Saturday, December 24, 2011


            Laura Leigh and I light candles in front of the Gerlach Eight, a little eight-horse herd/band (seen behind us) beloved by the town of Gerlach, Nevada, joining the nationwide Candlelight Vigil commemorating the 40th anniversary of President Nixon's signing the 1971 Wild Horse and Burro Act into law. 
           These horses lived just outside of Gerlach, a town in the Calico Herd Management Area which is presently undergoing yet a second massive roundup of wild horses in less than two years.  BLM rounded up this iconic little band two days after these photos were taken.  
           §1331 (first paragraph) of the 1971 Act:
                      Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
            That Congress finds and declares that wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West; that they contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people; and that these horses and burros are fast disappearing from the American scene. It is the policy of Congress that wild free-roaming horses and burros shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment, or death; and to accomplish this they are to be considered in the area where presently found, as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands.   
(Section 1 of what has come to be commonly known as the historic 1971 Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act, which I will often refer to as The Act or the 1971 Act.)

Pryor Mountain wild horses:  Montana's last wild horse herd of under 160 horses, and BLM wants to round up more of them this year. 
                   NOTE:  In 1971, when The Act was passed, wild horses were found on approximately 53 million acres in the west.  Today that is down to approximately 26 million acres which BLM designates Herd Management Areas ("HMAs").  
             I'm back in the stark, beautiful Calico Herd Management Area of Nevada to share the Watch of another massive wild horse roundup by the Bureau of Land Management less than two years after the last massive and deadly Calico roundup.

             Here is a rare glimpse I was able to put together from the Twin Peaks roundup of 2010 of some of what goes on "behind the scenes" with the helicopter and the horses in the mountains during the hours before they reach the trap pen:
Here is the only time I was ever permitted close enough to document the respiration rate of  wild horses 35 minutes after a 10.8-mile (as the crow flies) helicopter chase:
                I would like to hear from some veterinarians concerning what we see here.  You can email me at  
            In January/February 2010, I witnessed the BLM peel 1,922 wild horses from their historic mountain homes, families, and freedom.  In the weeks following that ugly roundup in the dead of winter, over 100 mares spontaneously aborted, and we had a total of over 140 deaths during and after the helicopter chase.  
           Perhaps you recall Freedom, the black stallion who escaped from temporary holding at the trap site by jumping a six-foot fence and breaking through a barbed wire fence as they were "sorting" horses 10 minutes after capture.  Here are some of the stunning horses from Calico whose loss of freedom also means the end of  their genetic contribution to future generations.  Taking a quick trip down memory lane...
                              Tomahawk and Redman captured 1/16/10
                    Commander  (left) and General (right), captured 1/16/10, inseparable friends, both over 20 years old
                            Lightning and son, captured January 2010
           BLM is now looking to chase all 1300 horses they believe to be on the mountain into their capture pens, and,
         They say they plan to release up to 350 horses so as to permanently remove 950. 85 to 115 will be PZP treated mares, with a two-year infertility drug. 
          BLM has selected an "Appropriate Management Level" for what they've now expanded into a "Tri-State Complex" of nearly 600,000 acres:  572 to 952 wild horses and only 39-65 wild burros.  Sigh. 
           These are absurdly low figures on this large HMA, with wild horses vastly outnumbered by cattle even though cattle have 160 million acres of public land on which to graze. 
          The part I find particularly egregious, discredits BLM, and confirms to me that BLM has a callous disregard for these animals is this:  
          BLM plans to round up all the horses up first, breaking up every band as they come in, then release handpicked horses, a direct assault on the very core of the wild horse social structure because done in this way 
this plan will systematically, unnecessarily, decimate every single family band, creating social chaos.  Wild horses live in close-knit bands a stallion has spent his life building.  He wins and loses mares over time.  For the government agency tasked with this animal's protection and care to destroy this, by design, is the height of -- what? Pick one: Callousness, or ignorance? 
           Neither is acceptable, especially when BLM proved, in the Pryor Mountain wild horse roundup of 2009, it can round up wild horses and maintain the integrity of each family band through all phases of the process — meaning each band had its own pen; horses to be removed were removed, and then each band was released as a unit, with at least several minutes in between releases.  
           So BLM's current SOP (standard operating procedure) doesn't even begin to meet the Act's charge that: 
§1333(a)  ...All management activities shall be at the minimal feasible level ... 
            BLM is implementing untested, radical methods whose effects on the wild horse and burro populations are unknown, in its determination to minimize wild horses and burros on the western public lands, without waiting for the results of a two-year National Academy of Sciences study that is just getting under way to assess the Wild Horse and Burro Program and BLM's methods (more on the study in a future edition). 
            One wonders:  what on earth is the frantic hurry?  Or what in earth, as in uranium, gold, silver, natural gas?  Geothermal projects? — two of which are on track for the Calico complex soon... 
            These unvetted methods have drawn lawsuits from wild horse and burro advocacy groups, joined by Western Watersheds, which is not traditionally a "wild horse advocacy" group. 
      Specifically, BLM is gambling with wild horse and burro futures because in efforts to slow or stop population growth: 
                  A) BLM is planning to geld 200 studs and return these castrated horses/geldings to the range and manage them as a "nonreproducing herd."  This will significantly alter wild horse social structure in some unknown way. There are no geldings in the natural order of wild horse social structure.  There are no studies of wild horse HMAs, nor bands, nor herds, nor groups, nor anything,  where this has been done that anyone has produced.
                       This has not been studied at all, yet BLM is planning this approach in nearly all its plans for the various Herd Management Areas across the west.   

