BLM Deal to Return Warm Springs Horses is NO Deal #FakeWin

While other wild horse advocate groups celebrate, likely because they need to find a win in the lawsuit they had dismissed for being moot, we see that this new announcement of BLM on the Warm Springs Case is NO win at all for the horses. In fact, it is NOTHING at all.

THE REAL STORY HERE IS READING THE MESSAGE BLM JUST ISSUED:

We didn’t get our way so we are not returning 200 horses as we agreed to in a previous APPROVED plan. But hey we’ll try to return horses, just not from now through December of 2019, and not pregnant or unpregnant mares, or stallions.

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What is BLM really proposing?

BLM issued a new plan to release wild horses on the Warm Springs Horse Management Area (HMA), changing the already approved plan. As we reported in our previous article on this the release of less than half the horses approved in the plan should not be changed because BLM could not go through with plans to sterilize mares. If the range could support 200 for their gruesome study, it can support the release of 200 without the study. Period. 200 horses must be released and we reject this new plan.

As if that was enough of an insult to our intelligence BLM also gives the following restrictions on releasing even the meager 66 these mainstream fake advocate organizations are touting as a great win. Here are the conditions that may change the release of just 66 horses:

  • BLM can’t return horses now or until approximately May or June because the roads are not good enough
  • Can’t return mares that are pregnant March – June because well, they might deliver on transport?  (They gather and transport pregnant mares routinely)
  • Won’t return mares with foals because of danger to foals on transport (They transport foals routinely)
  • Won’t return mares until foals are weaned and ripped away from mares 4 – 6 months after birth (so no returns from March – June until after 4 – 6 months later which would be as late as December
  • No returns during fire season June through fall
  • No returns if there is not adequate water (to be assessed in flyovers in June) even though forage is good and water on one half is good, the other side was questionable, and the solution is the removal of a livestock fence between the 2 sides of the HMA
  • No mares returned who were not pregnant, they could be sterile (erm the original plan was to return nearly 30 sterile mares wasn’t it?)
  • No stallion released without a mare released to keep a 50/50 sex ratio (unnatural and why can’t they release 33 stallions and release 33 mares as they can based on their other fake conditions)
  • AND BLM retains the right to alter, change, nullify, or create a whole new plan even if this one is passed

So, in other word BLM has said :

We didn’t get our way so we are not returning 200 horses as we agreed to in a previous APPROVED plan. But hey we’ll try to return horses, just not from now through December of 2019, and not pregnant or unpregnant mares, or stallions.

BLM Decides NOT to Release All the Horses Promised in Oregon

BLM Doesn’t Get Their Way and Warm Springs Horses From Oregon Suffer for it.

Feb.15, 2019

In 2018 we filed legal action to stop the BLM in Oregon from performing brutal, archaic sterilization experiments on pregnant mares. The BLM, after receiving our legal arguments against their plans, and after we got the Oregon Veterinary Medical Examining Board to investigate the lead veterinarian who wishes to do these procedures, Burns BLM in Oregon canceled their plans to do them.

One declaration written by Burn’s BLM Rob Sharp to the court stated that if BLM was not able to do the experiments they would not release all 200 horses, which was what the approved plan stated. We called this emotional blackmail then, and after bringing this up on the BLM Facebook page for their wild horse and burro program…just the next day…BLM loads online a new proposed plan to return less than half what was approved in the previous APPROVED plan.

“Despite the DR being vacated, the conditions that caused the BLM to determine that approximately 652 animals were excess and needed to be removed from the range remain present and necessitate the current decision. To that end, this determination of NEPA adequacy (DNA) assesses whether the 2018 EA adequately analyzed the environmental impact of permanently removing wild horses and burros from the Warm Springs HMA, the proposed return of horses to low appropriate management level (AML) for the HMA, and the treatment of mares to be returned to the HMA with porcine zona pellucida (PZP). This DNA in no part replaces or relies on the 2018 DR, which was vacated in its entirety.”


