The ~Texas~ Mustang Project's Blog

Working for better management options and cohabitation through compromise and communication for the American Wild Mustang

BS, er, Rumor Control, by Willis

Posted by Texas Mustang Project on July 22, 2010

There has recently been quite a bit of speculation circulating, presented as being facts, that are getting folks fired up over stuff that doesn’t exist.  If we are going to pursue a successful advocacy campaign for wild horses, we need to deal with reality and our arguments have to pass scrutiny.  As a result, I’ve done a little homework on this water issue at Owyhee (Tuscarora) and here are verifiable facts.

Any claims that BLM has sold off water rights to ranchers are pure BS.  Under state law the “Public” (State of Nevada) owns all the water in Nevada and assigns rights to use that water to end users.  BLM is a land manager, not an end user, so the lessees and permittees were the ones assigned water rights by the state.  This situation is verifiable from public records held at the Nevada Department of Water Resources.

We have to understand that water rights were assigned long before 1971 when BLM didn’t have its own “livestock” to support. BLM didn’t apply for rights to provide water for wild horses because it wasn’t charged with responsibility over them.  Since then the water has since all been allocated.  Presently BLM isn’t even allowed to drill a well on its own property.  What’s done is done and the state isn’t about to allow a “do over.”

Claims that ranchers have fenced off public water at Owyhee are also pure BS.  I’ve gone to four different sources to obtain the facts and the information I received is consistent.

The Desert Ranch Reservoir (privately owned water on public land) is fenced off to control the movement of animals around the reservoir, however there are openings in the fence designed to let animals get to the water.  Since no cattle are out there, “animals” in this case are wildlife and wild horses.

Bookkeeper spring is on private land but access is provided for horses and wildlife to get water.

The rancher who owns the private well out on Owyhee, operated only when cattle are present, has indicated that BLM could operate his well if necessary.  We all need to remember that the allotment was rested this past winter season (no cattle placed on it) so this well was not operated this year.

Desert Ranch provided much of the water that BLM hauled out to the dried up ponds.

Clearly there has been a problem at Owyhee and there was a serious imbalance between available resources and the number of animals present, however it is inappropriate and not in the horses’ best interest to throw stones at private landowners who are actually providing assistance in this crisis.  We alienate them and the horses would only suffer more.  We also have to bear in mind that the area involved is huge and the benefits of these resources are limited to the areas immediately surrounding the water being provided,  So while they definitely help, they can’t solve the entire crisis.

Another area where advocates are being misled involves cattle.  The allotment has been closed to cattle since last year.  I see reports coming out of “advocates” observing lots of cattle and water with the inference that these things are on public land.  Someone needs to learn to read a map.  The cattle and water are located on large private ranches in the area.  What someone does with private livestock and private water on private land is none of our business.

It has been claimed that cattle are proliferating the public lands allotment while horses are being removed.  As I previously stated, the allotment was closed to cattle last year.

It has been suggested that the BLM could use some kind of mysterious emergency powers to appropriate water from private property and private sources.  First of all such a statement leaves the reader to conclude that private parties haven’t voluntarily provided water.  Secondly, the statement presumes that BLM can just come onto someone’s private land and appropriate private property.  It’s pure nonsense.

I’m not claiming that BLM hasn’t made some serious mistakes out on Owyhee.  There are real issues and real problems that we need to address and resolve such as a failure to monitor the catchments (ponds) but we’re not going to get anywhere pursuing fantasy issues presented for dramatic effect by certain individuals.  The real issues are far less sensational but have significant real impacts on the health and viability of our wild horse herds.  If we want to be effective advocates, we need to keep our eye on the real ball that is in play and advance reality based arguments.

It’s not like we don’t have real issues to keep us busy.


One who jumps to conclusions risks an unhappy landing.


