I wish I could step out of life for a while.
Yesterday I stepped out my door at 5 a.m. and didn’t step foot back in until 8 p.m. A full-time job, a two hour round-trip to said job, four horses who all need a lot of time and attention to their training, every other weekend taking care of my Gramma in another state, the occasional attempt to keep this photography thing going, cleaning up after the massive rainfalls in Colorado, responding to NEPA documents put out by the BLM … I am freaking burnt out. And the funny thing is, I don’t really have it that bad. How much busier are my dear readers with spouses and children on top of all the stuff I just rambled off?
So I get it. Life is busy.
That makes it hard to find time to be a wild horse advocate. Sitting down at the end of the day to peruse a document hundreds of pages long and filled with government speak is not something anyone wants to do. But it is one of the most important things that you can do right now.
Let’s break down the process chronologically: The BLM releases a scoping notice. The public has a month to comment. The BLM releases an Environmental Assessment (EA). The public has a month to comment. The BLM disregards the public’s comments and proceeds with their plans to decimate (or in the case below, eliminate) a wild horse herd.
At this point, a wild horse advocacy group may or may not sue the BLM. This is the part where all those comments the BLM ignored become important. A person may not be a plaintiff if they have not commented and participated in the normal process. Even if you are not directly part of a lawsuit, the number of comments recorded and filed by the BLM will be noticed and taken into consideration by a judge.
This brings me to form letters. Do you remember the last time you were asked to sign a form letter in response to a scoping or EA? I do! It was 2011. That is not because I am just that awesome and chose to write my own comments even when form letters were available. It is because the BLM announced in 2011 that they only count form letters as one comment from one person, regardless of how many people actually sign off on it. After learning of that, wild horse advocacy groups quit giving the option of signing a petition or form letter. Instead, they started releasing suggested talking points, emphasizing that a person should write something in their own words.
That brings us to Rock Springs Wyoming. In 2011 the Rock Springs Grazing Association (the largest livestock association in the country) sued the BLM for the removal of all wild horses from the checkerboard portion of Wyoming. In April of 2013, the BLM agreed to do exactly what the RSGA was demanding and then some. Here’s the quick facts:
– Salt Wells: Appropriate Management Level (AML) of 365 horses, 1.1 million acres, 37.6% private land which is primarily owned by the Anadarko Corporation
New plan: Zero out the herd. No more wild horses are allowed in this area, including a portion to the South which is purely public land and outside the checkerboard. Roundup to occur in the winter of 2013
– Adobe Town: AML of 800, 477,624 acres, 5.5% is private land
New Plan: Roundup in the winter of 2013. Reduce AML to 224-450 horses in spite of the fact that only the northwest corner, a very small portion of Adobe Town, is actually within the checkerboard
– Divide Basin: AML of 600, 776,000 acres, 25.5% private land, cattle are allowed to graze in this area year round through both the BLM and other parties the RSGA leases the private land from (read: oil and natural gas companies who own the biggest portion of the private land in the checkerboard)
New Plan: Zero out the herd. No more horses will be allowed in this area including the northern portion of the HMA. About half of this herd’s allowed area is north of the checkerboard. Roundup to occur in 2014
– White Mountain: AML of 300, 362,132 acres, 41.8% private land
New Plan: Roundup in 2015. Remove all horses. Spay and geld 205 horses to be returned to the range. Manage as a “non-reproducing herd” so as not to hurt the tourism money this herd brings to Sweetwater County. This includes horses in the northern portion of the HMA outside of the checkerboard
– Little Colorado: AML of 100, 635,000 acres, 0% private land
Possible New Plan: Not listed, but I would lay good money down that the BLM will include this herd in their “non-reproducing” scheme, since that is what they tried to do in 2011. As such, I believe it deserves mention even if it is not part of the current RMP
To put it oh so eloquently, this is a BIG FREAKING DEAL. The BLM agreed to zero out horses on 2.3 million acres where horses are legally allowed to roam under the Wild Horse & Burro Act. Hell, the BLM recommended/suggested the Rock Springs Grazing Association bring this lawsuit. Is it really that surprising that they would agree to the RSGA’s demands and then some?
