Southeast Oregon Resource Advisory Council

Eyewitness Report: 

BLM Southeast Oregon Resource Advisory Council Meeting

January 12 & 13, 2015

Ontario, Oregon

Prepared by Marika Ruppe, Equine Welfare Consulting Services for AWHPC

Committee members:

E. Lynn Burkett/ BLM Lakeview District Manager (present)

Robert Hogan/Energy and Mineral Development/Term ends:12/23/16 (absent)

Duncan Mackenzie/Grazing/Term ends: 12/19/15 (Present)

Donald Hodge/Transportation/Right-of-Way/Term ends: 01/23/15 (Present)

James Walls/Commercial Timber/Term ends: 12/20/13 (?)

Mona Drake/Recreation/OHV/Term ends: 01/23/15 (present)

Anne Hiller-Clark/Historic/Archaeological/Term ends:12/23/16 (Absent)

Matthew Little/Environmental/ Term ends: 01/23/15 (Present)

Mike King/Dispersed Recreation/Term ends: 01/23/15 (absent)

Dr. Julie Weikel/Wild Horse and Burro/Term ends:   01/23/15 (Present)

Jean Findley/Environmental/Term ends: 12/19/15 (Present)

Chad Boyd/Academician/Term ends: 12/19/15 (Present)

Peter Runnels/Elected Official/Term ends: 01/23/15 (Present)

James Bishop/Public-at-Large/Term ends: 01/23/15 (Present)

Jason Kesling/Tribal Representative/Term ends: 12/23/16 (Present)

Philip Milburn/State Natural Resources/Term ends: 12/19/15 (Present)

Although the agenda was based on natural resources and conservation efforts for rangelands and sage grouse, southeastern Oregon’s wild horses were brought to the table for discussion multiple times. Please find below an overview written by the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign (AWHPC) representative who attended the meeting. This overview/report is broken down by priority pertaining to Southeast Oregon’s wild and captive wild horse populations.

Spaying and Tracking Collar Trials:

-The most significant discussion relating to wild horses was led by Julie Weikel, DVM, Oregon Department of agriculture field veterinarian and also she's on the board of directors for Oregon National Desert Association. Dr. Weikel is the  wild horse and burro representative for the Southeastern Oregon Resource Advisory Council (RAC).  Dr. Weikel stated her belief that spaying of SE Oregon free-roaming mares was imperative for wild horse population management. She stated that advocates are vehemently opposed to the option but, in her opinion, it seems to be the most cost-effective, least intrusive option for population management control in the wild. The RAC voted to form a subcommittee on the spaying of mares and also to write a letter to other RACs that have wild horses under their jurisdictions urging them to support the spay program. These RACs would then send a joint letter to the national BLM office supporting the use of spaying for population management control. The decision to constitute the subcommittee to work on outreach to other RACs will be decided later via email.

-More importantly, Dr. Weikel stated that she is awaiting the green light for a spaying trial to begin in the Spring of 2015. Originally, the trial required that the mares fall into four categories: Three different stages of pregnancies and open (non-pregnant) mares. It now appears that only open mares will be utilized.

AWHPC Note: RAC meeting minutes from last year recount the discussion of Dr. Weikel and BLM Oregon wild horse specialist Shaney Rockefeller seeking RAC support for a proposal to spay and return to the range 100 mares in the Burns, Oregon BLM district. The notes document that Weikel and Rockefeller acknowledged the challenges to the plan, including:  “There are a few individuals with the skills to spay mares” and that “There will be a death loss. We don’t know the long- term survival rate after returning [spayed mares] to the range.” The meeting minutes also state, "Consider 10%+ death as a failure rate (Julie’s personal failure rate)." However, Dr. Weikel has since informed AWHPC that this is an error in the minutes and that she does not have a personal failure rate. In fact, she has spayed only 10 horses, but has spayed hundreds of heiffers. She also said that new techniques for laporoscopic surgery have made the procedure much safer. The  National Academy of Sciences, however, looked at the science on all surgical spaying procedures and concluded that it was "Inadvisable for field application" due to risk of infection and bleeding. An additional concern is the impact of the procedure on the mares' wild and free-roaming behaviors. Dr. Weikel did confirm that spaying mares in a domestic setting is done primarily to change behavior. 