26 Responses to “BS, er, Rumor Control, by Willis”

  1. Willis, You are assuming there was a real crisis That Was Not Created by the Cattoors and BLM not stepping up for the horses faster with water? There is water in Owyhee. Just not much where the horses were ‘encouraged’ to remain. Most of what you say I have heard and have no problem with… mar

    • Willis, Do you think the crisis was from mistakes and bad decisions and then taken advantage of to make a false “emergency rescue removal”? I do. I think this is criminal. Why has there not been an investigation by law enforcement unattached to BLM? How can these things occur and go unchallenged by authorities? mar

  2. Marilyn,

    I don’t assume anything. I live out here and spend a lot of time on various ranges. I’m around wild horses virtually 365 a year. And you’re damn straight there’s a crisis.

    The difference between BLM at Owyhee and some of the work we adovocates do on other ranges is that we advocates on’t wait until the crisis is killing horses before we do something, regardless as to who might be technically responsible for protecting them. We’re presently hauling water up into the Virginia Range to prevent the kind of results that BLM’s inaction produced.

    From my perspective there is no plausible excuse for an area slated for a gather that requires assessing and understanding of the environment for someone not to have noticed that the ponds were drying up. Hello! Is anyone awake over at BLM? As a result something that should have been a manageable situation turned into a full blown emergency. That is the overarching argument that is supported by the facts.

    On the plus side the investigating team that is looking into this business is headed up by Robin Lohnes, a horse advocate. Furthermore right now Bob Abbey is mad at his own people and may take corrective action. What we don’t need is the lunatic fringe from our camp going off in a hundred directions and in doing so draw Abbey’s attention away from the real problem and instead causing him to spend time defending BLM from rumor based accusations. Once he starts defending his agency he isn’t likely to do some necessary butt kicking in his ranks.

    In that regard we’re our own worst enemy. We literally do have some people on the inside and we need to give them room to do their jobs and hopefully produce the information necessary to hold someone accountable, which will be less likely to happen if we create distractions that break down the process. We need to hold BLM’s feet to the fire to hold the people responsible for this mess to account, and for BLM to take serious corrective action. So we need to let the investigative team produce the facts to pursue such results.

    In the meanwhile we have other serious issues coming up that we are going to need to address, so we don’t need to be off chasing our tails due to the rumor mill BS and be slow dealing with things like BLM’s new handbook that was printed before all the comments were received that should have been a basis for the handbook, BLM ignoring the recommendations of its own Resource Advisory Councils, etc.

    The ranchers at Owyhee aren’t the problem. Cattoors are incidental in the context of the big picture. We need to stay focused on the serious issues that often don’t produce a lot of gratuitous drama, but can produce either good or bad results depending on how effective we are in addressing them.


    • Donna Buscemi said

      Thank you for your level headedness.
      In regards to the water situation, BLM has a video on the web addressing the need for caution at the Owyhee roundup. The video was filmed in May and they predicted that the water would dry up by early June.
      Secondly, I spoke to someone at BLM- can’t recall who- and asked why the handbook was printed before public comment was gathered. Her response was – it was to comply with GAO recommendations. Didn’t make a lot of sense to me that they didn’t wait, so they could incorporate recommendations- but that was her response.

      • Roxy said

        Handbook – It does make sense, they had started this roundup in violation of their own handbook, and got caught. So they had to publish this new one, coincidentally almost overnight from being caught.

        Water – This video is a little tricky – recommend reading the transcript 2 or 3 times to see what is NOT mentioned. I’ll leave this to the reader.

        One thing that is not mentioned is that the cattle were not turned out this particular summer therefore the wells were not turned on this particular summer. It makes perfect sense that the water supply is down by 30% this year when the usual summer supply that the horses have come to rely on for possibly decades is shut off from them. Keep in mind these are the very ranchers in this video that are not turning on the wells.

