The ~Texas~ Mustang Project's Blog

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

Lahontan / Pine Nut Gather… the rest of the story…

Posted by Texas Mustang Project on November 26, 2010


By now many of you may have heard about a problem that arose at the end of the Pine Nut gather with the trap – treat and release mares.  What apparently happened was this:

A decision was made to leave the corrals set up over at Lahontan and take the bands that were being trapped, treated and released in the Dayton area over to Lahontan for PZP treatment. This isn’t a huge distance so it seemed reasonable given the radical weather and other factors.

However nobody marked the horses as they came in (applied paint marks to identify members of the same band) and the mares, studs and foals were sorted into separate pens.  At the end of the gather there were quite a few studs, somewhere around 40 mares and some 22 foals separated and unidentifiable.

Advocates waiting to watch the horses being released learned while on site at the Pine Nut Range that the foals were being shipped to Palomino Valley Center.  Needless to say, this development created quite a stir, particularly when it was explained that the foals couldn’t be matched up to mares so they were going to be removed from the range.  After some discussion Alan Bittner stepped up to the moment and told the contractor to also send all the wet mares over to PVC and put all of the horses in a pen together to see if the mares and foals would pair up.  Those that would pair successfully are supposed to be released back onto the Pine Nut Range in a couple of days.

Since bands could not be reconstituted, the stallions were released together in a group and the dry mares were similarly released in another group.

I sent a cranky-gram to Bob Abbey who has already responded and indicated that I could expect a call from Ron Wenker.

With the exception of this snafu, the Lahontan and Pine Nut operations went smoothly and without incident.  What’s done is done with respect to releasing the horses so the issue now is to deal with making sure that such a situation is not repeated.

“:O) Willis

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15 Responses to “Lahontan / Pine Nut Gather… the rest of the story…”

  1. Brenda said

    Well, the episode does seem to be somewhat poorly done, but none of us are responsible for trying to round up these horses, etc. I have a BLM mare, and I sure wouldnt want that job to fall in my lap.

  2. what morons they were so well prepared what happens to the foals that were still nursing, will they survive your stupidity?

  3. Linda Horn said

    It’s disappointing that things turned out this way in a gather that had such potential for effective cooperation between all parties involved.

    To me, the positive takeaways in this foul-up are the immediate response from Alan Bittner (with the BLM?) to the concerns of the observers and Bob Abbey’s timely reply to Willis’ “cranky-gram”.

    I’ve often wondered who’s in charge – the BLM or the contractor – since the former seems to defer to the latter in many cases. Maybe this is an indication of change to come?

    Who was the contractor? Was there any sense among the observers that this error resulted from a “let’s hurry up and get this done” on the part of the contractor, since this was the last day of the gather?

    I wonder if a penalty, such as changing policy to non-payment to the contractor (in this case, at least for the 22 mares x $600(?) = $13,200) for violating the parameters of a gather might be a wake-up call to do things according to plan.

    I sure hope all 22 foals are reunited with their moms and released together. If not, I wonder if stress will have been a factor, but I don’t know how one would quantify that. Will there be any independent observers allowed at PVC to monitor the results?

  4. loretta howard said

    This is so sad and could easily have been prevented! Please take care of our horses.

  5. Will LeRoy said

    My 2 cents ~ the problem with advocates in general is that our greatest strength (big hearts) often translates to the very weakness that hurts our cause when dealing with the BLM. Using myself as an example ~ I am been researching, visiting HMS’s, reviewing range reports and comparing the reported data with actual field data for over 5 years. Once I realized that the BLM was either using outdated information for the 70’s or going farther and falsifying range reports, I contacted the various BLM local offices and began asking questions. This started in 2005. It took me 2 years to finally realize that I was being “played” by the never ending hand off’ s, misdirection, and non-responsive tactics I encountered with EVERY official I dealt with. The problem was that they were for the most part very nice in their non-responsiveness so I assumed like most, that they were simply very busy and trying to honestly help despite their very busy schedules. I WAS WRONG. It was my dealings with Dean Bolstead that finally opened my eyes. One the one hand he would claim that most “advocates were wild eyed non-horse people” and lay the blame for the “false” reports at their feet. Then the Calico Gather happened. It was then that Deans true nature was revealed. And every day since then. AS ADVOCATES WE NEED TO be firm and direct. We need to be armed with facts and photos, and we need to give the BLM people we deals with deadlines for response, AND WE NEED TO ALWAYS DOCUMENT ALL COMMUNICATIONS. They will, lie, spin and evade as much as they can until YOU hold their feet to the fire. The horrific reality is that while we forgive them because we are kind, they are killing our horses. This is the same as it was just prior to World War II. No one could believe that Hitler was actually gathering and killing the Jews and other religious folks. If we had acted then (as we should have) millions could have been saved. Let’s vow to each other that we will not make the same horrible mistake again.