-In addition to the spay program, Dr. Weikel stated that she would like to collar wild mares for scientific research. She said that trials will begin in mid-February on wild mares at BLM facilities in Oklahoma. Dr. Weikel stated that she would like southeastern Oregon wild mares to be included in the trial. She referred to the gps/vhs collar four-year study released in 2014. Researchers carried out their evaluation of the collars on a ranch in southeast Oregon and the 232,694 hectares of sagebrush-steppe habitat that comprises the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge in northwest Nevada. The horses used in the Nevada phase were allowed to roam a 12,000-hectare fenced area within the refuge. It is important to note that the BLM has barred the use of gps/vhs collars due to a high fatality rate in previous trials.

Potential Health Risks to Southeast OR Wild Horses: [1]

-BLM’s Candidate Conservation Agreement’s (CCA’s) are voluntary agreements between the BLM and livestock grazing permittees identify specific measures to be taken to protect the endangered sage grouse and are based on specific conditions of particular allotments. The RAC discussed the possibility that the CCA’s may become Reasonable and Prudent Measures (RPM’s)[2] for grassland/range preservation. RPM’s represent actions that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and/or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries division believe are  necessary and appropriate to minimize the impacts (the amount or extent) of incidental take caused by an action that was subject to consultation. Specifically this discussion took place in the context of grazing impacts on sage grouse, a species that is under consideration for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

One RPM under discussion in the event of the ESA listing of sage grouse is the use of fourteen new herbicides to manage the grasslands. There was no mention of whether or not these herbicides would pose risks to wild horses grazing on the rangelands. It is my opinion that the BLM should fully disclose to the public what herbicides will be used and fully assess their impact on the environment and the potential health risks to animals that utilize those rangelands. The area of rangeland referenced in this discussion is large - approximately one million acres.

Notes of Special Interest:

-The RAC discussed the Beaty’s Butte HMA, which is over the Appropriate Management Level for wild horses. In the opinion of the RAC, the horses that reside there are at risk for overgrazing.  RAC members offered their opinion that the HMA has not been managed properly to date. There is an ongoing mediation process between conservation groups, ranchers and wild horse advocates in Beattys Butte. The next meeting of the working group on January 28th in Lakeview. This meeting is open to the public.

-The U.S. Forest Service is creating a wild horse management team for the Murderers Creek Wild Horse Territory.

-Due to wild fires and the drought, as grazing allotments come open, the RAC is asking the BLM consider grass banking for emergency situations. This would create a reserve for cattleman with grazing rights. Grass banking is a the practice whereby property owners (private or government) lease land to ranchers at a discount in exchange for ranchers implementing “conservation-related” projects on their own pastures. The agreement enables ranchers to stay in business by providing their cattle with fresh sources of grass and allowing them to rest their heavily grazed land.

-John Caywood (Sp?) a rancher in Southeast OR wants to build a six-foot fence to block wild horses from grazing in the area where big horn sheep graze within a specific HMA. The fence is called the Cheney Fence. Some RAC members strongly oppose the construction of the fence, but one suggested removing the HMA all together. Mr. Caywood will be asked to come and present on behalf of his cause at the next RAC meeting .

Moving Forward:

AWHPC was the only commenter to address the wild horse issue during the public comment period for this meeting. Because of AWHPC’s presence, the RAC discussed the topic of working with advocacy groups and dealing with the general public. RAC members unanimously agreed that it is necessary to find a middle ground  that is acceptable to ranchers, advocates and the American taxpayers, while also maintaining rangeland health. Moving forward, RAC committee members feel that it is crucial for all stakeholders to make progress in the debate over wild horse management. The RAC also unanimously agreed that the BLM’s wild horse management plan was not working and needed to be changed ASAP for the sake of taxpayers, ranchers and wild free-roaming and captive horses. In addition, Dr. Julie Weikel, DVM stated that she’s committed to finding a common ground between BLM and wild horse advocates.

Please note that the AWHPC representative attending the meeting handed out the following documents to all RAC participants:

1. HSUS published paper that demonstrates cost-savings with PZP 

2. Kirkpatrick paper that about achieving population goals with PZP

3. PZP Statement by AWHPC

4. NAS Key Findings

2015 SE RAC MEETING SCHEDULE:

January 12-13, 2015 in Ontario, Oregon

April 20-21, 2015 in Lakeview, Oregon

July 13-14, 2015 in Burns, Oregon

October 26-27, 2015 (Bi-RAC or Tri-RAC meeting) in Prineville, Oregon

Overview composed by Marika Ruppe, AWHPC representative in attendance of the BLMs Southeastern RAC meeting January 11 & 12, 2015 located at the Clarion Hotel in Ontario, Oregon.