        Investigative team? First I’ve hear do this. So now this is thrown out without explanation and the reader will be blamed for speculation and spreading rumors – which I won’t mention it anywhere, but my mind does speculate. And I will add, that having spent some college summer times working in an investigation office and even taking a corrspondence course in the same, that speculation is exactly what investigators do – and often find direction from others who are speculating. Anyway, they should be able to take the heat or else they are in the wrong business.

        You are correct though, BLM has hired these new marketing people and they are doing a great job of confusing issues – but I refuse as a reader to take the blame for their schemes. I will however, be more cognoscente of their games in the future thanks in part to your post. Proof that they have ultimatly failed is that we have figured them out in just 15 days!

        Thank you both for your perpectives.

    • sandra longley said

      Willis, i was out on the Owyhee last weekend…and saw water pouring out of hillsides and running alongside the roads..I have lived in the N. Nevada country butting up to the other side of this HMA, working on a cattle ranch where we drove cattle back out into the allotments every other day all summer long..I live in the high desert of Oregon-3 hours as the crow flies to this HMA..virgina range is different desert than the northern desert, and certainly there are water sources aplenty right now on that HMA..just aparently -not on the area where these horses were..this is also the area-if you look at the inventory map done in May by..who? the catoors in a flyover? where 1/2 of the horses were in this HMA..conviently right where the gather facility was located..what kind of temptation would it have been to…close that gate to that section..not realising..there wouldn’t be enough water there for the horses when they postponed an earlier start date for the gather..would it be gross assume it would be like BLM or WHOEVRER did that…to miss that little bit of critical planning?? How convient was it that all thpose bands were still there..which is most likely their winter and spring grazing areas before they move to higher cooler ground for summer?

      • BLM has just said all the gates were NOW open implying they had not been. But now the Owyhee horses are gone to PVC and Utah. PVC is processing them already. None will return despite the numbers game of horses to be left on these 3 HMAs. Count Owyhee out. I hope some horses escaped at least to remain free. mar

      • sandra longley said

        I would have given anything to be a crow…that was a 6 hour drive to get to the perimeter of the allotment and 5 hours to make the climb..I did make it to another HMA, where I again saw only cattle low water holes that were heavily used by only cattle not even old horse poop anywhere, and a grove of junipers were all forage was destroyed with cattle wallows..all documented..since the EA comments and final on this HMA…blm has sent out documentation of allotment fencing…come to find out it is completely crisscrossed with barbed wire fencing for cattle..looks like a spider web..start demanding maps of allotment fencing when we comment..we were not led to believe there was this amount of enclosures on this HMA..the cattle damage I documented was extreme…I intend to go back for a couple of days and camp in this HMA..and that is what we need to do..start planning your vacations as camping trips into these HMAs..pick one and go..document everything you see..I managed to make some converts this week, with what went on in Owyhee..I would hate to think those horses died for nothing.

    • sandra longley said

      I don’t think at this point..we can exclude anyone from the list of culprits unless you have proof the rest of us haven’t seen yet..and I do not consider one of the suspects in this drama as a credible witness..the only people not a “suspect” are the advocates..since there is absolutely no history of the BLM policing itself..I can hardly give that serious consideration..but hey..I still believe there is a santa anything is possible…but i draw the line at turning blue..holding my breath

  3. Linda said

    Willis, it’s my understanding that Nevada manages water under the Prior Appropriation Rule, which “maintains that the first landowner to beneficially use or divert water from a water source is granted priority of right. The amount of ground water this priority, or senior, appropriator may withdraw can be
    limited based on reasonableness and beneficial purposes”.

    Does the “first landowner” (or his heirs or assigns) have to provide actual proof of the inception and timeline of beneficial use, or is it merely accepted without actual proof?

    • Linda said

      I’m asking this because I went to allot of water meetings when the powers-that-be were remanaging the Upper San Juan River. People were coming out of the woodwork claiming water rights with no proof. They wanted and sometimes received historic rights based on statements like, “My great grandfather grew corn way back when.” Unbelievable mess.

