The BLM’s Ever-Changing Landscape

By Eileen O’Connor.  4:45 a.m.  January 24, 2010.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) plans to round up more than 2,500 wild horses in the Calico Complex management area in Nevada this winter.  To date, over 1,000 wild horses have reportedly been rounded-up and were reportedly transferred to a holding facility.  Most of the horses reportedly survived the capture and transport and are reportedly living at the Indian Lakes facility near Fallon, Nevada.

The word “reportedly” is used here because “allegedly” has connotations of criminal intent or mens rea, but the fact is that most of the information on the round-up is strictly controlled by the BLM, due to the agency’s decision to limit observers, including news media, to limited days and times, and the BLM has not proven to be very good at providing accurate information.

Of the thousands of wild horses rounded-up, a few have captured particular public attention because their stories are singularly tragic and difficult to pin down.  For some strange reason the BLM cannot seem to get the story straight on what happened to these four horses:

  1. Rosebud:  A 20-year-old mare that was shot to death on December 30, 2009, at the round-up site due to poor body condition.
  2. Trooper:  A tiny, dark bay foal observed at the Indian Lakes facility on January 2, 2010.  A photograph shows him looking haggard and traumatized, and standing very near a mare with another young horse (but larger, and appearing older than Trooper) nearby that was described as the mare’s own foal.
  3. Freedom:  A black stallion that jumped a fence at the round-up site on January 2, 2010, burst through barbed wire, and ran back to the range.
  4. Nine Bells:  A colt that died at the Indian Lakes holding facility sometime in January, 2010, after both his hind feet abscessed and the hoof walls separated (“sloughed”) from his feet.

Trooper and Freedom were named that by observers at the round-up and the Indian Lakes facility.  The 20-year-old mare was not named, but will be called Rosebud (and the “sloughed-hoof colt” Nine Bells) for the purpose of this post and because no animal that dies at the hand of man should go unacknowledged:  Rosebud, because of the name’s symbolic significance to the Native American culture; and Nine Bells in homage to the thoroughbred filly Eight Belles, another famous horse who ran until she could not run anymore.

Rosebud was the first reported fatality of the Calico Complex round-up.  Early reports indicated a “20-year-old mare” was shot to death (“euthanized” according to the BLM) at the round-up site due to her “poor body condition.”  It was also said that her death orphaned a foal and that several individuals had offered to adopt her and the foal but the offer was rejected by the BLM.  The mare was shot to death as an act of euthanasia, according to the BLM.  Some reports were that the shot did not kill her immediately, but these reports were made by unidentified sources.

On January 7, 2010, Gene Seidlitz, District Manager of the BLM’s Winnemucca, Nevada Field Office (the District office supervising the round-up in the Calico Complex), spoke with Tracie Lynn Thompson, author, publisher & moderator of a blog called The Mustang Project. According to a post at The Mustang Project blog, Mr. Seidlitz  had this to say about “the 20-year-old mare” that was killed at the round-up site in the first days of the round-up:

According to Mr. Seidlitz, the 20 year old mare who was euthanized on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2009 (1) did not have a colt at her side, (2) was not currently nursing a colt, and (3) did not appear to have even had a colt this year. The mare’s milk bag was not swollen, was not partially swollen, and did not appear to have been “currently in use” so to speak.

Trooper was named by Willis Lamm, a wild horse trainer and long-time participant in the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program.  Mr. Lamm observed the foal and published photographs of him in a report he made after a January 2, 2010, visit to the Indian Lakes facility.  The Cloud Foundation blog reported this about Mr. Lamm’s photos and account of the foal named Trooper, and a later “update” by John Neill of the BLM:

After being trucked to the Fallon holding site, this baby was placed with two mare/foal pairs. The photos taken by Willis Lamm show this baby bonding with one of the mares, standing near her for the comfort and security his mom would have provided. Disturbingly, on January 7, the BLM reported that it had separated this foal from the mare/foal pairs.

Update from Willis Lamm, January 7, 2010: John Neill promised to provide an update on the “Calico orphan.”   I received the following report this morning.

Willis, just a quick update on the orphan.  He has been gaining strength each day.  We did relocate him to an adjacent holding pen next to the pairs in order to provide him more nutrition than he would consume through oat hay.  He presently has both oat hay and alfalfa along with BLM formulated pellets for foals. Dr. Sanford and I continue to monitor the health of the animals each day.

On January 7, 2010, The Mustang Project reported:

Mr. [Gene] Seidlitz also states that to his knowledge, there have been no orphaned foals as a result of this gather. The ones who are still at their dam’s sides nursing are kept with them per BLM protocol, but even of these he has only counted a few thus far.

