Today the Calico Mountain roundup took place once again at Soldier Meadows. Madeleine Pickens with sister Chris, faithful old canine companion Oliver, and staff came to view for themselves this process of removing our wild horses from their homes. Attorney Valerie Stanley, wildlife ecologist Craig Downer, and I were present along with a "Good Morning America" crew. While be escorted by BLM on the way to the capture site, we saw the two huge truck/trailer vehicles full of horses being shipped to Fallon that day, and Valerie Stanley and Jerry Reynoldson saw a mare down in the first trailer. We promptly told Gene Seidlitz, who said he'd contact the driver.
BLM State Director Ron Wenker greeted us along with BLM Wild Horse and Burro Management Specialist Dean Bolstadt and two additional public information specialists -- Heather Emmons, Managing Public Information Specialist, with another Public Information Heather from Idaho (sorry, Heather; I can't locate your last name!) -- and a larger than usual cadre of security people. Gene Seidlitz and Lisa Ross were, of course, present as well. Alan Shepherd, BLM's lead Wild Horse and Burro Specialist, took the lead in speaking on behalf of BLM, followed by Gene Seidlitz.
BLM set aside this extra day to observe the roundup operation outside its committed Monday, Wednesday, Saturday schedule, in order to accommodate Ms. Pickens and the ABC crew. Craig Downer, Valerie Stanley, and I were asked by Madeleine to accompany her, and we were very glad to do so. Accompanied by several of her staff, Madeleine and Chris and staff arrived at the capture site carried by three helicopters BLM had given previous permission to arrive. Driven by Jerry Reynoldson, former staffer of Senator Harry Reid, and escorted in a caravan of nine four-wheel drive vehicles, we arrived a good bit later at approximately 9:55 a.m.
The day started on a dark note. BLM staff along with Sue Cattoor were angry, stating that Ms. Pickens and her helicopter crew had reneged on their agreement and had inappropriately flown over capture airspace, alleging that they had spooked the wild horses and jeopardized the entire day's operation. Alan Shepherd said he immediately downed their (Cattoor) aircraft when he saw the Pickens helicopters. This was an unverified statement since no one from BLM nor the Cattoors were flying or able to see the wild horses. We were tersely informed that it would be at least two hours before any incoming horses would arrive.
After listening patiently to the anger and frustration communicated by Alan Shepherd, Gene Seidlitz, and Sue Cattoor, Madeleine Pickens stated that they had flown over what they believed was well away from the capture area; that they stayed high enough so that the no more than 200 horses they had seen were not at all concerned about their presence. She said they came down lower to view one small band of five horses, who merely looked up inquisitively and did not move off their grazing spot. She stated, "This is not a friendly environment," and was diplomatic but clearly outraged at BLM's accusation that she had spooked the wild horses.
We prepared to move on to a tour of the area by BLM lead Alan Shepherd. First, however, I raised three questions.
1) The first had to do with the 30-year-old mare killed by firearm. I asked where she was killed, in what proximity to the penned wild horses, and Alan Shepherd responded it was about a mile from the horses. I asked how she was taken there, and he said she was trailered over. I am very saddened at the thought of this grande dame, this matriach whom we have named Cali for "Calico," spending her last minutes getting pressed to load onto a trailer by herself and taken off to meet a bullet. Why could they not have administered an injection, found another way to gently and humanely end her life in deference to her long life and service? I will discuss this issue with BLM tomorrow and report BLM's response.
Has anyone noticed that she was THIRTY? 30? Have not these horses magnificently adapted to this environment?
2) The next subject addressed the issue of ending our observation days at 1 p.m. I made a polite but firm objection for the record and reiterated that we hold that it is the public's right to witness these roundups throughout all phases of "gather" activities, and the private land issue is BLM's problem, basically. I stated that it is bad enough that we cannot go out each day, and now to end the public viewing days at 1 p.m. is highly objectionable. Gene Seidlitz stated he was flexible within a half hour to an hour, to remain longer as the situation warrants; however, the time factor is an issue, he states, because of the long drive (three hours-ish) back to town.
Then my final question: I made a formal verbal request on the record to BLM as follows:
We all know that a black stallion we have named Freedom self-released, as Gene Seidlitz calls it, and has probably sustained some injuries. Americans have fallen in love with this horse, and we are asking BLM to:
Number 1, inform us if he is seen and let us know his condition;
Number 2: We are asking that Freedom be permitted to live his life free and remain on the range. BLM is leaving some horses out on the range. If he gets rounded up again, we are asking that we be notified and that he be re-released. We believe this horse has earned his right and demonstrated his need for freedom. Will BLM commit to letting him stay free and to notifying us if he is seen or recaptured?
Gene Seidlitz very carefully responded that he believes Freedom to still be free; that he didn't know if they could identify him.
I responded and said I could identify him; we could identify him. I described him in detail, and I believe Sue Cattoor could identify him. I think his injuries from the barbed wire would also make him pretty unique. If there is any question, we can identify him.
Gene responded that he would do what he could. I was interrupte
d at that point, and it seemed a necessary ending point at that time. Although I do believe Gene Seidlitz to be in good faith, such a reserved response is insufficient. I will continue to be specific and press for a true commitment from BLM to Freedom's remaining free, and a commitment to direct the Cattoors to watch for this horse and immediately inform us if he is seen or captured.
© Photography by Elyse Gardner
Stallions. Some really beautiful horses. Alan Shepherd states these horses were at a virtual ideal weight. He felt the mares were generally well but a little underweight.
Displaying a wary curiosity...
When roundup operations resumed, we first saw the helicopter off in the distance. It hovered for long periods before we could see any horses, and I was wondering what was going on. When the horses came up over the rise and we were able to finally see them, it cut deep: They were so far away, they looked like ants, but we could clearly see they kept squaring off and facing the helicopter, moving back toward it and trying to head uphill back into the safety of their mountains. The helicopter would face them like some omnipotent monster and sometimes slowly head toward them until they turned back toward the trail the pilot wanted them to travel. Here you can see the horses trying to move up the mountain toward the terrible machine.
Below, we can see the defeated horses running back down the hill toward the trail. The helicopter has closed the distance between himself and the wild horses. My video clip shows trotting and cantering horses, not easy on the uneven ground. They are not walking casually.
Below, the first to arrive is mom with her baby valiantly struggling to keep up.
...followed closely by the helicopter now to get them into the pens. Note the Judas horse in front (the Cattoors' horse, "Shorty," a good horse who knows his job and does it faithfully. You can also see Dave Cattoor standing where he and Shorty stood just a half our or so about even even with the last horse.
This roundup scene took place three times yesterday. Now trapped, the horses swell and whoosh anxiously around in this tiny space.
I am not permitted to get close enough to document respirations. If the horses were still, my zoom lens could pick it up if I held steady, but the horses are surging and moving around so much, it is impossible. They are highly agitated.
We watch another group come in, sweaty, and then they are loaded tightly into two trailers and driven a short distance over to the capture-site holding pens, where they will wait overnight to then be driven the 4-hour drive to the new Fallon holding facility, where we are told they will probably stay until spring -- April or May. They have seen the last of their freedom.
This palomino I call Braveheart was the last to be loaded into this very full trailer and fought desperately hard against yielding the next steps to his captivity. This is a scene repeated over and over.
I have more to share with you about this day, especially about a palomino stallion i call Braveheart, but for now I have to get ready for Saturday's roundup activities. Pray for the horses and for us, please. Thank you for all your kind words and support.
For the wild horses and their humble friends, the wild burros,