Sheldon No “Refuge” for Horses and Burros or for Their Advocates

A discovery by Leslie Peeples of what she described as “freshly dug” and “recently covered” horse graves on the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada drew an offhand response from Refuge manager Paul Steblein of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.  Steblein said the burial pits date back to roundups in the 1940’s when horses were routinely killed.

According to a declaration filed September 25, 2010, in federal district court in Nevada, Peeples, a Washington state farrier and horse trainer, was in Nevada to view wild horses when a friend called to tell her an unannounced round-up of horses was taking place in the Sheldon Refuge.  After being turned away from the location by security brought in specifically for the round-up, and being nearly run over by a livestock struck being driven by an employee of federal contractor Cattoor Livestock who was working the the round-up, Peeples said she decided to visit the local Refuge office at Dufferina (the main Refuge offices are located in Lakeview, Oregon).  While walking her dog near the Dufferina office, she spotted and photographed what she described as “scattered horse bones near the covered and newly dug pits.”

Peeples also swore in her declaration that she was hazed or “buzzed” by a helicopter pilot who, like the truck driver, was working the round-up for Cattoor.  She said the pilot “directed the helicopter” toward her “in an aggressive manner” and was at one point “no more than 30 feet away,” close enough for her to see his face.  The helicopter followed her to her car and waited until she drove away.

According to a September 27, 2010, article by reporter Frank X. Mullen Jr. in the Reno Gazette-Journal, Refuge Manager Steblein said Peeples was in a roadway and the truck driver could not have stopped without risking an accident.  As for the helicopter pilot, Steblien said he “was trying to identify the unauthorized vehicle in the area when he got close to Peeples’ car.”  “She was in a closed area at the time,” Steblein said. “It’s inherently dangerous to be there when operations are scheduled. She was warned to stay out of there.”

It is an odd thing for Steblein to say that a truck driver cannot safely stop on a roadway.  Even if the driver could not have stopped in time to avoid nearly hitting Peeples, a reasonable driver would have stopped farther up the road as soon as it was safe, and walked back to make sure Peeples was okay.  The helicopter pilot was not justified in flying that close to a human being whatever the justification.  It does suggest that the pilot was very comfortable getting his helicopter up close and personal with a living being.

Why not say that the incidents would be investigated and a full report made?  Why does a federal manager feel a need to defend employees of Cattoor Livestock when a claim is made against the contractor by a member of the public, before any investigation has been conducted?

As United States Representative Jay Inslee (D-WA) said in another context

The first duty of government is to protect the physical security and safety of its citizens.  That is the first duty of government.

Rep. Inslee was talking about airport security.  He said having private contractors supervised by federal employees “is a known recipe for disaster.”  He said, “We had that experiment and it was a grand failure on September 11.”

Federal manager Paul Steblein may believe his first duty is to protect the Sheldon Refuge from wild horses and burros, whom he describes hyperbolically as the “greatest threat to the ecosystem” of the Refuge.  He may believe his duty includes defending contractors who assist him in discharging that duty.  But he would be wrong.  Mr. Steblein’s first duty is to protect the physical security and safety of the citizens of the United States, including those citizens with whom he does not agree or whom he does not trust, including Ms. Peeples.  That is Mr. Steblein’s first duty.

2 Responses to “Sheldon No “Refuge” for Horses and Burros or for Their Advocates”
  1. Leslie Peeples says:

    Hey, I really like the way this article is written, so true! This is the first time i have seen it, 🙂 Leslie Peeples

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