OOPS – FOIA DOCUMENTS PROVE THIS IS A LIE

BLM — you removed “850 or so” stating “only 652-ish” are to be permanently removed.  The following email communication was received by CAES through a FOIA request. Note the author is BLM Public Affairs Specialist Tara Thissell.

Thissell emails 1

According to the gather reports from Sun J, the contractor who did the gather…846 horses were gathered, and of those only 813 made it to holding because of the horses that were killed or euthanized (and one lucky one that got away)

Per the new BLM proposal they will only leave a total of 96 horses and 15 burros (the low end of the AML for the Warm  Springs HMA. The reason they claimed an emergency to gather the HMA before any appeals on the gather were heard was deteriorating range conditions…which we also challenged because they had known about, and had been hauling water for months.

Despite the range being able to support the release of 200 of the gathered horses then (to do their study), they now claim that it can only support to the low end of the AML.

“The AML for the Warm Springs HMA is 96 to 178 horses and 15 to 24 burros. The number of animals gathered combined with the estimated 30 horses and 30 burros remaining on the range indicates that there are approximately 779 excess horses (plus 2 mules) and 56 excess burros above the low end of the respective AMLs.”

BLM tries to say…mares released would have been spayed so we would be releasing mares that can reproduce and add to the population which was not part of the original plan. When in reality only 28 – 34 of the 200 released would have been spayed mares, and BLM states in the new plan that they are
So let’s recap…

BLM removes 850-ish

SunJ Contractor who did gather says 889 removed – 846 horses, 43 burros. However, only 813 of those horses were shipped to BLM holding because one got away and 33 were killed

Plans to experiment on some of the 200 they say they will put back on the land

BLM stomps feet and says in court documents if we can’t do the experiments we refuse to let all the horses we said we’d release go back on the range

BLM claims 850 or so were gathered

BLM claims 652 were “excess”

BLM can’t do experiments

BLM claims really 779 +2 +56 (horses mules and burros which were all added together in the number of animals gathered in 2018) are excess now…837 excess animals

BLM Plans to return 66 horses instead of the 200 approved in the proposed plan, and according to their estimate that there were also 30 burros left after the gather which is over AML so none will be returned.

And what is their justification…” the conditions …remain present and necessitate the current decision.” The conditions that were such that 200 horses would be returned?

Go to this link:

CLICK HERE TO COMMENT TO BLM

Tell BLM that when conditions remain the same…they have no justification for putting less than half the planned horses back out on the Warm Springs HMA. There was range to support 200 for a study, and they admit conditions remain present, not worse, therefore there is range to support returning 200.

SIGH

Forest Service, Dead Horses, Forced Investigation & Taking Advantage to Spin a Tale

Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest has finally put out a press release on the wild horse shootings in the Heber Wild Horse Herd.

We think it’s nice that they have finally openly admitted that horses were in-fact shot. They could not do this until they finally had a veterinarian (member of the working group – more below) and a helper (ex-brand inspector) finally do necropsies on the dead horse carcasses on February 1, 2019, when we believe they actually put out the appearance to investigate this matter.

We, on the other hand, could look at the body, the bullet holes in the bodies, including one shot point-blank in the eye and know they had been shot…but you know we watch all the crime shows so we get that until the coroner says the cause of death was a gunshot wound…maybe aliens stole its heart first, then it was shot right?!

Here is what we have learned by the Forest Service Press Release:

  • FS claims 4 more dead horses than even we are aware of.
  • Forest Service says most horses had gunshot wounds but STILL will not say they were killed by a shooter.
  • Forest Service claims one horse died of blunt force trauma, like a vehicle collision…but doesn’t say any such incident was ever reported.
  • Forest Service warns media that they believe the reports they are providing to you are not factual.
  • Forest Service is still trying to appear the victim of us not sharing information we received on our tip line with them.
  • Forest Service is beginning to spin the web of deceit they will use to support the wild horse management plan they are going to put out for public review and comment.

Explanation of what we have learned and why we believe the statements were very craftily written.

