I have been spending hours, literally, going through and selecting from hundreds of photographs and then watermarking them so I can post them, bringing you out to where the horses are. I would rather let the story tell itself through the horses and only add my words to clarify and fine-tune.
I want to cover many issues.
But the primary issue underlying all things wild horse and burro is this: How do we change the old pattern in terms of land use planning and wild horses? In other words, BLM policy must be changed to actually plan and prioritize HMAs to the wild horses and burros so they aren't outnumbered 4 to 1 by cows and sheep. Case in point: At present in Stone Cabin, for every five blades of grass, horses get one blade, cows and sheep get the remaining four.
This is upside-down. The 1971 law states the wild horse and burro ranges should be managed principally but not necessarily exclusively for them in keeping with the multiple-use mandate, meaning they are to have priority. As the numbers clearly depict, cows and sheep currently have priority. So who is "excess"?
By law (the 1971 Act) BLM is only allowed to remove "excess" horses. The catch is BLM gets to define "excess," and the GAO (Government Accountability Office) 2008 Report on BLM's Wild Horse & Burro program found that there was no scientific or uniform basis for the way BLM sets its Appropriate Management Levels (AMLs), meaning the allowable number of wild horses and burros on a given range.
So in reality, the AMLs are truly arbitrary, and the fox is deciding how many hens should remain in the henhouse.
There is no excess of horses in most of the HMAs. Excess cows, perhaps?...
I had a good experience with the personnel at the Stone Cabin roundup. But these numbers are policy issues, meaning they are issues decided by people generally inaccessible to the public. These are decided whether the people conducting actual roundups are compassionate and care about the horses, or not.
On one hand, the same "new low" exists in terms of the BLM's policies and plans of permitting four times the number of grazing livestock than the number of wild horses on their own Herd Management Area.
And the plan for the wild horses and burros at Stone Cabin was as egregious as I've seen them. Due to public pressure and the very real threat of litigation, they abandoned one of the most offensive plans this time around, thankfully. Specifically:
They abandoned the plan to geld a bunch of stallions and put them back out on the range as a nonreproducing herd.
This plan is utterly contrary to the intent of the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act which defines a herd as "a stallion and his mares."
Nevertheless, in defiance of that 1971 Act, this approach is now common to every HMA, meaning each large HMA (Herd Management Area) across the western U.S. is planning this nonreproducing "herd," and advocates are having to threaten suit and actually file suit against the Bureau of Land Management in one HMA (Herd Management Area) after another to stop this.
But now for the plus side...
EXEMPLARY LEADERSHIP AND HORSE HANDLING
National policy problems notwithstanding, District Manager Doug Furtado and his staff — Field Manager Tom Seeley, Wild Horse and Burro Specialists Dustin Hollowell (COR), and Wild Horse and Burro Specialist Shawna Richardson, who came in from another District to assist, demonstrated the most concern and effective leadership I've seen yet in both addressing and forestalling real and potential problems with the helicopter contractor in terms of efforts made to protect the horses during a roundup.
These two knowledgeable Wild Horse and Burro Specialists were in the field the entire time during this roundup, the only exceptions being I believe two days, when they were required each to take a day off. This meant either Shawna Richardson or Dustin Hollowell were present, one at the trap pen and the other at Temporary Holding for any processing/sorting going on.These frightened foals, approximately six to seven months old, huddle together for security. The lovely pale medicine hat colt is protecting his lovely Stone Cabin Grey sister. She kept her head tucked down low under his for much of the time they were in this pen. He is the little stud among them and has all the protective attributes of an excellent band stallion. You will be pleased to know a big-hearted advocate adopted both of these horses so they wouldn't be separated. He would have made a fabulous band stallion in the wild. Sigh...
