your office’s Determination of NEPA Adequacy (DNA) regarding DOI-BLM-CO-N010-2016-0023-EA, and we appreciate this opportunity to express our concerns about this decision.
Our material concerns about the data and conclusions used to support the choice to remove large numbers of wild horses from the Sand Wash Basin HMA (SWB HMA) will follow; this initial comment addresses our extreme disagreement with the concept of a DNA relative to the NEPA process.
As a non-profit organization comprised of American citizens and incorporated for the public benefit, the Central Oregon Wild Horse Coalition finds the body of NEPA regulations to be the singular remaining firewall between the will of the American public and the potential abuse of power by our Federal natural resource agencies. The regulations are complicated and cumbersome, but they do provide an avenue for civil engagement with government where our natural resources are at stake. The concept of a DNA, at best, appears to subvert an increment of this public trust. In the specific case at hand, this DNA does not even attempt to conform to the selection of Alternative A of DOI-BLM-CO-N010-2016-0023-EA and the Decision Record which affirmed that selection. To now proclaim that further analysis and public involvement are not required is absurd and grossly disingenuous. The Little Snake Field Office rejected all other Alternatives in 2016, and even if there were credible new data to inform a reversal of an earlier decision, this would demand new public involvement. This DNA is neither legal nor ethical, and represents a glaring violation of the trust vested in the BLM as an agency meant to conserve and manage our precious and finite natural resources. Removal of 50 horses as opposed to 584 as “authorized” by this DNA is outrageously beyond the scope of “Determination of NEPA Adequacy”.
Additional concerns are as follows:
1. This DNA perpetuates questionable utilization data from DOI-BLM-CO-N010-2016-0023-EA. In addition to findings in the July 2017 GAO Report where it states: According to USGS officials and documentation, research that evaluates and separates cattle and wildlife impacts from wild horse impacts has not been conducted, and studies on horse grazing effects are needed. And BLM and USFS monitor vegetation on public rangeland but do not assign causes to changes in or damage to vegetation, the Central Oregon Wild Horse Coalition has the benefit of decades of personal observation. In our experience, even in the moist micro-climate of the Ochoco Mountains, the forage consumed by permitted sheep is insignificant compared to the trampling and great swaths of forage and riparian destruction perpetrated by bands of sheep within the Forest Service-managed Big Summit Wild Horse Territory. Unless sheep grazing corresponds to late-season rains, countless tons of forage are unavailable as winter forage to Wild Horses due to the inability of grasses to recover once trampled.
These utilization data are unscientific and utterly useless in determining carrying capacity and supposed long-term sustainability of the range, and yet the BLM’s determination of the SWB Herd’s overpopulation has been largely predicated on this analysis.
2. The term Thriving Natural Ecological Balance (TNEB) is used casually throughout this DNA, and yet is not given appropriate weight as the preeminent legal standard for determining the existence of “excess” wild horses and burros. Instead, various range quality standards have been cited to validate the need for massive wild horse removals. Neither land use plans nor State land use standards can supersede the clear language of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, which allocates all lands where wild horses and burros were found in 1971 to the principal use of wild horse and burro welfare. This was affirmed in the FLPMA in 1976 and was not overridden by the PRIA in 1978. TNEB may be an elusive term, but in 46 years both agencies really should have solid guidelines in place. This key concept cannot be diminished by assigning arbitrary, one-size-fits-all metrics such as AML, or by substituting any amalgamation of rangeland health standards. The EA, and this DNA, have not adequately addressed TNEB as related the the SWB Herd. The 2013 NAS Report echos the failure of BLM to fully examine the definition and monitoring of TNEB, which remains the governing principle for determination of excess wild horse and burro populations.
Further, the analysis in support of DOI-BLM-CO-N010-2016-0023-EA admits to allocating the southern portion of the SWB HMA to “Open Play” off-road recreation; gas and oil exploration throughout the HMA; a massive electrical powerline easement on the eastern border; all in addition to permitted livestock grazing and apparently robust use by hunters and other public. None of this is consistent with a TNEB, and it is ludicrous to demand this standard be upheld by wild horses residing within this human construct of an HMA. To stand upon the analysis of the 2016 EA, and to rubber-stamp that same analysis for the purpose of this DNA, is unacceptable.
3. One proposal not considered in the Alternatives presented in DOI-BLM-CO-N010-2016-0023-EA suggested a conversion of the SWB HMA to a special “Range” dedicated “Principally” for the welfare of wild horses. In truth, every acre of land where wild horses and burros were found in 1971 should have been, and should be today, designated as a Range principally for the welfare of wild horses and burros. That both agencies have perverted the clear mandate of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, instead relegating wild horses and burros to merely another resource or use within the Multiple-Use scenario, is one of the most egregious and underhanded acts of the government/industry consortium. While SWB is not the only HMA or Territory to struggle under the misconstruction of the law, it is no less inexcusable.
4. The SWB HMA enjoys one of the most constructive, positive partnerships in the history of government. This DNA should be vacated, and the SWB advocates empowered and equipped to continue their able assistance in the management of these horses – as described in Alternative A of DOI-BLM-CO-N010-2016-0023-EA.
Central Oregon Wild Horse Coalition
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