  1. FS Claims 4 more horses are dead…when we have dozens of volunteers on the ground, taking shifts and out there every day, how many more might be dead if we did not find 4 of these deceased horses? Also, did FS include the 2 unborn foals in this 16 or are there really 18 dead horses?
  2. The FS after admitting that most of the deceased horses had gunshot wounds still tries to downplay the situation by not openly admitting some person(s) are out there killing wild horses. This has been an issue for years, and the FS not reacting proactively and firmly has also created a situation where many in the community have come to us admitting they purchased horses they knew were removed from the Apache-Sitgreaves but were told they were removed with permission of the FS or that they just thought horses could be removed without permission. 2 people have been named in those illegal thefts of our wild horses.
  3. FS claims one horse died of blunt force trauma, as if a vehicle collision happened, however, fails to state whether or not there was ever a report made about such a collision. It is illegal to have an accident and leave the scene of the accident, so are they looking for another criminal on that charge. Was it really hit in the road or was it too eaten by predators to see gunshot holes, with bullets already in the bellies of predators, body near a road, and take the focus off the shooters firing near a road?
  4. FS asks the local and state media to provide “accurate” information. Are they accusing them of lying? Are they mad because the media has been more helpful and honest to the public than they have?  Is this a threat to be quiet or to only publish the story the FS wants the public to hear?
  5. FS even though we reached out to the local law enforcement agencies and FS dispatch numbers has never made any real attempt to return our calls to retrieve information. Instead, we believe (but do not really know if it was them) they are the ones who called from a blocked phone number and left a message claiming to be an agent of FS LE that we had never heard of and told us to call another tip line to leave sensitive, protected information with whoever answers an 800 number, and to trust that the desk, voicemail or email boxes it goes to will not expose people who gave us information. It would be the most irresponsible thing we could ever do, what if one tip gives someone a clue that identifies them to some secretary, or someone walking by a desk etc. and it puts that person in harm’s way. We would be responsible for that person getting injured or worse. So…because they refused to do their jobs and get back to us (other than one call from a blocked number to leave a voicemail telling us to call an 800 number) we decided to take it to the agency that was next in the chain of command and turned everything over to the Phoenix FBI.

6. FS…and this is the major point of our response…states 12 of 16 horses were found deceased off the wild horse territory. This statement is the precursor to what you will read in the wild horse management plan they will be putting out this year for public review and comment.

When our board member was on the working group who was going to provide recommendations to the FS for the wild horse management plan for the Heber wild horses, we brought up the fact that livestock fences often prevent the horses from using the territory the FS outlined for this herd.

We also brought up the fact that FS has acknowledged in court cases that the herd often went back and forth and co-mingled with horses from the White Mountain Apache Reservation. However, the FS neglected to include the land between the reservation and the beginning of the boundary line they drew on a map for the horses. If the horses went from point A (reservation) to point C (Wild Horse Territory assigned by FS) how did they not cross point B (land in between that was historically used as the migratory route).

In Kleppe v New Mexico it was proven that a wild horse is still a wild horse when it walks off it’s protected area because wherever it roams it is still the property of the United States and the people. So it is IRRELEVANT that it was off the Wild Horse Territory. Perhaps people are chasing them off the territory and then shooting them.

THIS INFORMATION IS IRRELEVANT TO THE SHOOTING OF WILD HORSES. However in order to make claims the horse herd is overpopulated, or wandering off their territory because there are too many horses they are starting to attempt to create this illusion instead of fixing their errors, finding the shooter(s), and fixing the boundary to include all land where wild horses were in 1971 per the federal law, as the area for this herd to be managed on.

If FS is going to attempt to say they are overpopulated, the solution should be safe birth control, not the removal of genetics, or definitely not turning their heads while someone illegally removes or shoot them.

Additionally, we believe that the illegal meetings (per the Sunshine Laws of this nation) are irrelevant and did not meet the Stipulated Agreement of the court order. The same court that issued an injunction which prevents the FS from removing any horse from the Forest. We believe that they will now have to look at the fact that natural causes and these illegal killings have decreased the herd by approximately 12% in one year and they may need to look at increasing the herd size to preserve and protect genetic variability and viability and maintain a thriving herd as is their mandate. This, of course, does not include the numbers of horses that have been stolen or removed illegally from the forest.

