Heber Wild Horses, Scoping Period for HMAP, Public Comments Due

Photo Courtesy Stacey Sanchez


Many of you know that comments are due for the upcoming Heber Wild Horse Management plan. The comments due at this time are scoping comments.

This is the document/plan they want you to comment on:

To find the link to comment, the link for supporting documents and other links, including a mailing address to send postal mail comments to click on the link below:
Heber Wild Horse Territory: Comment on This Project

We’ll walk you through some of the information provided by showing you a section and then giving our opinions. Some of you are old pros at this if you want to skip to the section with talking points to see what we suggest please scroll down. We want everyone to feel confident and know what is expected.

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For this section of instructions we suggest you put your name, and a PO box if you have one. In order for it to be a legal and binding document, you must provide an address, so if you worried about your address being listed on public records then we strongly suggest a PO Box.

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This blurb above means that you should provide comments that relate only to the management of wild horses in the Heber herd, not other issues, like management of all wild horses, or management of things in the Forest that have nothing to do with the wild horses.

For example, saying ‘leave our wild horses alone’ doesn’t count as a substantive comment because the Forest Service (FS) does have a mandate to manage horses, which includes removing horses at certain times. However, making the comment that leaving only the low number of horses proposed in this plan falls below the number Dr. Gus Cothran, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM’s) geneticist, stated were required (150 – 200) will leave the herd in danger of losing genetic diversity, is a substantive comment that the FS has to respond to.

Another example that the FS may try to say is outside the scope is a comment we frequently challenge both FS and BLM with. We do and will claim wild horse territories should be managed under the multiple-use mandate (meaning managed taking into account all users and purposes of public lands allowed) however, on a wild horse territory, the wild horses should be given equal if not principle use. This would mean FS may have to reduce the number of cattle on the territory. In this specific case, they will claim that is not on keeping with the Land Management Plan for the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. This sets up a case to file an objection because the management plan was written BEFORE the AML or population range was set for the herd, therefore the management plan should be revisited for a change to reflect a self-sustaining and viable herd. So this will be a substantive comment. We’ll give you a list of these, called talking points you can use in your comments (provided below).

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For those who live close and plan to hand-deliver your comment we suggest you write a page up stating:

Public comments for Heber Wild Horse Territory Plan #18916 have been received from ____________“your name goes here” on _______________ (date goes here) by ________________________________(have them print their name there).

Signed _________________________(have the person you hand this to print their name and the date above and sign here)

If you plan to mail your comments make sure you do so early enough that they are received by the deadline of March 16, and we suggested certified, or return receipt mail so you have proof they received it.

Or you can use their online submission website, which we have never used so have little information about it. We can tell you though it seems you can submit attachments, which is something BLM’s online submission website doesn’t afford the commenter. Attachments are good if you are attaching an affidavit or study to support one or more of your comments. The link to their online submission mentioned in the blurb we copy-pasted above is:

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For our legal eagles who really want to dig in these are the relevant laws and policies FS uses to design management plans for the herd. There are other laws that are relevant and which will come into play down the road. We will list those in the second section here.

16 USC 1131 – 40 can be read here: https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/16/chapter-30

36 CFR 222 §D 222.60 -76 can be read here: https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/36/part-222/subpart-D

Forest Service Manual 2200, chapter 2260 can be read here: https://www.fs.fed.us/wild-horse-burro/documents/direction/2260_FS_Manual_WHB.doc

The 2015 Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest Plan can be read here: https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fseprd589689.pdf

Other relevant laws FS left out are:

The Heber Wild Horse Territory is considered a “Special Area” by FS. As such, Special Areas in the National Forest System designated for their unique or special
characteristics adhere to (36 CFR 219.7). https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/36/219.7

You’ll hear or have heard us reference FLPMA, that is 43 U.S. Code CHAPTER 35—FEDERAL LAND POLICY AND MANAGEMENT:  https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/43/chapter-35