There's a lot going on in this photo. The colt is rearing up in the chute, and the soft padding this BLM crew installed on all the upper bars, where his face is, is saving his face and head, and possibly his neck, along with the wrangler's arm that got squeezed into the bars when the foal reared. By the way, the rearing colt is the little boy who was protecting his sister, above. The dark filly is pawing at the water trough because she's thirsty but doesn't like the water. It's not the fresh reservoir water she's used to drinking from in the wild. I watched her; she finally drank. The white filly is watching the commotion in the chute, which settled down fairly quickly.
I've not seen better handling in BLM than Shawna did during branding these youngsters in the chute (that's Shawna in the blue and black jacket) and the quality loading of these young horses into waiting trailers. I thanked her. So good to see the person in charge is a genuinely caring individual.
No offense intended to other conscientious BLM wranglers and horsepeople, but I have just come off the Calico roundup where an injured horse was hotshotted to make him stand up quickly, given no time to collect himself after a front leg was freed from being stuck in a divider panel in the trailer.
For one thing, the COR (Contracting officer's Representative, i.e., BLM's lead person in the field during this roundup) Wild Horse and Burro Specialist Dustin Hollowell, actually knows the horses on this range, knows where they were, and made sure the trap sites were moved frequently to try to prevent injury to the horses.
This has been a concern to me since Sun-J has in the past been known to remain at trap sites day after day after day, driving horses into the trap from further and further away. There were still a troubling number of deaths and "euthanizations." We are talking about these things openly. These roundups are, very simply, really brutal for the horses and these babies.
STONE CABIN HORSES
Frightened foals hiding as best they could. These are babies, and some appear to be only about five months old. They are tall horses in Stone Cabin compared to other mustangs, and some suspect these horses are younger than the age BLM approximates. I'm trying to put a positive face on this, but darn it, this stinks. They each have been doted on and protected by both mother and dad, the band stallion. Now, all that was familiar is gone. One demonstrated a curiousity about people. Note the little Stone Cabin Grey filly's head (right) tucked under her brother's.
Frightened, distrustful eyes watched me. They have never before been without an adult horse to look to for leadership.
These classic Stone Cabin foals stole my heart. They have been adopted and found a safe place to land although it galls me that they were taken off the range to begin with. The 1971 Act states that (c) "range" means the amount of land necessary to sustain an existing herd or herds of wild free-roaming horses and burros, which does not exceed their known territorial limits, and which is devoted principally but not necessarily exclusively to their welfare in keeping with the multiple-use management concept for the public lands. (Emphasis added.)
BLM has it upside-down since only 404 wild horses are allotted on this 500,000-acre Herd Management Area, yet over 4,000 cows and sheep per year are permitted on the Stone Cabin range. The unfair numbers of cows/sheep as related to horses demonstrates what I perceive as a perversion of the 1971 law as set forth in the above paragraph, and it's what forced the removal of these babies from their families.
AGNES and DORIE
I have to tell you Agnes's story. Agnes had a hard time. She is an old girl, and she had a hard time in the trailer and then getting out of the trailer. Agnes is old and skinny. And yours truly, well, I'm getting older, and I'm skinny. But my teeth are good (LOL!), and so are Agnes'. And because Agnes' teeth are good, and we are coming up on Spring, COR and Wild Horse and Burro Specialist Dustin Hollowell released this horse instead of "euthanizing" her. Any other roundup I've been to, this mare would have been killed. She isn't suffering. She's alive. She is full of life. With a mouth full of good teeth, there is absolutely no reason to keep this old mare from living out her days in the wild mountains she has known all her life. I hugged Dustin.
And her friend, Dorie, waited for her. They were the last ones out of the trailer; all the other, younger mares had run off, eager to be away from the trailer and the humans who put them there. But Dorie hung back and waited for her old friend Agnes who had kind of fallen out of the trailer and sat down on the ground, and took a minute to get her legs under her.
Once Agnes was up, her left hind leg looked a little ginger, but she was fine (I've had days like that). She was putting her full weight on it and trotted up the hill strongly to the waiting Dorie.
L to R: Agnes and Dorie
Happy Spring, soon, girls.
For the wild horses and their humble, stalwart burro friends,