Nice try FS but not good enough.

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Forest Service Makes an Anonymous Call to Our Tipline Number

Weeks after asking Forest Service Law Enforcement to call us and retrieve the information we got on our tip line, Forest Service Law Enforcement from a different county calls us, from a blocked number…and then asks us to call a national 800 hotline to give them information!

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Too late we turned it over to the FBI and will let them do your job Forest Service. We don’t even know if it was really you who called and we sure are not going to be so irresponsible as to call some 800 number and give any information that could possibly have some identifying information to expose any person of a community that is under siege by thugs.

 

This was the letter we sent to the FBI and Congressional members O’Halleran and Grijalva in response:

This letter is to inform you all that after having turned over my declaration with all of the information we received on our tip line for people to call about shooting of horses from the Heber Wild horse herd in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, I received a phone call from a blocked number. 

I was not able to take the call and the caller left a voicemail claiming to be Andy Peterson from the Forest Service Law Enforcement…”

“Mr. Peterson, if it was, in fact, him, did not leave a contact number or email for himself but instead left an 800 number for me to call to turn over the tips we have.

This 800 number is the number that the Navajo County Sheriff has posted as their We Tip line, however, we feel that is a very inappropriate suggestion. This information we received is highly sensitive, we do not know who is on the receiving end of the information turned over to that 800 number, and we feel information must be delivered to sworn law enforcement, which is why I provided you at the Phoenix FBI me declaration with all the information we received from those calls.

With the high level of public safety concern and all the illegal activity of not only horse shootings, but shooting near roads and buildings, wild horse theft ring, and possible collusion with the local Forest Service personnel we are again asking that an outside agency is brought in to handle this investigation.

WHY would a Forest Service Law Enforcement person from a different county call me and not Mr. Lopez, the ranger for that are who is the “lead” investigator be calling me, why from a blocked phone number, and why would they refer me to a national tip line?

We also know that 800 number has received no tips per the Navajo County Sheriff Department, and that is a clear indicator to us (after receiving more than 3 dozen tips on ours) that the community does not trust, or is afraid of the local law enforcement. 

There is a bad situation out there and it has got to be stopped. “

AZ Congressman O’Halleran Speaks Up for the Heber Wild Horses

Heber Wild Horses Freedom Preservation Alliance, the Citizens Against Equine Slaughter AZ branch have been in contact with Congressman Grijalva and O’Halleran since the situation escalated in mid-January. The Forest Service was on furlough, the Law enforcement person for that area was said to be investigating even though he was on furlough, and the local Navajo County was referring us to the Forest Service. We were so worried not only about the horses but also for people as these shootings were happening near a major road and buildings.

After the Forest Service refused to return calls from CAES and was not collecting evidence or doing necropsies we felt that the investigation was not really being considered a priority as the shootings in October were still unresolved.

Thankfully Congressman O’Halleran has stepped up to the plate for the Heber wild horses, our public lands, and all of you who own these land and wild horses on them.

2019-02-05

Please use keith.brekhus@mail.house.gov and send a thank you to Congressman O’Halleran!

 

 

Heber Wild Horse Update

Angel makes 12

2/01/2019

KODAK Digital Still Camera

Today, while our crews were on the ground early in the day 2 more of the Heber wild horses, were found dead.

Our ground crew has been taking shifts day and night to watch horses, some who are injured, one in particular with a serious wound, but we could not tell if she would recover, or if she had been shot. Today that mare, a beautiful palomino named Angel by our volunteer crew went down.

As the Forest Service personnel were leaving the scene of the other 2 horses where a veterinarian had performed necropsies, our crew flagged them down to have the veterinarian look at this downed horse we had been watching for several days.

At first Ranger Lopez said they didn’t have time to look at another horse and was insistent on leaving the area. The veterinarian traveling with them said it would only take a moment. So they evaluated the mare and determined she had to be euthanized.