The Mustang Project reported on January 23, 2010, that Mr. Seidlitz said on January 22, 2010:

The photos that were originally released of this foal were indeed of an orphaned foal, but as we previously stated, his dam was not the 20 year old mare who was euthanized.  Attempts to locate and ascertain his actual dam were not successful.  This was the reasoning for his original placement with the other two mare in the photos–we were not sure yet of his situation and age, and therefore did not want to place him in a larger pen where he possibly could have been harmed by older and larger members of the herd.

Freedom is a black stallion that was captured along with his band in the early days of the gather and escaped by jumping a fence and running through barbed wire.  Some subsequent reports put him back in BLM custody and others have him still free on the range.  The story of what really happened to Freedom is yet to be written.

Nine Bells is a colt who died sometime in January, 2010, at the Indian Lakes facility.  On January 21, 2010, it was reported at the Cloud Foundation weblog that a wild horse colt was literally run off his feet “on Tuesday” according to a post at the BLM “Calico Complex Gather” website.  Tuesday would have been January 19, 2010.  The report was subsequently removed from the Cloud Foundation blog after the BLM challenged the account, but is reproduced here and here:

Based on the posted BLM report: The Cattoors/BLM ran the feet off a colt on Tuesday, let him stand for a day, then made him ride four hours in a trailer to Fallon where he was unloaded and then shot. At least two of his hooves had fallen off. This colt and his family may have been run by helicopter up to 14 miles on Tuesday. We don’t know how fast over rough volcanic rock and terrain this foal was run.  Another mare was down in the trailer, arrived at Fallon alive and then died subsequently.

An undated article in Horseback magazine later carried this “challenge” to the Cloud Foundation report by the BLM’s JoLynn Worley:

HOUSTON, (Horseback) – The federal Bureau of Land Management confirmed that a foal lost its hooves after a grueling stampede chased by a roaring helicopter.

‘The colt’s hind feet abscessed and the outer hoof wall did separate,’ said Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman JoLynn Worley. However, Worley challenged details of the Cloud Foundation report of the foal’s death.  ‘The scenario provided by the Cloud Foundation is full of inaccuracies.’ she told Horseback Magazine.

Worley said the horse was taken in an early gather in Nevada’s Calico Mountains. ‘The colt is from the Black Rock East HMA, which was the first HMA gathered in the Complex, and was brought in to the Fallon facility more than two weeks ago.’

On January 22, 2010, BLM veterinarian Richard Sanford DVM (NV #565), published a report entitled “Black Rock East:  History and Report on Sloughed Hoof Foal,” that states

This foal was received at the Indian Lakes contract holding facility from the Calico complex gather around 1/6/2010. He was fed and watered for a day and when noticed to be lame was removed from the general population and placed in a hospital pen.   On 1/8/2010 this horse was treated with phenylbutazone (a non‐steroidal anti‐inflammatory drug) and penicillin (an antibiotic) for presumptive sole bruising and abscesses.  No abscesses were noted at this time but there was some foot swelling suggesting hoof trauma.  During the next 5 days the colt which was nine months old was fed and watered in the hospital pen and observed for body condition and lameness.  He was retreated on 1/13/2010 with phenylbutazoneand penicillin.  Sole abscesses and potential hoof sloughs were noted.  Both hind feet were flushed with betadine (an antiseptic) and bandaged with gauze, antibiotic ointment and tape.  The colt was slightly improved after treatment but over the next couple of days spent more and more time lying down. On 1/18/2010 the 2 hind feet were examined again.  Multiple hoof sloughs were noted and the foal was euthanized for humane reasons.  The cause of these hoof abscesses/sloughs was most likely hoof trauma from the gather operations.

On January 22, 2010, the Cloud Foundation carried this report taken from the BLM website:

One colt with multiple hoof sloughs from the capture was euthanized at the facility.  The colt was from the Black Rock East HMA and has been at the facility more than two weeks.  When the colt arrived at the facility, it was put in with the general population.  A day or two later, the colt started showing acute lameness and was moved to a sick pen.  The facility veterinarian noted the colt’s two hind hoof soles were bruised, but there was no visible abscess or infection.  The colt was given antibiotic and anti-inflammatory medicine, was kept segregated and continued to be checked by the veterinarian.  The colt’s hind feet abscessed and the outer hoof wall did separate.  The colt was euthanized by the facility veterinarian.