                      BREAKING NEWS:  As of this writing and only after The Cloud Foundation, Western Watersheds Project, and others filed suit to stop BLM from carrying out this massive gelding release in the Pancake complex, BLM has backed down and removed this "alternative" from their plan in that HMA.  This gelding strategy, however, remains a key component in BLM's management plans, and wild horse advocates are required to sue the BLM in each individual HMA (Herd Management Area)  to stop its implementation to protect the integrity of the wild horse herd structure.  This was the second HMA where suit was filed and BLM backed down and abandoned the plan for the moment. 
                       BLM was also going to zero out — remove all wild horses from — the Jake's Wash region of the Pancake complex, as if 26 million acres down from 53 million wasn't low enough.  Thanks to the lawsuit, they have let go of this plan.   
                  B)  Again, despite the absence of any study of consequences to the horses or the environment, BLM continues to skew the gender ratios, i.e., returning 60 percent stallions and 40 percent mares to the wild, in virtually all the Herd Management Areas where it is rounding up and releasing horses.
                        They also skew the sex ratio in CTR ("Catch, Treat, Release") roundups after PZP is administered to mares, an infertility drug.  The PZP in use is a two-year infertility drug called  PZP-22. 
                        It's not rocket science to deduce that skewed gender ratios -- decreasing the number of mares available to already competitive studs -- alters the herd dynamic, but how much?  Can we get at least a five-year study first, please?
                 And PZP-22 does not alter a mare's hormones, so she continues to go into heat and be vigorously pursued by studs monthly.  (PZP creates a virtually impenetrable surface to the ovum thereby preventing sperm from fertilizing it.) 
                I am incredulous at how irresponsible it is of BLM to foist these radical practices on these simple yet highly sophisticated, social animals with no studies.   My trust in my government has plummeted since I've learned of these practices.  We can't click "undo," either,  once it's done.   
  Beautiful stud captured recently in current roundup.
Back on the grueling roundup schedule
                 Up at 3:30 a.m. to be on the road by 4:30 a.m.,  drive to Gerlach to meet at BLM's Black Rock Station at 7 a.m. ...
... then drive across the surreal Playa, the salt flats, our speeding tires filling the air with toxic alkali dust...
... then bouncing through miles into the mountains on accordian/waffled, jarring gravel roads that shake my sleepy brain almost awake to finally arrive, signaled to park on the side of the dirt “road” by my pleasant BLM ranger-escort, familiar from last Calico roundup, who now feels more like a distant cousin I’ve run into at the funeral of a mutual relative.  It’s nearly 9:00 a.m.
           Stepping out of the car, I feel we are trespassers in the middle of the silent majesty of the wild horses’ mountain home, particularly in view of what BLM is there to do.  Some members of the silent peace patrol, the majestic guardians of the mountains — the unsuspecting wild horses — are now taking their last mouthfuls of precious free-roaming forage.  I steel myself to stay focused, prepare my gear for the hike to the designated observation place.
            By the way, the little Gerlach band of wild horses BLM rounded up tell a different version of the events than BLM; it wasn't as pretty as BLM first led us to believe, i.e., "No problem; they went right in.  Piece of cake." 
            But this is more than enough for now.  It is Christmas, and I have another message to write to give you all, so I'm going to stop here.  
             I've been away from the computer with my mustang filly these few months, learning from her about mustangs in a whole new dimension, and I am profoundly moved by these individuals, more so than ever.  I've also been dealing with some medical issues and mustang matters  (not life threatening, just hampered my work) issues.  Soon I will share what the Gerlach horses told me directly, and they can tell you themselves. 
             I am glad for what little I am able to do, though, for these animals for whom we must never stop standing up.  They are very special, indeed. 

1 comment:

  1. This is a brave and stirring complain as well as tribute to our wonderful wild horses. I commend you, Elyse, for your steadfastness and persistence, in bearing witness and through your diligent work allowing others to bear witness to this gross injustice. These wild horses belong in the wild here in the land of their vast and ancient origin and long-standing development. Their decimation through the aid of metal monsters -- the helicopters -- and their trained pilots, against which they have little or no chance, counts among the very worst ongoing tragedies in today's world. Their hope lies with us humans and our ability to awaken conscience and attunement and appreciation and because of this take the needed steps to stop this and to restore them to their rightful freedom. Happy and Progressive 2012 to all and especially my heart goes out to the wild horse. We must no longer victimize these wonderful Healers of the Earth who deserve according to all higher law to live free!