Richard Madril of the Forest Service told one of our ground crew members that the injury to the horse we had observed was, in fact, a gunshot wound.

As we are looking at photos and having some of our own experts assist with their opinions we believe all these horses we have been finding the past 10 days were shot in one killing spree that happened late on January 21st.

As of this report, the national office for CAES has received 35 tips on the activities in the forest and the people we believe to be involved in the killings, and other illegal activities in the forest concerning the herd. We are still encouraging the Forest Service Ranger to call the investigative reporter who works for ActivateNow News, and set-up a tip line at the Citizens Against Equine Slaughter national office, so far he has not made contact to find out what we might know to assist his investigation.

The reward fund for information leading to the arrest of the person(s) has grown to over $5,200 dollars and CAES has a goal to double that and find these killers. If you have any information please call 541.315.6650 And if you want to contribute to the reward fund you can use the donate button on the side of this page, or go to our Citizens Against Equine Slaughter on Facebook and look at the top post where there is a donate button.

Through this tragedy, we have had an outpouring of anger and sadness from the Heber and surrounding communities. People are afraid this will go beyond the killing of animals, and they are afraid of these men. But…you are still speaking out, still standing up and we are proud of you for that and will stay in this battle with you until we have Justice for the Heber Herd.

CAES PUBLIC SAFETY ANNOUNCEMENT

Forest Service and Navajo County Sheriff look the other way while environmental terrorists pick-off our federally protected wild horses in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona & endanger the lives of tourists, local residents, and other endangered and native wildlife.

CAES is very sorry to report that another horse from our beloved Heber Wild Horse Herd has been found dead. The mare was seen alive and healthy just two days ago. As we speak our volunteer ground representatives are on the scene and speaking with Forest Service Ranger Lopez and deputies from the Navajo County Sheriff’s Department.

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This situation has been ongoing since October when 2 stallions were killed, and most recently with the deaths of a mare and foal in early January, another mare and stallion (leaving an unprotected filly weanling on her own) on January 21 and now this mare within the past 2 days.

The situation was complicated by the shutdown so we provided a tip line phone number (541.315.6650) for people to call in anonymously with information that would lead to the arrest of those responsible for these killings. That tipline provided more than 2 dozen tips and when we did not receive return calls from Ranger Lopez and the sheriff’s department was told the case was now in federal jurisdiction we turned to Congressman Raul Grijalva for assistance, we have filed a report with his office and as asked also shared the initial report to the Phoenix FBI. Since then we have received more information, threats to our persons and now another death. However, we will continue to work with the FBI and would work with Ranger Lopez should he care to call us to gather the information we have on this case.

We understand other wild horse advocate groups are interested in what is happening and may have photographed the Heber wild horses, however, the best thing they can do at this time to help is to contribute to the reward fund or contact our office to see what more they can do. Providing any other information may not be accurate or up-to-date, or complete and that could inadvertently damage the work we have put into this thus far.

Our volunteer team has been on the ground, in the courts, and in the working groups for more than 20 years documenting the horses and working hard to protect them. Please give them the respect they deserve to continue to do their work and protect this beloved herd.

The Forest Service has thus far been complacent in resolving this issue and we are hoping that the information we were able to collect, perhaps because the community members were able to call a number that was not a local number or a local person who would put them in danger for speaking out, will now prompt Forest Service to bring the person(s) accountable to justice.

When the Forest Service chose people to be on the working group to develop a management plan for this herd they refused an advocate who knew the forest and the herd but accepted a man who is now making threats against our board member Val Cecama-Hogsett. We believe Forest Service needs to realize that supporting terrorists is not an appropriate management tool.

Joslin Screenshot 2

When people are speaking this way we do not know what they are capable of. We are not saying Mr. Joslin shot these horses or was involved, he was on the working group. However when we have threats like this because we are trying to obtain information about the shootings of our wild horses…we have to worry how safe the public is out there. The recent shootings have happened near roads and near buildings. At this time, unless you have to be in the area, we recommend that you stay out of the forest until the shooter(s) are arrested.