The Taylor Grazing Act, which is 43 USC Ch. 8A: GRAZING LANDS: https://uscode.house.gov/view.xhtml?path=/prelim@title43/chapter8A&edition=prelim

The Public Rangelands Improvement Act : https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/STATUTE-92/pdf/STATUTE-92-Pg1803.pdf#page=1

And of course, there are procedural laws like NEPA and the Administrative Procedures Act:

NEPA is the National Environmental Protection Act, for this situation we recommend reading the NEPA link FS has provided on there website, kind of their little cheat sheet on what sections of NEPA apply to them: https://www.fs.fed.us/emc/nepa/nepa_procedures/index.shtml?fbclid=IwAR2oppg3uSL5dG8PdSHmoMH_LoMqaedgGCDU1VQbOVbHVCvH3Wthxxiae90

The Administrative Procedure Act (APA): https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/5/552

Finally, to the talking points we suggest, this is a partial list, we will likely develop more as we write our own comments, you may as well! Please feel free to comment on this article and tell us your talking points or thoughts.

Talking Points:

  • While multiple-use is used in The 2015 Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest Plan, including how the wild horses will be managed (pending this management plan), FLPMA being the regulatory guideline for those decisions, FS has ignored the fact that FLPMA also states that nothing in the act will be in derogation of prior implemented land-use policies, which the 1971 WH&B Act was. 
  • Under the color of law, under the law in the WFRHBA mandated that wild horses get principle use of areas they were found in 1971. Therefore, some livestock decreases may be necessary to achieve that goal. However, that is outside the scope of this wild horse management plan. However, in order to achieve other mandates like preserving a self-sustaining herd as an integral part of the lands, the outdated Forest Plan should be revised to reflect a plan for the horses that includes an AML that is viable for a self-sustaining herd (150 – 200 horses should be the Low-end AML for that).
  • There has never been an EIS for a herd management plan and that must be done for a plan implemented on land considered “Special Areas”. Areas in the National Forest System designated for their unique or special characteristics.
  • The court ruled that FS would sit down and develop this wild horse management plan with a party of the lawsuit, the FS had one member that was related to that lawsuit and they kicked her off when she attempted to submit comments to the final recommendations that were to be submitted to the FS, thereby violating that court order. The working group and all recommendations need to be dismissed from the HMAP and all future plans or proposed actions for that reason.
  • The working group did not meet in public, would not allow members of the public to attend or call in on phone meetings, violating open meetings laws they were required to follow. For that reason, the working group and all recommendations should be dismissed from this HMAP and all future documents and proposed plans/actions. Additionally, the meeting group did not keep recordings or meeting minutes, which is also against the laws for working groups on this type of project with the members in attendance.
  • The Forest Service and several members of the local community acknowledge the horses have always roamed between the “territory” and the Reservation, the courts ruled the horses are one-in-the-same, yet the Forest Service neglected to include the migratory land between the “territory” and the reservation in the territory historically used in 1971 and prior years in the lines drawn for the Heber Wild Horse Territory. This directly contradicts the mandate of the 1971 law to establish areas “where horses currently are.” Forest Service even shows on the map where horses were seen during the census, and most of the horses are in fact in this left out, historical, migratory land. Therefore Forest Service must expand the territory to include those lands used since before 1971.
  • Based on the following statement, Forest Service has no definitive information on the history of the horses in the area, and the census was not done for the entire area we contend was the historical use of the forest by the herd.  “The “ethnographic” study was not meant to be exhaustive or definitive, rather to provide the deciding official with various perspectives of the history of the horses”
  • Forest Service claims there are 500 horses in the Apache-Sitgreaves, on and off the territory. Citizens Against Equine Slaughter has had several volunteers on the ground in the territory, documenting and reporting on the horses, individuals bands, births, and deaths.  These people have been documenting the herd for decades and their count is closer to 240 horses, how do you account for such a drastic difference in your number, when compared to people who are out there every day and can provide photographic proof of the horses?
