Elko County, NV
In an official press release, BLM announced that it was temporarily suspending a roundup in northern Elko County named the Tuscarora Gather. This decision was made after seven horses died after being run into BLM's traps. (Link to announcement) BLM attributed a lack of water available to the horses on the range as a primary factor predisposing the horses to mortality when brought in.
July 12, 2010
An additional horse had to be euthanized after breaking a leg in an on-site corral. Four others later died, attributed by BLM to complications arising from lack of water. (The casualty list appears to be changing so the latest reports can be seen on BLM's Tuscarora Gather Reports.
Although they recognized the potential seriousness of water issues in America's driest state, advocates were openly critical of BLM's apparent lack of knowledge of local conditions before herding the horses in by helicopter.
In response to an inquiry, Susie Stokke of the BLM asked that the public acknowledge that BLM immediately suspended operations and began to reassess the situation as soon as the agency recognized that it had a serious problem. This writer accepts that BLM did make the right call and is grateful did not delay in making such a decision.
Most wild horse advocates have not been in favor of aerial gathers except in extraordinary circumstances, but the mortality rates from recent aerial operations in Nevada has been shocking. A number of advocates expressed outrage when contacted.
"We know that BLM can conduct safe gathers, but you wouldn't know it looking at Calico and Tuscarora," said one long time observer.
"You don't bring in horses like that unless you understand the conditions."
From another advocate, "If water was a problem, why not provide water and if you have to, use water for bait? They say they can't get water to the horses. I've seen ranchers deliver water where it would be difficult to drive a Jeep and the BLM can't do it? Or get the Forest Service to drop water. Those helicopters can drop water on a dime, so a dried pond should be an easy one."
In reality providing water is a tricky matter. You have to get sufficient water to the horses in a short enough period of time that the animals don't erupt into a free-for-all to get water. However if this herd was monitored for removal, there is a compelling argument that the water issue should not have come as a surprise to BLM.
Another puzzle involves the nearby Little Humboldt River. It was reported that some of the horses didn't drink from the river because they were spooked away by nearby campers. That explanation did not reconcile with advocates' experiences and raised additional questions.
- What were campers doing in a closed area?
- Why would the river only be accessible to the horses where the campers were located?
- If it was OK for the horses to drink from the river (if they could,) why then did they die when they drank at the trap site?
The explanation for the last question could be answered by simple observation of wild horse bands. Typically wild horses conserve their energy and hydration when looking for water. Observers have not seen them move steadily for eight miles. Advocates argue that the "forced march" to the trap site took a dangerous situation and made it fatal.
The faction of advocates who would like to see Congress mandate an end to all aerial roundups except in emergency situations see a silver lining from recent events. Some see the arrival of State Wild Horse and Burro Lead Alan Shepherd, nicknamed "The Exterminator," as providing a perfect storm to help end aerial roundups.
A couple of advocates chatting over coffee explained, "(Shepherd) has produced a string of disasters, won't listen to anybody and is a terrible communicator. If anyone can convince Congress that BLM shouldn't be allowed to use helicopters, he's our boy."
While the "buck" does stop at Shepherd's desk, to be fair Congress and the D.O.I. are also responsible for the recent calamitous performance by BLM. While money still rolls in to take horses off the range, there appears to have been a palpable reduction in funds and staff necessary for BLM to actually understand what is going on out on their own ranges.
"No doubt some folks at BLM are trying to do a good job and make chicken soup out of you-know-what. But they keep killing horses, so something has to change. If BLM can't turn things around, then we'll have to renew our call for a moratorium until they can get things right.