Reflections on the last two weeks from Stone Cabin (The Novel)

Note: This is my blog.

The website address is Http://WildHorseEducation.org (report on release and adoption event posted at that link)

“Road” Weary

At the end of every roundup operation there comes a time that I like to call “absorption.” You can sit and take time to log events and process all of the information and emotions.

During operations you rise early (often in the extreme cold or heat) often after getting 3 or 4 hours of sleep. You slept in most of your clothes as changing (or trying to find your things) pre-dawn takes too much time.

Then you drive. Sometime the distance and roads are “not so bad.” Sometimes it can be hours before you reach a trap. Driving directly into the sun on a dusty dirt road (eating the dust of the vehicles in front of you and before finishing a cup of coffee) can be an interesting experience. The bumps and ruts you hit can rearrange the contents of your vehicle several times prior to reaching the trap.

Once at your location you don’t know what to expect. Sometimes you have to hike in (or up), sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you can see something, sometimes you can’t.

You document what you can (sometimes freezing or baking) and then head to holding. There you struggle to assess. You document what you can.

Last trap of Stone Cabin

Usually the sun is setting as you head back.

You grab something to eat for the night. You try to get all the images and video offloaded, cameras recharged, stories written, return calls and answer emails. As well as any vehicle maintenance you might need to do, find clean underwear, possibly (if lucky enough to have a room) a shower.

You never finish all you need to get done. But you know you need to rise again between 4-5 and do it again… so somewhere around midnight you start to call it a day.

When it’s over you have time to think and feel.

Tonopah

If you want to see what a survivor a “wild horse” is come to Tonopah. You can get a real sense of the ability of these animals to overcome their surroundings. There is a stark landscape that is captivating in it’s open spaces. The terrain dry, rugged and breathtaking with reservoirs of beauty that have animals coming and going throughout the day.

The town is small, remote and not affluent. You won’t find a Starbucks or Walmart. But you will find places that speak directly to the reflection of human and horse. Old mining sites, a very cool old hotel that is great to sit and have coffee in, new mining and expansion and the ranches that sparsely dot this area are all worth recognizing as they create the landscape these animals were found “integral” to.

 

Released back onto the range

In 1971 Congress declared…

THE WILD FREE-ROAMING HORSES AND BURROS ACT OF 1971 (PUBLIC LAW 92-195)

§1331. Congressional findings and declaration of policy

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. 

Stone Cabin HMA, Yesterday

The horses here have a very colorful history that revolves around this area. Like every HMA it is unique to the “land they now occupy.”

Here is the link to the BLM page about the Stone Cabin/Saulsbury area, history and geographic information. http://www.blm.gov/nv/st/en/fo/battle_mountain_field/blm_programs/wild_horse_and_burro/Stone_Cabin_Complex/About_the_HMA.html

In addition to the information on that page that talks about acreage, rainfall, genetics and the “infamous” grey thoroughbred owned by the Texas born gunfighter Longstreet that may be responsible for the “Stone Cabin Grey” that appears in herds on this range:

This is the first area to be “gathered” after the Act was passed.

In 1975 80 horses were water trapped with Velma Johnston in attendance to watch over the humane care of the animals and assist in placement.

However the State of Nevada seized the animals. The State asserted the WFRH&B Act was unconstitutional and claimed the horses as state property. The horses went to sale. The first horses taken from public land after the Act was passed went to slaughter.

(note: After that the State of New Mexico removed burros off of public land that were “interfering” with a rancher and attempted to send them to sale. They claimed the WFRH&B Act was unconstitutional. The Federal government challenged in the Judicial system, Kleppe v. New Mexico, and the Act was found to be within Congressional authority over public land and the BLM won a case to have the burros returned. So everyone that criticizes litigation within this program, recognize that the Agency has also gone to Court to protect our wild herds).

Boundary lines were drawn and redrawn to identify the “where presently found” mandated in the Act. Local politics effected the “lines in the sand” and we end up with supposed areas to manage horses that don’t take into account seasonal migration or include appropriate water sources (sorry, in 1971 horses drank water just like they do in 2012). The boundaries themselves may well represent intentional manipulation of Federal Law by the same individual local political machines that sent horses to sale in 1975 from Stone Cabin.

Nevada, today

Take a jump forward to AB 329 the bill that hit the Nevada Legislature this past year. The bill would essentially have the state of Nevada creating a terminology that it would demand the federal government follow in managing federal land. It would declare “wild horses” as “feral” under state law and require the Federal government to remove all horses from public land as the state would declare the horses “illegal” to access of water.

Ummm…. ok, folks. This aint 1970 and the whole country is watching you.