Even if you do not care about these individual herds the way I do, this decision sets a very serious precedent. If it is allowed to go through and these herds are removed, it will effect nearly every horse herd left in the West. Want more cows & sheep on public lands? Just sue the government! They’ll cave like a house of cards. Heck, they’ll shake your hand for bringing the lawsuit, because it makes their job that must easier!
If you care about wild horses, you must care about this decision and these herds.
And if you care about this decision and these herds, then you must join me and countless others in flooding the BLM with comments. They are due by the end of business today. That is 6 p.m. EST, 5 p.m. CT, 4 p.m. MT, and 3 p.m. Pacific/Arizona. Please email all comments to BLM_WY_RockSpringsRMP@blm.gov with the subject line ‘Wild Horse Scoping’. You may also fax them to (307) 352-0329.
Your comments don’t have to be long. I’ve already sent War & Peace to them. So have many other people who have spent time with these herds and have that direct knowledge. The length and detail of your comments are not as important as the fact that you do comment. It can be three sentences long and to the effect of “Please don’t eliminate these herds. Federal law cannot be violated under a consent decree. These horses are a national treasure and should be protected.”
See? Easy. That took me less than a minute to write while talking on the phone with a client at work (don’t tell my boss). I’d love for you to write more, of course but please, please, please just write something.
Now here comes the part of this where I probably get myself in a lot of trouble. Eh, I’m due for some non-Bandit produced trouble anyway, and I was so upset that I couldn’t sleep last night. May as well get it out:
The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC) sent out a petition/form letter, urging everyone to sign it so they can get up to 15,000 signatures to send in the BLM. It seems like a decent enough idea, right? Well… Remember that part above where I said that the BLM does not count those? Signing that petition is meaningless. Your voice will literally be ignored if all you do is sign that petition. You will have done nothing to help these amazing herds.
And it’s even worse than that. This form letter is harmful. It has been spread far and wide across the internet. How many people signed it, shared it, patted themselves on the back, and moved on from a “job well done”? If you did that, it’s cool bro. I’m not yelling at you. If an established group puts out something and says it will help wild horses then it is only natural to trust that and support it. I’m not saying it’s the fault of the people who signed it.
Neither am I saying that everyone who signed the petition would have submitted their own personal comments. But if the wild horses have lost even 10 comments that would have otherwise been emailed in correctly because of this petition, then the efforts to save these 4 herds have been hurt. That’s unacceptable. This decision, these herds are too important for that nonsense.
So AWHPC, I’m calling you out. What. The. Hell? You of all groups should know better. You cannot tell me that you conveniently forgot what happens to form letters. So why are you doing it? Is this a money thing? Because sitting in this office chair right now, it feels a little like a scheme for more donations. In your position, with your HUGE audience, why didn’t you just send out an email with suggested talking points like you usually do? You wouldn’t get as big of a response, but what you did get would have counted for something.
I genuinely would like to know what is going on here. If I am wrong I will gladly eat crow openly on this blog, my facebook, your facebook, wherever. I’d rather be wrong and own up to it than to increase this never-ending panic over these herds that has refused to leave my chest since February.
To end this: Here’s a link to answer all your questions. The scoping documents section is particularly useful: http://www.blm.gov/wy/st/en/info/news_room/2013/august/27rsfo-whbscopmtg.html
Please send comments before 4 p.m. MST today to BLM_WY_RockSpringsRMP@blm.gov with the subject line ‘Wild Horse Scoping’ or to the fax number (307) 352-0329.
Here’s a very poorly edited video I made to highlight horses who will be forever gone if this goes through and exactly what a roundup will be like for them.