Press Release_Wild Horse Education: Sheldon

Although horses were on the land we call the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge prior to the Refuge getting it’s designation, and before the passage of the Federal Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act, they have no enforceable protections. These wild horses are fair game for slaughter.

In 2006 a roundup occurred on public land that rocked the wild horse advocate community. In the sweltering sun of June, during foaling season, bands were stampeded through the desert with disastrous consequence.

Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge (US Fish and Wildlife, USFWS) had their specially screened contractors poised and ready to take horses and the contractors would receive $300.00 a head for each horse they removed from the range. The public was assured that gathers are safe and not done during foaling season. Yet extreme measures were taken to attempt to hide all activity from the public. Police were hired, gates were installed and a two-mile distance was then established as a barrier to hide actions from the public. Cattoor, the company that flies the helicopters, took to the air.

USFWS announced that the roundup had gone off safely. They reported one injury involving a lip.

However reports began to come in from those in the field of the various deceptions. Those listening to radio transmissions during the gather heard talk of a horse that broke a leg and was shot. A ground search began that turned up dead and injured foals, some of them bound and left in the desert. Mares in the gather pens aborted.

The contractors were paid $300. per head as they removed truckloads of horses from the range. Two of the three contractors had slaughterhouse connections and the unbranded horses coming off of public land ended up in the kill pen.

This roundup became known as the “Sheldon Massacre.”

In 2009 I filed suit against the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Department of Interior (Yes, they are under Dept. of Interior). In 2009 while the nations eyes were on the Pryor Mountains and the famed herd of the “Cloud” series by Ginger Kathrens, the horses from Sheldon disappeared again. The suit was based on the fact that contrary to the statements made by the Refuge horses from Sheldon had no protection when they left the range. USFWS is not mandated to manage horses and burros with the same “protections” granted in the Wild Free Roaming horse and burro act of 1971.The horses and burros leave with no freeze mark, microchip or any way to identify them as wild horses, with tragic consequence.

That suit was on the verge of becoming “moot” as Sheldon NWR signed an agreement with the Bureau of Land management to include Sheldon NWR in the “mega-complex” that included wild horse areas in three states. Grandiose statements were made by Winnemmucca BLM district manager Gene Seidlitz and Paul Steblien of Sheldon about actual management of “ wild herds across the landscape.” Those claims included studying migratory patterns and genetic viability.

I was to be included in range studies occurring at the Complex. Gene Seidlitz did an amazing rendition of the sidestep and the only documentation I received was the 2008 BLM in-house report on Assessment, Inventory and Management. That document is basically a self-study in the ineptness of and lack of data used within the Bureau’s management of public land. Useful, but not a “cooperative” toward data compilation.

The suit was dropped as it would have needed to be re-crafted and re-filed. The support for the suit was practically non-existent from the public as other more publicized actions were occurring. But in the process I made a friend. Attorney Gordon Cowan of Reno wrote off the rest of the bill and remained interested in the issue of wild herds and public land.

Last year, as I was returning from Twin Peaks to head to Reno to prepare documents for the First Amendment Lawsuit (BLM, Silver King) with attorney Cowan, I got a call from Katie Fite (Western Watersheds). She believed there might be a roundup occurring at Sheldon without public notice. Leslie Peeples, another “drive alone with your dog on public land gal.” I informed her of the situation as I could not go. Leslie went.

Her trip uncovered that indeed there was a roundup without public notice. Paul Steblien, now retired manager of Sheldon, confirmed that the action was taken in order to avoid public scrutiny. Her trip also uncovered photos of the “bone pit” at Sheldon. Bones were strewn about in what appeared to be a careless manner, “As if their deaths did not matter,” according to Peeples.

Bone trail to the pit (Leslie Peeples)

A few of the horses taken were fortunate and made their way to Carr’s of Tennessee, but the rest remain unaccounted for. How many were left vulnerable, and shipped, to slaughter?

No access was given to view the roundup.

It is going to happen again.

The Bureau of Land Management roundup schedule has a gap in it. During that gap the contractors, Cattoor, will be at Sheldon. It has been confirmed.

An Environmental Assessment for another winter roundup at Calico Tri-state Complex (new name for the “mega-plex”) is in draft form and open for public comment until July 18, 2011.

How is it possible that in an area where there claims to be “management across the landscape”  that a part of the agreed upon area is not subject to the same review? How is it that horses can be rounded up from one section of the Complex and the action not mentioned in the document the public is supposed to comment on? How can horses from one section of this Complex be rounded up and protected by the mandates of Congress and horses from another section leave the range with no real protection from slaughter under law?

How is this in anyway a managed “Complex” for horses and burros that they recognize historically cross the border? One day the horse is on one side of a Federal boundary and protected and the next day on the other side and vulnerable to slaughter?

Is “management across the landscape” just another way of saying “wipe out the landscape?” It would certainly seem so.

Will the EA for public comment on Calico be revised to reflect the removal of horses from the Northern section of the Complex? It has yet to be determined.

Will these agencies ever manage horses in an honest effort to maintain a genetically viable herd on public land? It has yet to be determined.

Will we be given public access to observe? It has yet to be determined.

But if a chopper flies at Sheldon, I’ll be there. Sheldon is very close to my heart. When I die I want to go to Sheldon, as long as there are horses left there.

These horses will not leave public land without the public knowing what happens to them again.

~~ Laura Leigh’s field work is supported through http://WildHorseEducation.org and her Litigation efforts throughhttp://WildHorseFreedomFederation.org

Band Stallion (Leigh)