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If you have information or would like to offer assistance please call our national office at 541.315.6650.

We do, and will, work with anyone. However, we do not work with or support those groups who support mass slaughter or euthanasia as population tools. We also believe the horses need to remain wild in the forest and not removed or culled for any reason. We support proactive management with the least human interference possible. Those tools include predators, which have been a large part of the population control of this herd and the use of PZP birth control vaccines.

HAVE YOU SEEN THESE MEN?

IF YOU RECOGNIZE OR HAVE SEEN ANY OF THESE MEN PLEASE CONTACT US.

They may have information about the brutal killings of 2 Heber Wild Horses.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

These three men were seen in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, Arizona on January 21st, 2019 just hours before the horses were shot. We think they may have information that could lead to an arrest. The following pictures were taken of the vehicle and wild horses they were with at that time. They told our ground crew they had stopped to remove a halter from one of the wild horses. This was not the band that was shot but was still in the same territory.

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We believe at least one of the men is from Young, Arizona. He frequents the forest and often is towing this empty horse trailer.

If you have any information on who these gentlemen are please contact our office at 541.315.6650. We can keep your name confidential.

We just want to locate these men to see if they have information on the shootings. Someone has to have information and there is a reward being offered for information that leads to the arrest and prosecution of the person(s) that have killed 6 horses since December in this wild herd.

UPDATE~~Yesterday we reported that an entire family band was massacred however since then we have found one orphaned weanling filly. She is spooked but otherwise doing fine. Our volunteers are checking on her, we have placed cameras in various places throughout the area and we will keep you updated.

If you would like to contribute to the reward fund or our costs as we continue to fight for this herd and others throughout the west please use the button below to do so.

Again…any information on these men, or if you recognize the truck and trailer please contact us.





R.I.P.

These photos are some of the last taken (Jan.21, 2019) of the stallion and mare killed this week. They were taken the day they were shot, just hours before. We are heartbroken.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

KODAK Digital Still Camera

These are the awful photos taken on the following day (Jan 22, 2019)

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Entire Heber Wild Horse Band Killed

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WHILE TYPING THIS STORY WE FOUND OUT THAT THE LAST MARE AND FOAL IN THIS STALLION’S HERD WERE KILLED TOO…

CAES has been working for 2 days on a story of a mare and foal that were found deceased. While we were working on that story the news that this stallion pictured above was shot last night.

The Navajo County Sheriff and Forest Service (FS) Law Enforcement were out there to investigate this stallions death today. They told our team on the ground that they are sending their veterinarian to retrieve the bullets from the deceased animal which was shot twice.

These incidents are similar to the horses shot in October, and the killers were not found nor were the bullets retrieved from those 2 stallions. We know that the body of this stallion is not being left unwatched while awaiting the arrival of the veterinarian. Last time the horses were buried before the FS retrieved any evidence.

The mare and foal found a few weeks ago were not found in time to determine the cause of death, but were found in the same location as this stallion and 4 young coyotes that were shot.

These incidents have occurred right off State Route 260 in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. It is unclear at this time if we have someone shooting from or toward the highway but we caution anyone who is going to be in the area to be very aware of their surroundings. People who have the ability to kill just for the thrill are known to cross over to killing humans as well.

There is a reward offered for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the person(s) responsible. And we would like to remind people that killing a wild horse is a federal crime that carries a penalty of $100,000 per horse and/or one year in jail.

Someone has to know something that will help find these perpetrators. If you have any information please call our tip line at 541.315.6650. Your name can be kept anonymous.

Our deepest thanks to Stacey Sanchez for photo evidence and for staying with the newly deceased stallion while we make sure the bullets are retrieved this time. Photos of the earlier incident or mare, foal and coyote are below.

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Public Comment Period on Scoping Process to Use Helicopters in AZ Forests and Wilderness Areas

This time the Forest Service wants to implement the use of helicopters to terrorize bighorn sheep. Another native species under attack because of the livestock industry’s greed and need to control our public lands!