  4. Sharon said

    Hey Willis, since I am in earnest trying to educate myself on what is a wide & complex issue regarding BLM’s practices, protocols, and the current wild horse roundups; it would be of GREAT help if you when you make statements quoting/referencing specific individuals as sources (positively or negatively), that you provide the names of those individuals. I’m funny that way in wanting to verify both sources & facts. If you can’t “name names”…then one is left wondering why. I found your article to be enlightening and very informative (especially citing sources) about rumors of “water being sold,” as I do understand the difference between “ownership & priority of rights in water appropriations. I’m not sure I agree that “Cattoors are incidental” since they do play as significant role working as a contractor for BLM. I agree that we need not alienate anyone who is in fact providing assistance and must in the best interest of all who wish to see successful advocacy pass the necessary scrutiny(ies). To that end, I too, don’t believe in chasing tails, nor creating “gratuitous drama”…yet on such a complex issue you must admit that “the devil is often in the details” and those should not be abandoned in favor of a simpler context…no matter how big the picture. Thanks again for this great report.

  5. Roxy said

    Thanks for the input on water rights – I will be attempting to stay out of this part of the discussion for now. If you will indulge me though, I do have these particular thoughts and questions from the last couple of weeks of events and you seem to be a good source, so I’ve laid them out based on your report – numbered for ease of rely. Some are just my own observations that leave me feeling less than satisfied mostly by the BLM Press releases, the USA TODAY article, and the article by Sue Cattoor. I will respect your choosing not to answer any that you do not want to share – we are all just searching for solutions in a very complex and shades of grey problem:

    1) “…There has recently been quite a bit of speculation circulating… If we are going to pursue a successful advocacy campaign for wild horses, we need to deal with reality and our arguments have to pass scrutiny…” This can only be done when BLM allows the press and independent public observers. I take to heart, not in a good way, the recent quote in USA TODAY that advocates would run “willy nilly” around roundup sites. When as that ever been the case? Cattoor is not incidental to this, both they and BLM are being deliberately secretive and that is not acceptable – she cannot be incidental when she has participated in a newspaper interview. Perhaps you are saying that by doing that she herself is only distracting us from the real issues?

    2) “…What’s done is done and the state isn’t about to allow a “do over…” Do overs are a fact of life, as evidenced by our own constitutional rights via Homeland Security and Patriot Act and recent use of drug gang drop house techniques of moving trap sites by BLM to avoid a Federal Courts decree to uphold Freedom of the Press. Everything is subject to change and corruption.

    3) “…The rancher who owns the private well out on Owyhee, operated only when cattle are present, has indicated that BLM could operate his well if necessary. We all need to remember that the allotment was rested this past winter season (no cattle placed on it) so this well was not operated this year…” This to me is the biggest debacle, and I do not blame the rancher (unless it comes out that there was some collusion). But, was BLM not aware of this “resting” period this year? I guess this has been written about enough already and we will all have to wait for some outcome. But I am agast, though not surprised, of Sue Cattoors attempt to blame the advocates for the lack of water, when it was her company that should have done their own due diligence via fly-overs. And further, BLM has withheld this information from their own press releases regarding the 30% reduction water this year from wells not being turned on – or did I miss their proclamation of this? I am further confused by Cattoors claim that advocates stopped this roundup and caused the horse dehydration and the lack of BLM correcting this statement of hers – from everything that I have read they never intended to start until July 7 and the picture of the one dead horse on July 12 had apparently been dead for well over a week already meaning the water holes had to have been already dry at least 11 days – being the end of June up to July 1 – is this not correct? And we are to beleive that Cattoor was not checking where the horses were long before that? Maybe I’m harping, maybe this is one issue that you feel is not germane to the main goals, and you have already spoken to this issue in your post anyway.

