Excellent comments by Gayle Hunt, Pres. of Central Oregon Wild Horse Coalition, on Colorado BLM’s Determination of NEPA Adequacy (DNA)

(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

DOI-BLM-CO-N010-2018-0025-DNA

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.

Respectfully,

GAYLE HUNT

Central Oregon Wild Horse Coalition

To learn more about Central Oregon Wild Horse Coalition, see their facebook page HERE.

13 comments

  1. AND…this wasn’t noticed. Comments were due the same day.

    In the White River Field Office outside Meeker, Colo., the BLM is proposing to gather all excess wild horses that are outside the designated Piceance-East Douglas HMA, including those in the West Douglas area. The BLM could potentially use all approved gather methods, such as bait-trapping and helicopter drive-trapping.

    The BLM estimates the current population of wild horses outside the HMA to be 374 wild horses. The BLM is prioritizing the areas outside the HMA, although the population within the HMA is 532 wild horses, well above the established appropriate management level of between 135 and 235 horses. For more information and to comment on this proposal, go to https://go.usa.gov/xQGGW.

    Wild horses removed through this gather will be taken to the Canon City holding facility and be made available for adoption or sale.
    Comments need to be received by July 5, 2018.

    https://eplanning.blm.gov/epl-front-office/eplanning/planAndProjectSite.do?methodName=dispatchToPatternPage&currentPageId=159952

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A true wild horse and burros warrior. Thanks for the articulate and accurate response to the current war against our cherished wild ones!
    Special interests are driving them to extinction and your response hits the nail on the head.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. And do you think they will even read it? Absolutely not. It went into file 13 along with all the other thousands of comments. They have an agenda and will not be stopped

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The Plot to Loot America’s Wilderness
    A little-known bureaucrat named James Cason is reshaping the Department of the Interior.
    By Adam Federman
    November 16, 2017

    One day in Mid-March, James Cason, the associate deputy secretary at the Department of the Interior, convened an impromptu meeting of the senior staff of the Bureau of Land Management. Cason, whose office is on the sixth floor, rarely wandered the halls, and some career civil servants still had never met him.

    A soft-spoken and unassuming man, Cason has cycled in and out of Republican administrations since the early 1980s and has largely avoided public attention. But people who have worked with him know him as a highly effective administrator and a disciple of some of the department’s most notorious anti-environment leaders in previous years—a “hatchet man,” in the words of one former DOI employee who worked with him during the George W. Bush administration.
    This article was reported in partnership with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute.
    About 30 employees were ushered into a conference room, where Cason announced that Kristin Bail, acting director of the BLM, would be replaced by Mike Nedd. The move itself wasn’t all that surprising: Bail, who came from a conservation background, had been appointed in the final days of the Obama administration to serve in a temporary capacity; Nedd, who had been assistant director for energy, minerals, and realty management since 2007, was viewed as better positioned to implement the new administration’s pro-industry agenda.

    According to two people who were present, he delivered what appeared to be hastily prepared remarks thanking Bail for her service but telling her that she was no longer needed in the position. One employee, who has since left the DOI, said it was unclear whether Bail had been told beforehand of her demotion. “It was one of the most awkward, disrespectful things I’ve ever seen,” the former employee said. The spectacle amounted to a kind of public dismissal—and a warning shot. The meeting ended as abruptly as it had begun, with employees left staring at their seats. By the end of the day, Bail was carrying her things out of her office in a box and looking for another place to sit.

    Bail’s transfer was the opening salvo in an unprecedented restructuring of the DOI. Three months later, in what some department staffers now call the “Thursday-night massacre,” Cason sent memos to more than two dozen of the DOI’s highest-ranking civil servants informing them of reassignments; they had 15 days to accept the new positions or retire.

    Cason, who once described himself as the department’s “regulatory czar,” has also overseen the dismantling of rules governing energy development on public lands. The DOI is poised to open up millions of acres to drilling and mining—from Utah’s red-rock country to the frigid, perilous waters off Alaska’s coast—while stripping away basic environmental protections and reducing transparency. Across the Trump administration, the new mantra is “energy dominance”—a vision of the world in which the United States will amplify its influence with a dramatic expansion of oil, gas, and coal production, whatever the environmental costs.

    “From what I can tell, Jim Cason is running the show,” the former employee said. “I think he’s overseeing everything.”
    But unlike Griles, who was sentenced to 10 months in prison after lying to Congress about his ties to the disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Cason has largely avoided the public eye.

    https://www.thenation.com/article/the-plot-to-sell-americas-wilderness/

    Liked by 2 people

    • Sure does sound like we all need to keep an eye on this guy (as well as others) it appears he has his fingers in a lot of pies all over our public lands & is far more influenced by oil, gas,grazing,lumber etc than any environmental interests. And from the sound of the nomination back in the bush era – nothing has changed his opinions.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. JAMES CASON is serving as the Associate Deputy Secretary of the Department of Interior.
    In 2001, under James Cason’s leadership, a computer system at the Interior Department controlling trust fund payments to American Indians was shut down. As a result, $15 million in payments went unpaid, putting the “health and livelihood of thousands of individual Indians throughout the country in disarray.”

    Ryan Zinke, in an April 2017 memo, told all Assistant Secretaries at the Interior Department to report to James Cason on “‘proposed decisions’ that have ‘nationwide, regional, or statewide impacts,’” and required Cason to sign off on such decisions before they can be implemented. In the same memo, Zinke also demanded that “Department of Interior grants of more than $100,000 be reviewed” by Cason. Critics have observed that this memo “greatly expanded” James Cason’s role “in the awarding of grants and in policy decision-making.” Although these procedures are supposed to be temporary, the memo didn’t provide an end date.

    Ryan Zinke, on April 12, 2017, “sent a memo to the Assistant Secretaries of the Department of the Interior directing them to ensure that all bureau heads and office directors report to” Acting Deputy Secretary James Cason on all “‘proposed decisions’ that have ‘nationwide, regional, or statewide impacts,’ and that decisions may not be made until the Acting Deputy Secretary has ‘reviewed the report and provided clearance.’” [Raul Grijalva and A. Donald McEachin to Ryan Zinke, 05/02/17]
    https://departmentofinfluence.org/person/james-cason/

    Liked by 1 person

  6. It seems that the crux of the problem is the way cabinet offices are structured.
    For the most part, they don’t have to answer to Congress and operate more like little fiefdoms.
    There needs to be a major overhaul of the entire process so that the cabinet officials can no longer avoid Congressional and Public oversight.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Now he’s back in a position that doesn’t require Senate approval”

      CASON’S return to the DOI doesn’t surprise Jim Cubie, who was chief counsel to Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) in 1989, when Leahy oversaw an Agriculture Committee hearing on Cason’s nomination to a top environmental post in the George H.W. Bush administration.
      Cason’s track record so alarmed the committee that he was eventually forced to withdraw his name from consideration.
      Now he’s back in a position that doesn’t require Senate approval. “He’ll do a lot of damage,” Cubie predicted.

      https://www.thenation.com/article/the-plot-to-sell-americas-wilderness/

      Liked by 1 person

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