First off, Congress has the authority to make these definitions. I’m sure some advocate group would love to see you in Court on that one. It would be a huge waste of Nevada money

Stone Cabin release 2/17

and time as a nice animal law attorney has a field day beating you in Court.

Second, every member of the State Legislature takes an oath to uphold the Constitution of the State of Nevada. That Constitution recognizes federal authority on federal land. Might be interesting to see if the verdict they get on the legality of that bill would translate into impeachment in the State Legislature?

But folks none of that means that bill won’t pass in Nevada. Nevada has a colorful history that includes the inditement of the only Federal Judge in history while he sat on the bench and he did time. So if the bill passes we have yet another chapter of “wild west outlaw” history.

(As an artist and writer I adore this state. There will never be a shortage of material.)

Stone Cabin HMA, Today

The current standard process that occurs prior to a removal operation of wild horses and burros took place in the Battle Mountain District in Nevada.

An RMP (Resource Management Plan, can also be called a CRMP) is crafted that outlines the objectives for public resource management in the district. Next comes the EA (Environmental Assessment) that is done for each use proposed, horses and burros as but one use. (For a glossary of public land management acronyms go to: http://wildhorseeducation101.wordpress.com/work-in-progress/ and scroll down to the downloadable pdfs. “Glossary” is listed, click to open the page and save).

A final record of decision sums it up this way:

“Under the BLMs Proposed Action, the project would involve gathering 80-95 percent of the existing population of 752 wild horses. This would result in a post gather population of 247 wild horses after removing approximately 505 excess wild horses from inside and outside of HMA boundaries. The established AML in the Stone Cabin Complex is 404 wild horses. Approximately 80 mares would be treated with the fertility control PZP-22, which could reduce foaling rates for up to two years, at which time normal fertility rates would resume. The sex ratio of the released wild horses would be adjusted to allow for 60% studs and 40% mares on the range. The proposed gather would be completed in accordance with the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) located in Appendix A.”

Stone Cabin

Weather delays at the removal operations prior to this one kept the start date a moving target. It moved back and forth.

In the meantime I had two hearings to attend on issues currently in the Court system, Humane care standards and Access to assess and document.

An adoption event was set to run from the home range (BLM’s “trap site adoption”) that offered interested members of the public an opportunity to adopt a horse that never set foot on a semi truck or entered into the system of holding facilities.

I arrived two days after operations began with the intention of documenting the handling of animals and to promote the individuals for adoption.

The first day I obtained only six useful shots. I saw not a single animal captured and put 194 miles on the vehicle going back and forth as trap site was moved and communications failed. But I would have been happy to get some assessment photos at holding…. but that didn’t happen as the contractor became an issue.

The ability to assess handling at temporary did not occur until the final day of the removal (the district brought in a platform that will be utilized at roundups from now on in this district) and for PZP treatment. Standing at ground level (if you cannot approach the panels) can give those unfamiliar with protocol a sense that they can observe. But when you cannot see the human hands, or the actual animal unobstructed, you can not report on handling.

Access at the trap was an “on again, off again” proposition as it appeared the contractor again became the issue.

Last trap at Stone Cabin- full zoom

None of this is stated to diminish any of the progress I witnessed, it is stated as a “what is.”

On a positive note: I did see the trailer at the trap lowered to facilitate easier loading, but that is about all I could observe with any consistency at the trap. The last day of processing I could see a real effort made to not overload the alley during PZP treatment. The last day of processing I could see a real effort made to use flagging appropriately. I did see a water and feed issue that was rectified immediately after observation. The trap was moved frequently (in other words the trap went to the horses, not over driven horses brought to the trap).

I also observed that, with the exception of two mornings, a wild horse and burro specialist was present at both trap site and holding. The field office manager was also present periodically at both trap and holding.

However that is all I can tell you about the actual roundup operation with certainty.

Observation of the animals going into the adoption event? That was a different “story.”

After two frustrating days of not being able to do any promotion of the horses being offered for adoption the BLM set up their own temporary corral. I was able to observe all handling: feeding, loading, vaccination, branding, etc. I was given an unobstructed opportunity to document this aspect of the operation.

I was able to get clear photographs to assist in generating interest in the adoption.

My observation of adoption animals showed appropriate and patient handling by BLM staff present.

Three out of four in this photo placed into homes

BLM also asked if I thought we could place a club-footed foal and he was added to the animals offered.

This portion of operations was transparent. The handling was appropriate.

The event itself was put together with little time or preparation, but a cooperative effort created a successful event.

(note: This goes to the “Why hide if there is nothing to hide?” question many people find themselves asking repeatedly. I documented, video and photos, and can honestly report this assessment. I can also honestly say that when I did express a valid concern, it was addressed.)