The same day, January 22, 2010, Gene Seidlitz, reportedly said this to The Mustang Project:

These rumors and reports are currently being investigated due to the inconsistency of their facts.  There was a foal who was euthanized, but is it not clear at this time if this was the same foal who was down in the trailer and later died.  Last Thursday, (January 14th) there was a foal who, upon arrival to the Fallon [Indian Lakes] facility, was discovered down in the trailer.  He was immediately examined and cared for by the veterinarian who on [sic] onsite.  I will try to forward the report and information to you as soon as I can.  There was also a foal who was euthanized due to problems with his hooves and possible lameness, but I don’t have the reports in front of me right now to verify the date.  So as to whether or not these two foals were the same foal, I cannot say.

The Bureau of Land Management is a federal agency of the Department of Interior reporting to the Chief Executive of the United States, President Barack Obama.  The agency’s management decisions are entitled to discretion, according to law, unless the decisions are arbitrary, capricious or otherwise an abuse of that discretion.

In a “Memorandum of January 21, 2009, entitled “Transparency and Open Government,” President Obama announced his commitment to governing with “unprecedented” openness, transparency and accountability.

My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government.  We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.

Government should be transparent. Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing.  Information maintained by the Federal Government is a national asset.

The Memorandum is published in the Federal Register Volume 74, Number 15, Monday, January 26, 2009.

The BLM is the only source of information on the existence, health, location and fate of the thousands of wild free roaming horses now being rounded-up in Nevada. Unconfirmed reports of armed guards at the round-up site and BLM escorts of members of the press and public at the round-up site and the Indian Lakes holding facility suggest this round-up is a matter of national security.

The BLM has told observers this level of security is necessary because its employees received death threats in connection with the round-up, but reports of threats have not been confirmed.  For those of us who did not live in the Soviet Union during the era of the KGB (or live today in China or North Korea), the spectre  of government-escorted tours of the press and government-controlled news in the United States is unthinkable, but there has been no reaction by the national press or Congress to this unprecedented stifling of journalists by the federal government.  For its part, the “Fourth Estate” so far seems not to have noticed it is no longer independent or investigative.

Reporter Martin Griffith has been following the Calico Complex round-up story for the Associated Press news service.  His latest piece, dated January 23, 2010, reports that wild horse and burro advocates are calling for an investigation of the fatalities and injuries caused by the Calico round-up.

Griffith’s AP story ran in the Lahontan Valley News.

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Comments
4 Responses to “The BLM’s Ever-Changing Landscape”
  1. All,

    I do apologize for the confusion about The Mustang Project’s Blog page… However, the posts were never removed from the blog. Specifically, the 4th Edition of You Be the Judge is just an older post whose URL went to the next page under “Previous Entries” (http://themustangproject.wordpress.com/page/2/).
    The links to the You Be the Judge Editions referenced above are as follows:

    To view all Editions of You Be the Judge:
    http://themustangproject.wordpress.com/category/you-be-the-judge-series/

    To view the 4th Edition of You Be the Judge:
    http://themustangproject.wordpress.com/2010/01/11/you-be-the-judge-4th-edition-january-11-2010-calico-gather/

    As well, I encourage you to read the information posted on the You Be the Judge page of the blog…
    http://themustangproject.wordpress.com/you-be-the-judge/

    I also understand (all too well) the frustration involved with the BLM’s “ever-changing story”. But this is the purpose of the series: to report as much information as possible, then allow the reader to decide for themselves. Personally, I think that the evidence is pretty clear in this case.

    By the way, I love this article. Very nice work!

    Sincerely,

    Tracie Lynn Thompson
    Author, Publisher & Moderator
    The Mustang Project’s Blog
    You Be the Judge Series

    • theandbetween says:

      Thank you for the comment and the clarification, Tracie. I corrected my post to link to the new location of the quote on your weblog.

      I think you have your work cut out for you, but it is definitely a worthwhile undertaking to try to get as much accurate information out as possible. I have read information on your blog that I have not seen published anywhere else.

      Another comment on my post suggests the BLM’s left hand may not always know what the right hand is doing. I think that is likely and I also believe the times and circumstances require that a greater effort be made to correct that. When an agency takes on the responsibility of being the sole provider of information, it has a much greater duty to ensure that the information is accurate and complete.

  2. Ms. Eileen,

    So very sorry it has taken me so long to respond to you… It seems that it has been nothing but chaos over these past few days… Ugh! Yes ma’am, I certainly do I have my work cut out for me 🙂
    I think that we are all beginning to see a lot of new light shed on a lot of old subjects. The ways of the old are not compatible with the new, and the new are much stronger with more logical and viable solutions.
    The salutation I give at the end of a YBTJ edition… “As always, stay safe… And never give up!”
    When I began using this, I didn’t realize just how pertinent it would become to this very complex issue in the long run. We must all stay safe ourselves, and we really cannot give up, ever.

    T.

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