  6. Linda Horn said

    T., we need an update on what’s going on with the 22 foals/mares ASAP. There’s so much confusing information (misinformation?) on the blogs, especially about what happened in what order. I don’t want to criticize anyone until I know what’s really going on. Does Willis know more yet?

  7. Sorry for not keeping everyone up to speed “real time.” We’ve had one heck of a busy time. When there is helicopter activity on the north end of the Pine Nuts it can spook the Virginia Range horses that live down near the river bottom and we’ve been getting horses out of Carson City and Dayton and back to where they belong with the help of the Nevada Highway Patrol.

    Here is a post I sent out to the folks involved on Friday, but I didn’t get a chance to post it here. Clarifications are added in ().

    – – –

    Today (Friday) I had a good, candid conversation with BLM State Director Ron Wenker where we discussed the Pine Nut gather and the issue of the mares and foals. To cut to the chase, here’s what came of it.

    Director Wenker stated that it was never BLM’s position that the foals were to be removed (not be returned with their dams) from the Pine Nut Range. BLM’s position going into the trap, treat and release operation was that, extenuating cases notwithstanding, all horses removed from within the HMA were to be returned. Director Wenker assured me that this is exactly what is going to happen. Extenuating circumstances in this instance could include situations such as a mare and foal that did not pair back up. Nobody is going to release a foal onto the range without the protection of its dam. However every horse suitable for releasing would be put back onto the range. Director Wenker also indicated that he wanted to see that happen as quickly as it was safe to do so – as soon as the horses definitely paired and there was suitable weather to conduct a safe release.

    Director Wenker also indicated that from what he has learned so far, there apparently were mistakes made in the trap, treat and release operation. With so many bands coming in, the horses should have been identified (e.g., marked with non-toxic paint) as they were received so members of the same band could be identified. Also the decision to send the foals to Palomino Valley Center without their dams was not proper. Director Wenker made it very clear that he is on track for Nevada BLM to be accountable to its commitments and that the horses that BLM indicated would be returned to the HMA will be returned as promised. I came away with the impression that he plans to see that such principles are passed down the chain of command.

    We have to give props to Mark Struble and Alan Bittner in this situation. Mark became aware of the foals being sent to Palomino Valley Center and sent up a red flag. Alan Bittner saw to it that every mare that appeared to be a nursing mare was sent to meet up with the foals. Given the circumstances, having the horses at Palomino Valley Center where they could be checked by a vet and watched by an experienced crew was a sensible remedy.

    Dorothy Nylen (Wild Horse Preservation League) went up to Palomino Valley Center and observed the mare and foal pairs. Based on her observations all but one foal appeared to be fully bonded with its dam. With the number of horses in the pen, she could not be sure about one of the foals. There was no evidence that it wasn’t paired with a mare and it could have simply had an independent nature.

    Hopefully all the horses will be returned safely to the range within a couple of days. Mark Struble promised to provide us with advance notice of the release so advocates can be present.

    Director Wenker mentioned that there were a number of other trap, treat and release operations on BLM’s schedule and he expected this mistake to not be repeated.

    No operation is perfect. In this case it seems pretty clear that the appropriate corrections have been made.

    “:O) Willis

    – – –

    As an added explanation, it was BLM staff from the Carson City office that caught on to what was going on and interceded before the nursing mares were let loose without their foals. While the foals were old enough to be weaned, without the protection of their dams they would be easy prey for predators so that would have been 22 horses that BLM had committed to return to the range that would have been permanently removed. It appears that many of these kinds of problems trace back to a couple of people who in my opinion lack an appropriate level of sensitivity. Once the mares and foals are safely back on the range, this is an matter that will be brought up for discussion.

    As Director Wenker said, it takes too long for BLM to build up credibility. He’s not about to lose it over a bad decision.

    As an oft time critic of various BLM actions, I really have to give props to the folks at the Carson City office. They stood up to people above them on the food chain and this isn’t the only time they’ve done what’s right rather than what was easy. That’s an attitude that needs to gain ground throughout the bureau.

    “:O) Willis

    • Linda Horn said

      Willis, thanks so much for all you’ve done and for getting this new info up. Cross fingers everything works out for the best. For some reason, this comment didn’t come to my inbox, so I’m glad you put it up as a separate post.

  8. […] on 2010/11/28 at 7:15 pm in Comments » Lahontan / Pine Nut Gather… the rest of […]

  9. Tuesday update. Panels are being set up. Mares and foals should arrive shortly before noon. We’ll get photos and send a couple to Tracie-Lynn for posting along with an account of the release.