A “Story behind the story”

While all of this is going on I am still trying to deal with issues surrounding logistics of failing equipment, mounting paperwork… etc. Dealing with the Court actions and the follow-up on each.

It is true I was “the last to know” about the Ninth Circuit win. I was trying to have meaningful access. (Keep in mind that the passage of the Act itself was not a victory in stone. It was challenged and undercut. Don’t get me wrong the ruling is a monumental document that speaks to the soul of our Constitution itself… but it needs to make the “pony express” and get delivered to the “wild west.”)

Also during this particular roundup I have spent more than 28 hours on the phone with various other journalists working on stories answering questions… in addition to logging and obtaining my own information. There are a few in the media that are beginning to comprehend the big picture and how it manifests directly… like light coming through a magnifying glass… in the wild horse and burro issue.

Adoption day was my birthday. We took a box of donuts and placed it on the table with the BLM paperwork. The day ended with hand shakes and hugs all around and a few horses have a chance at a new home after losing the one they had. It was a bittersweet day.

After the adoption event. Shawna Richardson and I shared a hug. The event went well in spite of all the challenges. (photo Elyse Gardner)

I am being ridiculed for saying anything negative, as I am ridiculed for saying anything positive. Crap floated into town and I did my best to keep my head down and focus.

Any “conversation,” if it is sincere, will have an honesty of action and not a “wholesale” endorsement. If something changes for the better and I see it, I will say so. If things happen that need attention, I will draw it. If dialogue can continue in that fashion you have a “conversation.” If folks can move from the prejudice of the past and admit that there were mistakes made it creates a climate for change. If dialogue happens that comprehends that any conversation is an evolutionary process, that is progress.

Progress was made here. It does not negate the need for concrete change and the creation of protocol. It does not negate the need for education to the process. It does not negate the need rectify the issues. But it does create the need to recognize that progress is possible.It does not mean I did not see areas that really needed improvement at Stone Cabin.

Yet do you understand what I wrote? Progress is possible.

PS. So much has happened the last two weeks. But here is a story for you.

During Triple B I saw some really “icky” things including the first deaths of the operation. They were both foals. One BLM said was deformed (it wasn’t) the other the claim was “bad mom, failure to thrive.” I watched that band come in and was very concerned as I felt that baby was not in with his mom. The mom would not let him nurse, although she had a “bag.”

After the roundup I went to photograph horses for adoption to get the pics online. I was contacted by a gal looking at horses and she asked if I had gotten pictures. There was a three year old she was interested in. The three year old looked exactly like the mare that was in the pen with that baby.

When I got to PVC to check on the mares I saw she was very bonded to a curious yearling. The three year old looked pregnant to me. I went back and looked at the roundup photos and the two are almost identical and came off the range together. The stud was an incredible bay that called and called and paced the fence line. The gal took both horses.

On Feb. 18th (my birthday) at 1:20 am a little filly was born to the three year old.

The best birthday news EVER.

To support the work please visit http://WildHorseEducation.org

5 thoughts on “Reflections on the last two weeks from Stone Cabin (The Novel)

  1. Lisa LeBlanc says:

    ‘Progress’ is sometimes the most – and best – we can hope for. That ‘evolution’.
    I’m sorry as I can be that yet another group of these spectacular animals will no longer grace this range. But I am deeply grateful for the ones who were adopted, the ones who remain alive (because where there’s life, there’s always hope) and the way this roundup as conducted as far as your presence being acknowledged, felt and appreciated by the Bureau.
    And a shot of you being embraced by Shawna Richardson is priceless. She’ll remember this, too.
    Progress, not perfection. Anything worth building is worth building well.

  2. gwen confalone says:

    One small step for the advocates….one giant step for mankind…..keep the faith, girl!

  3. Barbara says:

    Terrific report, Laura. Sorry you didn’t have a cake
    .

  4. V. Schmidt says:

    don’t know how you held it together, but you did. And you did a fantastic job reporting it. Big hugs from those not there too! As always great work, carry on….

  5. polopaula says:

    A hopeful report, and one that I suspect will Leak and Sneak into the halls of the BLM. If it causes a thought process that includes the “maybe it’s easier to work with them, than against them” it will be certainly be a huge step in the right direction. I know that there is a difference between making improvements in the handling of captured Wild Horses, and changing the BLM’s attitude toward allowing them to remain in the homes that were given to them in 1971. But, I am so happy that there were thoughtful moments where the horses were treated correctly and some were adopted with a minimum of additional stress. I also believe that these interactions with Laura makes them know that we are not going away. Thanks again for your dedication and allowing us to share it with you through your descriptions in words and pictures.

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