2019-01-11

Read the plan here:
Preliminary Environmental Assessment for Authorization of Helicopter Landings in Wilderness – Tonto National Forest, Gila, Maricopa, Pinal, and Yavapai Counties, Arizona
https://www.fs.usda.gov/nfs/11558/www/nepa/98402_FSPLT3_2068197.pdf

Scoping Letter sent to CAES:

“Dear Interested Party:

The Tonto National Forest proposes to authorize the use of helicopters by the Arizona Game and Fish Department within the Tonto National Forest, including designated wilderness areas, for the purposes of bighorn sheep management. Helicopters would be used to: capture, release, translocate, monitor populations, and conduct research of bighorn sheep within portions of the Tonto National Forest including the Mazatzal, Hells Gate, Four Peaks, Salt River Canyon, and Superstition Wilderness Areas (Figure 1 ). These wilderness areas occur on some portion of all six of the ranger districts within Maricopa, Gila, Yavapai, and Pinal Counties, Arizona. Helicopter operations would be limited to specific days in the month of November beginning November 2014 through potently November 2024. This action is necessary for the Arizona Game and Fish Department to meet bighorn sheep management objectives.

Background

The Arizona Game and Fish Department’s Statewide Action Plan outlines strategies and
conservation actions aimed at promoting partnerships and coordinating efforts among all who hold a stake in conserving Arizona’s wildlife. While the plan addresses the full array of wildlife and habitats, it focuses on identifying and managing the wildlife and habitats that are in the greatest need of conservation. The Statewide Action Plan lists the desert bighorn sheep ( Ovis canadensis Mexicana) as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need. The Forest Service utilizes a list of management indicator species that serves as a barometer for species viability at the forest level. The Tonto National Forest management indicator species list includes desert bighorn sheep.

Bighorn sheep are recognized as an important wildlife resource in Arizona and throughout the rest of their natural range. Establishing and maintaining healthy populations of all subspecies of bighorn sheep is one of the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s statewide bighorn sheep management objectives. To meet those objectives, the Arizona Game and Fish Department depends on gathering information on habitat use and vital rates that determine population dynamics through the placement of very high frequency and global positioning system (GPS) collars on individual sheep, as well as augmenting populations of bighorn sheep and introducing animals into currently unoccupied po1iions of their historic range. These actions may require the use of helicopters in capturing and transport efforts because of steep terrain, extreme seasonal temperatures, and remote locations. On the Tonto National Forest, a substantial po1iion of the bighorn sheep populations occur within designated wilderness areas not accessible by road.

Purpose and Need

The purpose of this project is for the Forest Service to work with the Arizona Game and Fish Department to meet the management objectives for bighorn sheep within the Tonto National Forest. There is a need for the Forest Service to work with the Arizona Game and Fish Department to assist with research and monitoring needs for a Forest level management indicator species as stipulated in the 1985 Tonto National Forest Plan.

Proposed Action

The proposed action for this project only relates to activities occurring within the Tonto National Forest, specifically the Mazatzal, Hells Gate, Four Peaks, Salt River Canyon, and Superstition Wilderness Areas. The Wilderness Act of 1964 prohibits the use of motorized vehicles, motorized equipment, and mechanical transport. Congress acknowledged that there are times when exceptions are allowed to meet the minimum required administration of wilderness areas.

The Tonto National Forest proposes to permit the use of helicopters in designated wilderness areas as identified to further the efforts of bighorn sheep management and research by the Arizona Game and Fish Department. The Arizona Game and Fish Department personnel and authorized contract helicopter personnel would operate and manage all helicopter use for this project. Beginning in November 2014, 20 to 40 bighorn sheep would be captured within the project area; some of which would be fitted with
radio collars and released on site while others would be translocated to the appropriate sites, potentially within state or federal lands. Each November thereafter for up to ten years, capture operations and translocations may occur depending on management needs and population status. Helicopters would be used to safely and quickly access bighorn sheep mortalities and determine locations for capture and subsequent translocation.

The proposed action, more specifically, would involve:

• The use of helicopters in the four wilderness areas to capture bighorn sheep using hand-held net guns. Radio collars would be placed on the sheep or replaced if the collars were non-operational, and the sheep would be released on site. Specifically, these activities would be:

  • Proposed to occur over a 1-3 day period with multiple flights and use of two
    helicopters.
  • Proposed for the month of November during weekdays when public recreation
    use is anticipated to be minimal.
  • Based on expected need of7-1 0 sheep captures, there may be 10-20 landings
    during the 1-3 day period. This may occur annually over the next four years.
  • During landings, the minimal ground disturbance would occur; no or minimal
    disturbance to vegetation, including trees and cactus would occur, as these are
    hazards for safe helicopter operations.

• The use of helicopters in wilderness areas to capture bighorn sheep using hand-held net guns. These sheep will be trans-located to approved areas. Specifically, these activities
would be:

  • Proposed to occur over 1-3 day period with multiple flights and up to two
    helicopters
  • Proposed for the month of November during weekdays when public recreation
    use is anticipated to be minimal.
  • Based on the expected need of 30 sheep captured during the first year, there may be 20-
    30 landings (including long-line operations for extraction) during the 1-3 day
    capture period. This may occur annually over the next four years.
  • During landings, the minimal ground disturbance would occur; no or minimal
    disturbance to vegetation, including trees and cactus would occur, as these are
    hazards for safe helicopter operations

Nature of Decision to Be Made

The Tonto National Forest Supervisor is the responsible official and would decide whether to authorize the use of helicopters by the Arizona Game and Fish Department within the Tonto National Forest, including within designated wilderness areas, for the purposes of bighorn sheep management objectives.

The decision would be based on a consideration of the environmental effects of implementing the proposed action or alternatives developed in response to significant issues. The Forest Supervisor may select the proposed action, an alternative analyzed in detail, or a modified proposed action or alternative within the project’s range of alternatives.

Scoping Process

It is important for reviewers to provide their comments at such times and in such manner that they are useful to the agency’s preparation of the environmental assessment. Therefore, comments should be provided prior to the close of the comment period and should clearly articulate the reviewer’s concerns and contentions.

Comments received in response to this solicitation, including names and addresses of those who comment, will become part of the public record for this proposed action. Comments submitted anonymously will be accepted and considered; however, anonymous comments will not provide the Agency with the ability to provide the respondent with subsequent environmental documents.

Scoping Input Needed

To aid in the identification of issues and the development of alternatives, comments need to be received 30 days after the notice in the paper of record, Arizona Capitol Times. When a party submits comments, please keep them specific to this proposal only. Comments which are not specific to the project and project area would be deemed outside the scope of the analysis and would not be considered. If you are including references, citations, or additional information to be considered for this project, please specify exactly how the material relates to the project. Also, indicate exactly what part of the material you would like us to consider (such as the page or figure number).

Send written comments to:
Neil Bosworth, Forest Supervisor
Attn: Bighorn Sheep Population Management Project
23 24 E. McDowell Road
Phoenix, AZ, 85006.

Comments may also be sent via e-mail to comments-southwestern-tonto(@[s.fed.us or via facsimile to 602-225-5302.

For further information, contact Nate Yorgason, Acting Tonto National Forest Wildlife
Biologist, at 602-225-5213.

Individuals who use telecommunication devices for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal
Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 1- 800- 877- 8339 between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., Eastern Time, Monday through Friday”

READ MORE BELOW:
Preliminary Environmental Assessment for Authorization of Helicopter Landings in Wilderness – Tonto National Forest, Gila, Maricopa, Pinal, and Yavapai Counties, Arizona

https://www.fs.usda.gov/nfs/11558/www/nepa/98402_FSPLT3_2068197.pdf

A virtual webinar hosted by Arizona Game and Fish Department will take place in January or February 2019 to address questions about this project.  If you would like to be added to the mailing list for this event, please submit an email to comments-southwestern-tonto@fs.fed.us, Subject: Bighorn Sheep Webinar.