    4) “…I see reports coming out of “advocates” observing lots of cattle and water with the inference that these things are on public land. Someone needs to learn to read a map…” Are you speaking of the video tapped portion on I Team Channel 8 Las Vegas with George Knapp, Laura Leigh, Elyse Gardner, one unidentified gentleman and the pilot (plus obviously one camera person)? Are you saying that the maps they, and the pilot, had in hand were incorrect as to where they were shooting video tape of the cattle? Or are you saying that none of them know how to read a map and that the cattle they video tapped were not actually on public land?

    5) “…the statement presumes that BLM can just come onto someone’s private land and appropriate private property. It’s pure nonsense…” On this one I find no fault with the argument. One post referenced fire fighting using water – and yes, that does encompass police powers to use private water supplies but only for fire fighting purposes. I may have spawned this discussion when it was published that there was no way to get vehicles to deliver water and I suggested using fire fighting water delivery techniques such as the bags from helicopters.

    6) “…The real issues are far less sensational but have significant real impacts on the health and viability of our wild horse herds. If we want to be effective advocates, we need to keep our eye on the real ball that is in play and advance reality based arguments…” There are lots of issues for lots of different reasons. If you would please engage us into what you think the scope of those issues are and how you have prioritized them and which ones should not be on the table and why. For examples, 1. there may have not been cattle on this range this year, but that does mean that next year, after the horse are removed that cattle allotments will not be increased. How am I expected to not hold the cattle interests accountable for this? 2. There are apparently reported some to a few, maybe many (unknown numbers – just rumors and here say) of cattle interests that are not directly against the wild horse, and some reports, though none documented (again rumors and here say only) that some are actually on the side of the wild horse. Sorry, but they don’t get off the hook unless they themselves organize similar to the way one faction of the Arabian Horse Association has against horse slaughter, against the United Organization for the Horse (UOH), and against their own Arabian Horse associations, and then come to the Advisory Board meetings and speak up, sign the moratorium, and make themselves heard in DC, etc. Until then I will battle against the welfare system they enjoy at my and the wild horses expense.

    Again, thank you for your perspectives and thank you in advance for taking any of your busy time to reply, whether in part or whole. And accept my apology for being so detailed oriented and analytical – but as you say we must hold our selves accountable to pass scrutiny, the same scrutiny we hold BLM to.

    • Shirley verhoef said

      Roxy, I love you.
      I just came to this site and had hopes for thr Mustang Project. Now I wonder.

      • sandra longley said

        I believe that it is these arguments and discussions that will lead us to solid conclusions or more importantly, the RIGHT questions to be asking..It is actually very important that we have different positions and perspectives to bring to this discussion. I am not afraid or intimidated by a different point of view..It allows for really honing and hardening your position when you have facts to bring to the argument. Trying to have a group with one mind set is self limiting.

  6. sandra longley said

    From a legal prospective..allotment grants are consider a “privledge” not a ‘right”..and so is the water contained on the I realise that Nevada in particular-with its vast amount of public lands considers it a “right”..but I would like to know where it is stated in a legal document so that I can read that..The BLM does in fact sell of “water” on public lands-for all intents and puirposes..such as the Cortez/Barrick goldmine expansion out of Elko..where by the BLMs own account in court…58 water sources will be destroyed along with 1 perenial stream..some might call that a tradeoff..I call it a sell off.

    • Roxy said

      Yes, that would make sense, but as you know the law does not always make sense. I’m too far lagging in other educaiton on these subjects to start to take on water rights. Sell off vs tradeoff from a practicle point of view, what differenc does that make when the outcome is the same.

      If we can just get Herd Watch really off the ground with funding we can organize people into groups to become the “voices” in specific areas of interest and expertise to watch dog our own goals based on the realities of things.

      The seeds of Herd Watch need a lot of water to grow, that is green water = $. I’m anticipatig fund raising in my area when it cools down – maybe a car wash or two, etc.

      Utah is coming up soon – if we want obervers out there ahead of BLM please buy a tee shirt or mug or donate $5 – every bit helps.