  • You claim there were 2 periods of occupation 1930 – 1990 stating, according to interviews of non-scientific, non-trained, differing memories of persons who were not employed to do the census, that there were “around 7 horses” This doesn’t qualify as a census. We don’t know what area they are referring to or how they did a count, this cannot be used to base any decision on. You also state that they were likely Army Mounts that were turned out, again this statement is made with no scientific evidence and cannot be used to make any management decisions.
  • You claim a second  population dating from 1990 forward “appears to be a mixture of horses from the Fort Apache Reservation and other unidentified
    horses with no substantiated link with the originally designated herd.” Again, you have provided NO evidence of this statement. And in fact, the courts differed with this point of view ruling they were indistinguishable. Therefore your opinion has no bearing on the management decisions to be made either.
  • And all this conjecture you stated from a non-scientific study, which reached the following conclusion: “it is the recommendation of the author that the Forest and interested parties determine future direction and management of the Territory based on the current condition and population of horses from the ethnographic study (USDA Forest Service 2017) Therefore none of this should even be included in this HMAP.
  • We believe the current population is approximately 200 horses, and given all the recent horse deaths via shooting and predation of foals, there is no need at this time to remove any further horses from the territory. Given the last census information, you provided was from 2017, this issue (deaths) has not been addressed as to the effect it had on the population.
  • Fences on the existing territory have been an issue. Livestock fencing created a situation where the horses cannot reside easily, nor roam-freely, thus changing their free-roaming behaviors, and that must be addressed. Livestock permittees must follow grazing regulations, and must not impede the movement of the horses, including movement to different water sources on the territory during drought.
  • Forest Service has additionally not addressed the issue of repeated complaints of horses being chased, stolen, shot, enticed through feed, salt or water to be in or near roads. Until Forest Service can manage these basic tenets of wild horse management we feel that this plan is not a plan to protect, rather a plan to further harm or kill the horses in the herd. How will Forest Service ensure in this HMAP or, what we recommend is more appropriate, an EIS, that these horses are going to be managed for the protection of the herd, not for the benefit of the livestock producers in the area?
  • The law requires public lands to be managed for multiple-use, the wild free-roaming horses and burros act requires their designated areas to be managed principally for horses, principally is not happening here. In fact, when you compare the number of livestock to the herd AML you are proposing, or even the 150 – 200 we are proposing, livestock is getting the principle use. The horses are not even getting an equal footing which has been ruled a must by the courts.
  • Your census charts show that there were between 270 to 420 horses in 2017. How do you explain such a large range? We believe there were 270, and after the shootings of over 30 horses after that and before this year, 15 additional shootings, along with foals that were in utero, and stolen horses from the forest there cannot be 500 horses. Where is the census data for this 500 claim that you estimate are there now
  • We adamantly oppose the use of GonaCon for immunocontraceptive. GonaCon is hormonal and therefore changes mare behavior and band dynamics. This is in opposition to the mandates of the free-roaming horses and burros act.
  • We are happy to see PZP considered as a tool if the population is ever truly over what the range can support. NOT the AML you have suggested in the HMAP. We recommend however that you change the “cons” section which reflects an outdated IM from the BLM.
  • Sterilization of stallions should not be an option as it has been proven it does not work if the goal is population reduction. It only takes one stallion!
  • Sterilization of mares should also not be listed as a tool. It is highly unaccepted by the public, it has been litigated every time it has been in a management plan for wild horses, it is still considered experimental on wild animals and as such must be done following AWA regulations for experimenting on wildlife. Those regulations require surgical procedures to be done in an aseptic environment which can never be done in the field or in holding facilities or corrals.
  • We are additionally happy to see that the use of helicopter gathers is not included in your “toolbox” for the management of this herd. We hope it does not get added, not only for the horses but for other animals that live in the area, a few species of which are critical or endangered and require other levels of federal protections.