Part Two of Three: Surprise and Confusion at the BLM and the DOI

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Department of Interior (DOI) may have  jumped the gun by failing to obtain the approval of Congress before rolling out “new approaches that will require bold efforts” to manage “the Nation’s wild horses and burros.”  (See “Part One: Whoa there, Kenny,” of this three-part series, below.)

DOI Secretary Ken Salazar’s management proposal, first described in an October 7, 2009, letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, is either old news in a new package, a “promising strategy” to “manage efficiently” or a massive land grab of tens of millions of federal public acres that Congress “devoted principally” to be used by wild horses and burros in 1971.  If the latter, the Salazar proposal is a 180 degree reversal of the Congressional intent behind the 1971 law–that the “wild, free-roaming” animals must be maintained in the wild in the West and not in “zoolike” settings anywhere else.

A “cautious” endorsement of Secretary Salazar’s proposal by the Humane Society of the United States does not, by the way, confer legislative authority.  As Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar himself said in his letter proposing his plan

These proposals are subject to Congressional approval and appropriations.

Pesky little details like first obtaining the approval of Congress and the funds to take action do not deter a go-getter agency like the BLM and its fast-tracking parent the DOI, however.  The BLM’s “state lead” for Nevada’s wild horses and burro program (and rising star) Alan Shepherd hinted at the Salazar Plan as early as July 22, 2009, when he “updated” the Sierra Front – Northwestern Great Basin Resource Advisory Council (NWGB RAC) “on the new WH & B strategy.”  This is according to the “Draft Meeting Minutes of the NWGB RAC meeting on July 22, 2009 in Carson City, Nevada.  (The minutes are posted at the BLM’s “National” website but to find them you need to click through the “Get Involved” link on the left into the “Advisory Councils/Committees” link that drops down, then over to the “Nevada” State RAC link on the right then into the “Sierra Front-Northwestern Great Basin” link to reach the “2009 Minutes” and finally to ” the “July 22, 2009 (Carson City)” link.)

When you eventually reach the “Draft Minutes” posted publicly here, you will find this paragraph describing Mr. Shepherd’s report to the RAC members on July 22, 2009 (three months before Secretary Salazar’s letter to Senator Reid) at which time Mr. Shepherd:

updated the RAC on the new WH&B strategy.  The state is currently evaluating and updating the strategy. They are doing population inventories right now and have five gathers planned between now and winter. There are two in the Ely District within the Seamen Mountains and the Caliente complex, two in the Winnemucca District, within the Tobins and the Calico complex, and the Garfield Flat gather in the Carson City District. H.R. 1018 passed in the House of Representatives; there is not currently a companion bill in the Senate for it.  The NS Director received the letter from the RAC and appreciates the comments. The draft of the new WH&B strategy should be ready by the October SLT meeting. Shepherd is looking at new options to control populations like fertility drugs and skewing the sex ratio. The NSO received a copy of the state’s lawsuit regarding horses and sent their comments back to the state.

The BLM organization is like a Russian nested doll; open one acronym and you find another.  A “RAC” is a Resource Advisory Council, “WH & B” is short for wild horses and burros, the “NS Director” refers to the Nevada State Director of the BLM (in this case, Ron Wenker).  The “October SLT meeting” refers to an October, 2009, meeting of the Nevada State Leadership Team, and “NSO” may refer to a “No Surface Occupancy” lease holder.  No Surface Occupancy is a mineral leasing term describing a stipulation in a fluid mineral rights lease

that prohibits occupancy or disturbance on all or part of the lease surface in order to protect special values or uses.

Dot One:  Wild horses and burros and the federal law that protects them in “areas where they were found” in 1971; that is, in the American West.

Dot Two:  Fluid mineral (oil, gas and geothermal) leases, possibly including the Ruby Pipeline project, a massive joint project of the El Paso Corporation of Texas, the Credit Suisse bank of Switzerland (go, Federer) and General Electric.  These leases are also located in the West (the possible Ruby Pipeline connection is discussed at length in yesterday’s Tuesday’s Horse wordpress weblog).

Dot Three:  No Surface Occupancy stipulations that preclude “occupancy or disturbance” of the land surface above the fluid minerals.

Dot Four:  Salazar Zoo Proposal to remove wild horses and burros from the West and relocate them to the East and Midwest.

There may be more dots to connect, but so far the picture is looking more like “wild horses and burros in the way of fast-tracked energy projects,” and less like “starving wild horses degrading public lands that must be removed for their own protection.”

But then you knew that.

More “dots” to follow.

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