    Also BLM canceled the Pilot Mountain gather. Reconnaisance flights didn’t reveal the numbers of horses expected. Their census data is old and BLM opted to hold off any activities until an accurate new census could be undertaken. If the horses turn out to be within AML, they will be left alone. The same folks from the Carson City office that intervened when it looked like the foals weren’t going to be released have taken the position that if their census data is in question, they aren’t going to remove horses until they know what they are doing and whether removals are actually warranted. Wow, what a concept. It is reassuring that there are folks in the agency who do want to operate this program correctly. Hopefully that attitude will spread.

  10. FINAL RESULTS!

    Sorry this is out so late. When we got clear of the release we had to go to Silver Springs as 10 wild horses had wandered onto the highway side of the range border fence and we had to “encourage” them to go home.

    The release of the mares and foals back onto the Pine Nut Mountains HMA went flawlessly – except maybe for the bone chilling cold everyone suffered while waiting for the release activities to be undertaken. At the end all the horses appeared to be completely content.

    A summary with a number of photos can be viewed here:

    http://www.aowha.org/activities/pine_nut_release01.html

    Again, our thanks to Mark Struble and Alan Bittner at BLM for making sure this happened. The crew from Palomino Valley Center who handled the horses were also extremely careful and professional. This was a great ending to the Pine Nut Mountains operations. Now to make these kinds of events the rule rather than the exception – a trend that we may slowly be heading towards. (Fingers crossed.)

    “:O) Willis

  11. Grandma Gregg said

    Re: Pine Nut Wild Horse Roundup, November 2010
    I agree that if it wasn’t for the public watching what was going on, that these foals would have been lost in the shuffle and not returned to their mares and their home HMA. I can’t thank all of you enough for watching and acting – great job you did! But there is more for us to know: these foals [and mares] that were taken to Palomino Valley Holding Facility (by “mistake”) were unnecessarily exposed to strangles at that holding facility – so although the end result of their release is good … I would like to have the person(s) responsible for this unnecessary “mistake” be aware that I am aware that #1 the removal of the foals from their families was not needed and jeopardized the animals without due cause. Please think these plans through before the fact – not afterwards. #2 Who was in charge that day and why didn’t they stop this unnecessary foal removal? Was this person onsite? Was this a BLM WH&B person or the contractor’s employees from Sun J? Why were these foals removed? #3 All of the animals from the Pine Nut should have been released at/near the same time and at/near their home area. This would allow the animals to reassemble in family groups, which is the way they were found and the way they should be and the way that would allow them to survive this harsh winter. One foal had to be left at PV but before the roundup it TOO had a mother and family … now it does not and it unnecessarily becomes just another statistic … another animal to be lost in the system of abused and harassed animals which must now live out it’s life “in the system”. I quote: “…However nobody marked the horses as they came in (applied paint marks to identify members of the same band) and the mares, studs and foals were sorted into separate pens…” Again I ask, who was in charge and why was this serious mistake made and by whom? If the mares were to be given PZP then why wasn’t this arranged to be done to the mares at the gather site and then released with the foals and stallions? #4 I was personally on the Pine Nut HMA on Thanksgiving afternoon and saw three VERY STRESSED horses (likely stallions) that were looking and calling for their families. Photos are available of this but the photos would not in any way describe the obvious unnecessary disruption and stress of these horses. The three stallions stayed together as they crossed the valley and the first stallion definitely had a purpose and destination in mind … his home and his family… and he kept on moving in a direct line toward that destination. The second horse (perhaps younger?) followed along because he was confused and didn’t know where to go but knew he needed to stay with the older/wiser horse that was in the lead. The third stallion in this group also followed because he didn’t want to be left alone and there were no other horses within binocular site … but he kept stopping and looking backwards and calling for his family and was obviously distressed that his whole life and family had been torn apart and he did not know if he would EVER find his family again. So… again I ask, why was this unnecessary extreme stress caused to these fine animals and who was in charge at that moment and who made the decision to unnecessarily divide these families and who decided to send the foals and later mares to PV to be unnecessarily exposed to strangles and who made the decision to not PZP (another subject for later) the mares on site and who made the decision to unnecessarily destroy these family bands? This should have been an easy gather and it was handled in the most unnecessarily inhumane way. Although many persons appear to have been part of fixing the numerous problems and I again sincerely thank you … we need to get to the bottom of this and ask just exactly who was in charge of this Pine Nut fiasco and allowed these easily preventable problems to happen in the first place and then be SURE that person is not “in charge” during any future actions involving the wild horses. How many times must I say “UNNECESARY”?

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