      • sandra longley said

        The difference is: The BLM justifies it as a tradeoff in the judicial system, as I have read some of these lawsuits…jobs vrs. loss of resources. And they get public support for that stance.

  7. RVL said

    I do think that Wallis is “incidental” if what you mean is that she just does as told. If anyone else did the job faster than she did, they would be hired all the same.
    Although it is true that ponds need monitoring, I don’t think this is the only issue.
    By using private land for round ups but at the same time ignoring privately owned water which could have been used to lessen the impact of a round up, how can this be declared an emergency? The horses are the ones paying the highest price in the end.
    So far there has been very little efforts to care for the welfare of the wild horses, dehydrated or not. Even if water rights were assigned long before 1971, practical solutions need to address water access for wildlife in order to promote mobility to solve these problems. Why aren’t there teams monitoring access to water, the same way the advocates are trying to do? What about legislation to address emergency gathers, for example by setting a set of standards which would allow to rehydrate the horses on the terrain by not only providing water, and allowing monitoring by the vets in order to decide from a veterinarian point of view when the horses are ready to be moved.
    I do think there needs to be a long term vision for advocates just in case all these lawsuits end up with the same result, because if you are dealing with water rights, I could be wrong, but I doubt changes will happen overnight.
    If horses are being moved to allow hunting of another species, then somehow that lobby needs to be addressed as well. You are not going to stop the hunting season, but there might be something to do with the dates, and timing for lawsuits need to address this as well.
    I read comments from people who are exhausted and almost out of funds from trying to save wild horses from being auctioned to kill buyers.
    What about legislation for the transport of the horses? They are still crammed into cattle trucks. What about monitoring the trucks, weight, etc..? What about a decent ratio of vet to horses to monitor the holding pens? What about horse specialists (with credentials) to handle the round ups, instead of just watching?

    • Sounds like what we are working for. Simply. mar

    • Shirley verhoef said

      Right on RVL, Espercially the part of the trucks being used to transport the horses. I believe these bills have been in Congress for over two years.

      • RVL said

        The bills are not quite perfect either. They would forbid transport of horses “with the intent” of selling them for human consumption. “Intent” is a very loose word to use on such an important bill. What if the companies doing the transportation respond that they are carrying the horses with the “intent” of selling them for glue, or leather?
        How do you prove or challenge an “intention”, specially when you have to deal with countries such as Mexico, where the “intention” of the legislation is already in jeopardy, and how long would it take to do so?
        It seems like it might be beneficial to rethink these bills and transform them into something more powerful.

      • RVL said

        As far as the trucks, how is it possible that horses taken to rodeos arrive in horse trailers, and horses driven off to a holding center are jammed into cattle trucks? This time it might have something to do with the intent, and I am really surprised that a lawyer has not thought of challenging this issue. If the intent of removing the horses is to make them available for adoption, then by all means, they should be carried in horse trailers, not in cattle trucks. I am sure there is more than one angle to approach this one.

    • sandra longley said

      As I see it we are having to spend our resources-time and money-on the end result-which is roundups-when we should be spending those resources ahead of the EAs-coming up with hard legal proof that what they are claiming is in fact not true, and there are mitigating reasons for water shortages or lack of forage or riparian damage..we are trying to sue the back end of a horse, when we should be stopping this at the frount end..where the bad policy is responsable for the roundups we are chasing

      • RVL said

        By the time you try to stop a round up, you are already out of time in a flash. Although the effort is well intentioned, this is not a strategy.

  8. sandra longley said

    So Willis what is your take on the 2 dead horses at the edge of a large water source -not a dried up water hole..anyone asking for water samples to be taken??? Any questions being raised about water contaimination? would that explain dead horses at a large water source? Would it explain horses not drinking? Any other credible explaination for those 2 dead horses there???? What about the photo of the horse dead for some time already…any corelation..or is it totally unrelated?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: