Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Fall Updates

It has been a while! A lot did not happen over the summer as far as my thesis research. Did not expect to hear that, did you? Well, I got a job on the Yakima Training Center conducting vegetation monitoring for Stell Environmental, who has a contract with the YTC. Between working out in the field full time and keeping up with my little munchkin, collecting data on my study site took the back burner and got burnt. But no worries. I did collect what I could last week and will add to it next spring through summer. So what if I am a third year graduate student?

Concerning that data I collected...I had six 30-meter (50-meter is ideal but my measuring tape was short 20 meters) transects within an approximately 20-acre exclosure. This area is prime sage-grouse nesting and brood rearing habitat in a riparian area. In the past, cattle grazing has degraded it to bare ground. The wind farm is reducing grazing utilization and also fencing off important areas to improve habitat. See, the important thing about this habitat is it is a part of a plan to try and reconnect the sage-grouse populations on the YTC with populations in Douglas County. Therefore, my study will assist in this endeavor.

With my time limitations, the data I collected occurred the week the cows were taken off the alottment, which means that grazing occurred all summer by the time I got to running my transects and collecting vegetation data. Along with the six inside the fenced area, I also had four transects at random places outside the exclosure so I can make a comparison of grazed vs. ungrazed.  Next year, I will get a 50-meter tape.  More data is always better!  Next  year will also show me how this area will recover after grazing.  According to the local rangeland guru, next year is a rest rotation so I will be able to study the site in the absence of grazing.

That is where I stand as of now.  This quarter I will start writing my literature review for the thesis.  I will continue to talk to knowledgeable people about my study area and hopefully find ways to get involved with local Coordinated Resource Management (CRM) groups.

Despite having to change my study, I still hold a lot of interest for free-roaming horses and continue to keep abreast the news about what's going on.  Learning more about cattle grazing has given me a new light on horse grazing -- more knowledge all around to discuss those highly emotional and volatile issues.  So feel free to chat with me about either topic and just try and shut me up!

Looking west across a grazed portion into the exclosure. 
Sage Grouse need adequate grass cover and shrubs for nesting
and forbs for broodrearing.

This area of on Whiskey Dick Mountain is called The Pines.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Pines Sage-Grouse Habitat

Finally.  I am at a computer with internet and have time to write an update concerning my thesis research.  A month ago, I learned that I did not recieve funding for graduate research.  I would have been hard pressed to come up with money on  my own to travel to Oregon where I wanted to do my research on the effects of horse grazing to sage-grouse habitat.  The past few weeks have been hectic as I have tried to pull together a new study. 

My new thesis research will entail studying cattle grazing on the Wild Horse Wind Farm.  They have set aside an area identified by Mike Schroeder from Washington Fish and Wildlife as prime sage-grouse nesting and brood rearing habitat.  Grazing is not to occur in this area.  However, due to fencing issues, the cows were inside the fence today. Hopefully, the fencing problem will get solved in the next week so I can make the comparison by September between grazed and ungrazed.  I also plan to visit the site next spring and see how a year of no grazing has benefited the habitat for sage-grouse.

While my study no longer involves horses, it does involve something I am still passionate about.  Range and habitat management.  Although I am bummed that I was not able to do my study in Oregon on the Riddle Mountain HMA, I am glad my funding did not come through.  I never heard back about getting my study sites set up and now the Kigers were gathered earlier than scheduled.  At least now, my study is local and more manageable.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Shifting Directions..

Wow.  What a day.  Last day of course work for the quarter (still have TA work).  I had a presentation this morning.  Saige was up crying last night.  She went through three changes of clothes this morning all while I was trying to prepare myself for the presentation.  I have been sick for the past week and a half.  Stressed.  Tired.  Sick.  But, I have completed my first year of graduate school.

Incoming....bad news to add to my day.  Due to the holes that were in my methods section (which I have now resolved, but to no avail), my proposal was not funded for research this summer.  What does this mean?  It means that I cannot afford, working minimum wage, to drive to Oregon where my original study site was to be located.

What am I going to do now?

Well, something local.  This means that my thesis may no longer pertain to free-roaming horses.  My fall back is hopefully to do something with livestock grazing in Kittitas County.  Or, there's the possibility I could do something with Yakama horses that have strayed off reservation land.  With any luck, I'll be able to turn around a new proposal and start research/data gathering within the next couple weeks....

Not to worry, my interest will always be with wild horses even if my research takes me elsewhere.  Though, I must admit, I have been rather burned out on the topic the last few months.

Stay tuned for what my future research might entail....

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Poster Presentation

SOURCE, the Symposium of University Research and Expression, was a success!  I fumbled at first with the first few people, but by the end of the two hours, I was babbling away about my project proposal.  Too bad those judges don't wait until the last half hour to come grill you about your poster.  All in all, I think I did well enough. 

You can see more about my poster HERE in a previous post.

And, since my vision is awful right now (oncoming headache), it's time to go relax on the couch with the Saige-monster!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Analyzing horses as cultural resources

William Lipe
describes four ways in which cultural resources are valued in his essay Value and Meaning in Cultural Resources.  He details that some cultural resources have associative/symbolic value that provides a superior understanding of the past that written or oral history cannot match.  Through these resources, such olden days can become tangible.  They are symbols of a time passed we can only imagine.  They also have informational value.  Inferences about the past can be obtained, studied, and appreciated - though mostly by researchers.  The aesthetic value of cultural resources depends on the observer.  It is influenced by their culture as they view the resource.  One person may see the value of an old farmhouse, while another may not.  Lastly, many cultural resources have an economic value.  This is a difficult one because for many resources it is near impossible to place a dollar sign.  This value often clashes with the symbolic, aesthetic, and informational values.  But, how much people are willing to spend on a resource is indicative of its economic value.

Of these four value areas, symbolic value is best matched with my resource management interests dealing with rangelands and wild horses.  Free-roaming horses are viewed by many as a symbol of freedom and the American West.  They are stated as a “living legend” in the 1971 Wild Free-roaming Horses and Buros Act.  As untamed and unbridled creatures on western ranges of the Great Basin, wild horses are a cultural resource with aesthetic importance for their strength and beauty.  They are also a cultural resource with symbolic value through a tangible link to a western, pioneering past from which they have survived.  They are a physical representation of a piece of American history. 

The Wild Free-roaming Horses and Burros Act protects the existence of all unbranded horses on federally owned lands by putting their management into the hands of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).. With horses being such an important resource to many people, the BLM must preserve them in their historic landscape while also permitting other uses of the land.   With conflicting interests in cattle grazing and mining leases, collaboration must occur on some level between the agency and interested stakeholders.

The potential area for collaboration with preserving these symbols can occur within all of these values.  From the agency’s management of this cultural resource, preservation of the horse’s symbolic value can be maintained through the economic values of the land.  Money obtained from cattle leases are used to repair degraded ranges, control invasive weeds, and re-vegetate.  This provides for a healthier ecosystem where the horses live and can thrive.  The symbolic value of horses is also maintained through aesthetic values.  The agency works to manage and preserve the landscape for recreation purposes.  Therefore, the horses can be viewed in the context of an authentic past, where informational value can also come into play.  The BLM is in charge of the Wild Horse and Burro program, which enhances the history of wild horses associated with western settlement.  The wild horse as symbol of the American West is promoted through the informational value they carry with them.  When horses are removed from the range to maintain populations, they can be adopted by citizens.  These owners then own a “living legend” and a piece of history.

Though it would seem the symbolic value of these horses can be well maintained by collaboration between the BLM and stakeholders, it is unfortunate that conflict is more likely to occur.  Advocates fear that this symbol of the American West is being managed to extinction through periodic removals meant to maintain populations.  Where mining and economic uses of rangelands for cattle grazing clash with wild horses, it is clear that more collaboration is required on both sides to preserve wild horses in a landscape also needed for economic means.

Monday, April 11, 2011

SOURCE Presentation 2011

All right.  So I convinced myself to sign myself up to present my thesis research proposal at the The Symposium on University Research and Creative Expression (SOURCE).  I am going to present a poster presentation this year.  Next year, I hope to give a talk about my research and the data I aim to collect this summer.  But, I am keeping it simple this year.  

The first time I did this was in 2008.  My poster and work earned me an outstanding poster award.  (You have to scroll down a bit under Outstanding Posters).  In creating that poster, I studied two aerial photographs from two different times (2000 and 2005 I believe) looking at the Kiger HMA.  I learned from the Range Specialist at the Burns district which areas were strictly horse-use only.  From this, I determined that horse impacts could be seen from aerial photographs and monitored.

My 2008 abstract
"In 1971, the Free-Roaming Wild Horse and Burro act was passed into law, requiring these
animals to be protected (from harassment, branding, capture, or death), managed, and
controlled on public lands. Further, as declared by Congress, the act viewed them as living
symbols of the historic and pioneering spirit of the West. It placed their care into the hands of
federal agencies, like the Bureau of Land Management. However, though there had been a
decline in wild horse numbers previous to the passage of the act, their protection saw a rapid
rise in their population on the rangelands of the United States. This has implications for the
health of the wild horse herds, as well as the health of the rangeland that they share with other
wild and domestic ungulates. This project is an examination of how aerial photography and its
interpretation might be used to identify horse grazing impacts on the landscape."

This year, the poster will exhibit some background on my research subjects and what my proposed research this summer will entail.
2011 Abstract
Grass height and certain shrubs, especially sage-brush, are important to maintaining viable populations of greater sage-grouse.  Grazing is hypothesized to impact sage-grouse by reducing the height of herbaceous cover. This would have an impact on important sage-grouse breeding sites and the success of concealing nests from predators.  This research will test this hypothesis.  Free-roaming horses, which are herbivores minimally managed on federal lands, may have significant impact to perennial grasses as the graze.  Using exclosures, vegetation canopy surveys and utilization measurements this study will determine the amount of perennial grass height removed by free-roaming horses on sage-grouse leks in southeastern Oregon on the Riddle Mountain Herd Management Area.  The impact of free-roaming horses on sage-grouse habitat will be determined.

I look forward to being a part of this university gathering and sharing of knowledge from across campus.  As always, I hope to inform people about my topic.  

After earning an award last time, I feel as though the pressure is on to do even better this year...

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Short 'n Sweet Research Proposal

This is the short and sweet version of my research proposal.  I cannot believe that my first trip down there to locate study areas will be next month!  I still have so much to do...  take the truck in to a mechanic, buy a canopy (to sleep under in the back of my truck), install the CB, pick up a spare tire, check the brakes....yikes!

If you have any interest in the full document, let me know and I can email it to you.  Would love to have as many eyes on this as possible.  The same people have been editing it for three months now and I think they've gotten tired of reading it!  (So don't be afraid to point out mistakes, or anything that doesn't make sense, etc).

Effects of feral horse grazing on greater sage-grouse nesting habitat in southeastern, Oregon

Grass height and shrubs, especially sage-brush, are important to the greater sage-grouse habitat.  Grazing is hypothesized to impact sage-grouse populations by reducing the height of herbaceous cover. This would have an impact on important sage-grouse breeding sites and the successfulness of their nests.  This proposed research will test this hypothesis.  Using exclosures and vegetation canopy surveys, this study will determine the amount of herbivory by horses on sage-grouse leks in southeastern, Oregon on the Riddle Mountain Herd Management Area.  It will be concluded how much impact horse grazing has on sage-grouse nesting habitat.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Peace in Solitude

Saige and I went out into the shrub-steppe yesterday.  I'm always amazed at the silence out there.  Once I turn off the rumble of the truck and step out into the crisp air, my ears are delightfully met with the sounds of ... nature.  It must have looked like I was praying in church as I stood out there with my eyes closed.  I let the sun shine down on me as I absorbed the sounds of the wind rushing over the grassy hillsides, listened to the bird's sing (a seemingly common bird I cannot identify),  and breathed in the smell of sage, of horses, of spring.  It is no wonder that I did not want to turn around as the sun began to slip lower in the sky.

This land makes my heart go pitter-patter!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Public land policy and wild horses

I’m going to delve a little into policy here...

Due to the public outcry concerning the treatment of free-roaming horses, Congress declared that they were fast disappearing from the western landscape.  As a result, they enacted the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act (hereafter referred to as Wild Horse Act).  It placed their care under the Secretary of the Department of Interior to be managed on public lands by the Bureau of Land Management, which at the time knew nothing about how many horses there were or how to manage them.   They would learn on the fly though as the Act states that the horses shall be managed as an “integral part of the natural system of the public lands.”  The Secretary is also to manage these animals in “a manner designed to achieve and maintain a thriving ecological balance on public lands,” to consult with state wildlife agency, and to take into consideration wildlife needs, particularly those that are endangered.  This means that excess animals (horses and burros) are to be removed to maintain said “ecological balance,” pursuant to the Wild Horse Act.  Again, the Secretary shall capture excess horses.  It is mandatory. It is declared by Congress.

…If Congress only knew what a mess the consequences of this policy would be over the next forty years.  Ranchers have filed for “takes” when horses wander onto private property and cause damages.  Activists have continually cried out for the “rights” of horses and hailed the BLM capture methods “inhumane.”

Also mixed in with the Wild Horse Act and management of horses on public lands is the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA).  Among other purposes (readers can read others on their own if interested), Congress declared that management of this policy is to be “on the basis of multiple use and sustained yield” §102(7); to promptly create “regulations and plans for the protection of public land areas of critical environmental concern” FLPMA §102(11); and to be managed in a way that recognizes the Nation’s needs for “sources of minerals, food, timber, and fiber from the public lands” FLPMA §102(12).  Now, horse management must be managed in accordance with the other uses intended for public lands to serve our Nation.  Among these uses is livestock grazing with its own section in the FLPMA (Range Management §401).  And as declared with the Taylor Grazing Act long before it in 1936, the FLPMA gives power to the Secretary to issue livestock grazing permits and leases on ten year cycles.  This was occurring long before the wild horses became protected under the Wild Horse Act.  Therefore, to maintain an “ecological balance,” horse management is constrained by multiple-use, wildlife, and other uses of public lands.  Contrary to many beliefs, the horses are not entitled to any land.  No, they must share it and indeed the BLM must - or rather shall - manage them to coexist with the other uses.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Wild Horses: Best Birthday Ever

I woke up this morning dreading my birthday. It was just to be another start to the weekend spent in my apartment studying and listening to Saige whine because I had to put my nose in a book or stare glossy-eyed at the computer screen. However, after I administered a healthy dose of my morning stimulant (coffee, of course), I got to moving. I planned to run errands (groceries and see Jiggs), come home, put Saige down for a nap, and be productive. This lovely schedule was not to be. I got as far as one block, with the beautiful sun shining down on the hills surrounding Kittitas Valley, before I turned around and ran back for my camera.

In a spontaneous decision that I am so glad I made, Saige and I decided to go see free-roaming horses!

In Yakima, I picked up a friend and hit HWY 97, eager and my heart doing excited flutters in my anticipation. It was not too far south of Toppenish when we saw our first glimpse of some ponies on the hillsides. Folks have not been kidding around that they are…right there! I remember driving this same route to Goldendale all the time six years ago and I never saw these horses. Today, they are not to be missed. They grazed the hills in plain view of the two-lane highway below, where semi’s and cars whiz by.

We took several of the dirt roads down to the right. First thing I noticed was that there was no mistaking what was the dominant wildlife in the area: horses. Their tracks and defecation were everywhere. I could not believe the amount of stud piles seen within view of the road, or on the road! The grazing was limited and shrubs aplenty. Speaking from what knowledge I know, overgrazing causes an increase in woody vegetation, and there was certainly not a lack of sagebrush. We did not see any horses on our first dirt road jaunt, but did see a strewn skeleton that was very well bleached and picked clean.  It was not really a bad thing.  It is the natural ebb and flow of life.

Saige following her Auntie Megan

We had more luck on the next road I turned down. Since the first road followed water, and horses tend to drink at dawn or dusk, I made sure this road went up. Sure enough, we caught our first close look at a buckskin stallion and his bay mare. I took several pictures of the two of them before they skirted down the hillside. These horses are very skiddish. If I am to catch any decent photographs of them, or the Kigers this summer, I will need a better lens.

Bay mare and her hunky buckskin

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Procrastination by planning my summer research

I think I am fast running out of steam.  There is only one week left until finals and I cannot focus.  It feels like I am so overwhelmed I do not know where to start.  Poster?  Proposal edits?  Study for exam? Prepare for a presentation?  Or….stare into the abyss and think about my summer research!

 I had hoped to go down to Oregon over spring break so I could see the sage-grouse males doing their dance to entice hens, but alas, my funds are nearly depleted.  In addition, before I make any lengthy road trips with my truck, I want it looked over by one of my mechanically inclined male friends or a mechanic at a shop.  I sure would hate to break down somewhere in those many places where it seems you are the sole occupant of the world… and my phone has no service.  (I do plan to get my CB installed for just such an instance however.)

One thing that pumps me up is thinking about next quarter.  If all is approved, I am only taking one lecture based course: Resource Analysis, and then Field Methods.  Now, Field Methods will comprise of some local work (hopefully) in the areas surrounding Ellensburg to familiarize myself with vegetation and ground survey methods to take with me to Oregon.  This independent course is a chance to earn credit for the work I am doing in May to set up exclosures, with the assistance of the Burns District. I will also collect some initial vegetation and ground survey data.  And, of course familiarize myself with the beautiful landscape. I hope to hike around and catch a glimpse of some Kigers!

My proposal and plans for this summer are coming together nicely.  Now, if I can only make it through the next two weeks…

(Enjoy the sage-grouse display below!)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

BLM budget cut: opinion

Some people might be celebrating at the news of budget cuts to the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse program.  Though the cut is just a drop in the bucket -- two million compared to billions that are cut from other programs -- Dan Burton says that he hopes it will force the BLM to “treat the mustangs in a humane way.” 

Critics say that program costs have been increasing.  Instead of using this rise in costs to fix the management problem, the BLM continues to round up horses off the range and add to the cost of long term holding.  According to this article, 40,000 are held in holding off the range, while only 30,000 are left in their “natural habitat.”  Since the horses have been protected since 1971, these increasing numbers of captured horses versus free-roaming horses are a reason for many concerns.

What is the BLM to do if this cut is approved?

Increase allocation to horses while decreasing livestock grazing permits?  Allow the horses to populate on the delicate semi-arid and arid ecosystems?  Reinstate the provision allowing the Secretary to destroy: (1) old, sick, or lame animals; (2) excess horses and burros for which an adoption demand does not exist in order to cut funding of long term holding? 

Two million dollars does not seem like much, but I have heard through the grapevine various people express their concerns that it may have an impact on horse gathers and horse management overall.  I refer back to something I read recently in Federal Public Lands and Resources Law by Coggins, Wilkinson, & Leshy.  Upholding the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act has not been a pretty story and has often been condemned as the product of “mindless emotionalism.”  Horse management appears to be continuing on this difficult tract led by public outcry and concern for this feral species. If it was any other animal than a horse, management would be eradicating them, not continuing to protect them. 

This rather cynical opinion (or at least it feels that way to me) may be due to my sleep deprived state (who told me grad school was a great idea?), but it still irks me that outcry, driven purely by emotions and not fact, or seemingly any ounce of reason, has such a strong power over our government.  If funding is to be cut, it should be based purely on well-thought economic decisions of necessity or science proving that horse populations are at appropriate numbers and gathers not needed for many herds.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Horse deaths at Indian Lakes road holding facility

I read an RT Fitch post this morning written by Maureen Harmonay, Equine Advocacy Examiner. It was stated that horses were dying at the Indian Lakes Road holding Facility near Fallon, Nevada as a result of secondary pneumonia. Mostly in the younger horses. This has been a common problem at this facility for the past year, according to what Harmonay found.

Another problem has been hyperlipemia, which Harmonay states is caused by the BLMs gather operations.

In a repeat of the pattern that emerged at the same facility after last year’s Calico Complex roundup, other horses are starting to die or be “euthanized” as a result of what the BLM’s veterinarian characterizes as “hyperlipemia,” a condition of metabolic and liver failure caused by the extreme stress of the helicopter chase, entrapment, and ongoing captivity.   Four of the horses who died at Indian Lakes Road in recent weeks were deemed to have perished from this roundup-related condition.
Now, I am not going to argue that this disease might have been brought on by the stress of gathers.  But, following the link that was provided it states "Poor feed quality or decrease in feed intake....Onset of disease is associated with stress, decreased feed intake, fat mobilization and deposition in the liver, and overproduction of triglycerides, which may be precipitated by insulin resistance."  I find, following the link that they even provided, Harmonay has left out something that might have been a major contributor to why these horses fell ill.  Decreased feed intake.

Why is it these activists never step back and look for underlying causes?  It was probably brought on by the gather operations, yes, but why?  The Calico horses were rated as a 2 or 3 on the Henneke score.  Gather operations for the Antelope Complex have rated most of the horses so far as 3, some 4s and some 5s.  But most of what I see here are rated fairly low.  So, underlying cause for the reason these horses are getting sick?  Decreased feed intake as forage became scarce this winter?  Maybe? 

Searching some more, I have found the Indian Lakes Report from February 13, 2010, which even stated that death of horses last year was caused by "re-feeding" syndrome. Based on the report, they started a plan that got the horses re-fed in a way that would prevent hyperlipemia by introducing grass hay first and then in a few weeks slowly adding something that would put weight on them: alfalfa.

Might this be the same thing that is happening now along with the pneumonia cases?  This is the report for this year.  There have been quite a few deaths due to respiratory infections and hyperlipemia.

Again, why do activists automatically start blaming gather operations for deaths?  What about the underlying causes that bring on these diseases?  Aren't these causes the reason the BLM rounds up the horses in the first place?  Poor body condition?  Little forage?  If activists want to do some good for these horses, they should take a step back and analyze the whole picture, and then rather than being critical, provide assistance to help these horses.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Horse v. Cow

There are a lot of controversies surrounding cattle grazing on public lands.  There seems to be even more controversy and upset when horses are brought into the debate.  This is compounded when the activists are involved who strive to protect the free-roaming horses’ right to exist without federal intervention.  Wild horse activists are angered by the high numbers of cattle in comparison to horses.  Appropriate management levels for herd management areas should be increased, while numbers of cattle on the range should be decreased.  These are some common arguments I hear when there is upset surrounding horse gathers.  I am writing this to provide some data that might give some insight as to why more cattle can graze in an area than horses.

Monday, February 7, 2011

$23 Million to protect sage-grouse habitat

Feds Announce $23M to protect sage grouse habitat

I was pretty excited to see this.  While environmentalists and wildlife people are fighting to list the sage grouse on the Endangered Species List, the federal government is doing what it can to prevent them from having to be listed.  They are providing twenty-three million dollars to buy up developmental rights on ranches and farms on nearly 50,000 acres in Wyoming, Montana, and Colorado.  By trying to prevent them from being listed, activities on public lands may be restricted.  I imagine this has a lot to do with recreation, grazing rotations, and, I also imagine, wild horses.  Like cattle are kept from being in leks during breeding season, somehow horse use should also be minimized.  I read this in the Oregon Sage-grouse strategy plan.  Besides stating that cows should not be turned on on areas with breeding sites until after breeding season, Oregon FWS also suggested that agencies must make sure that horse numbers are not over appropriate management levels if there are sage-grouse leks in the herd management area.

It is exciting to see conservation efforts made to preserve not only the sage-grouse, but also the habitat they depend on.  In a way, so do I and I don't ever want to see it disappear or be damaged by development, overgrazing, or too much mining.

                 As you might notice with this map, sage-grouse habitat closely resembles public lands.
                           The patch they are conserving will preserve a corridor from Colorado up to Alberta and Saskatchewan

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Windy Walk

Saige and I went for a windy walk today. The sun had come out this afternoon, but the wind whipping down off the Cascades was cold! Therefore, our walk was short lived. Saige did enjoy stomping around in her new Georgia Romeo's, size 5. I guess it's normal, but must she keep growing?  Because I must note here, she is not wearing a diaper, neither cloth nor disposable!

While following Saige (I decided today that it is much like walking a dog, only children don't mind as well), I observed the sky and attempted some cloud pictures.  It was very hard to avoid buildings.  I wanted to hop in my truck and get out of town to continue my photo shoot, but did the best I could.

Also, while we were out and about, I had to take a picture of the new truck/old truck:  You tell me, which one do you like better!?  Haha

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Erroneous report to defund BLM round-ups?

I will do anything to not do homework, apparently.

 Report to Congress....Request to Defund Roundups

I just scanned through this report to congress to defund the BLM round ups. I did not do an in-depth view of it, but did notice their numbers seemed a little off. How did they come up with a number that is over 10,000 fewer than what the BLM says? If they are relying on counts by Craig Downer, based on his methods, which I couldn't replicate with the amount of information he provided, he could easily have missed horses. 

Other studies to count horses have been done before. The author of Dances with Wolves, Michael Blake, was so sure the BLM was wrong. He and the Public Lands Resource Council, who had little experience with aerial counting of large mammals, decided to do their own count. But they had no idea what they were doing and grossly undercounted the horse population. In his methods, which are supposed to be detailed enough that someone else can replicate the same study, Downer did not mention what airplane he used, but he referred to it as a "two-seater."  Is this a helicopter or fixed wing aircraft?   Fixed wing aircraft lead to inaccurate counts.  He does refer to it as a plane....Downer also did not mention anything about his counting method other than the camera, video recording, and transects.  Double-counting is how the BLM makes sure they can get as accurate a number as they can.

Besides their wacky numbers, which seem as erroneous to me as they state the BLM's numbers are, their sources are not credible. Therefore, when I saw their reference list, I wanted to toss the whole report. They relied on blog posts, internet websites, BLM data off their websites, a few personal communication with the Cloud Foundation (a highly reputable source!) and a conservation zoo place. Oh, and one - I repeat ONE - peer reviewed journal article on genetics. These were the sorts of references they used to support their argument. I saw no interviews with BLM personal. Seems like talking to some of these people who run the program would be a good start to hear from their mouths what the numbers are. Rather, they slunk around on websites to pull their data.

Well, I won't get too much more critical, especially since I haven't been able to do an in-depth look at it. But based on a glance...

Has anyone else seen this and have any thoughts? Do I have it all wrong?

Summer Research

I am so excited about my summer plans!

I have been in contact this week with Bill Anderson via email. He is so good about answering my array of questions. In a rough estimation, I will be down on Riddle Mountain in June to get some surveys and collect data before cows are turned out. This will be my horse-only study. Likely, the BLM will assist me in setting up enclosures, so I can look at a spot without grazing also. Then in July, after the cows have been turned out, I can survey impacts of cow grazing in enclosures, horse and cow grazing together, and no grazing. August or September will be a repeat of July's study. I am hoping if I still have funding left, to go back in after the horses are gathered and the cows have been removed to do another survey set. But, that may not work since by then vegetation probably won't be growing as much. *stores for future question*

In any case, I am excited for this summer and a bit worried as I scavenge for funding.

Hoping on adoption

My dad called me this morning asking if I knew anyone with a stock trailer. He is hoping to pick up a second job and start saving to adopt a Kiger mustang this fall. His adopted his last Kiger, a magnificent 8 year old stud, at Lynden, Washington when the Adopt-a-horse program was making its rounds. This was in May of 2005. My dad loved that horse. I remember that he would sit for hours down in the shelter while Kody ate. Since my dad had never handled a wild horse before, gentling was a slow process. I think there were times when he got very frustrated because of it.

My parents hired a trainer to come out, but his methods were old and cruel. They consisted of roping Kody and trying to overcome him with force. Needless to say, that did not work, and I believe it set my dad back a few weeks. They finally hired another trainer, someone well-known, but I can't remember his name. All I remember was that my mom wished I'd been there, because he was cute! He did much better with Kody, and helped my dad get on track. By 2008 (and maybe earlier, since I wasn't living at home it's hard to keep track of Kody's timeline) my dad was able to pet him, brush him, somewhat lead him, and pick up his feet. This older wild horse, which had even kicked me at one time, was just the most lovable thing. He loved attention and had the kindest eye.

Unfortunately, my parents fell on hard times. Being a truck driver, it's hard for my dad to always have consistent work. Therefore, in 2009 dad gave Kody away to a Kiger breeder. I think she bred him a couple times, and according to dad, sold him to someone in Eastern Washington. I'm sure has made a great horse for whoever has him!

Now, dad is hoping to pick up another Kiger this fall to give it another try. He regrets giving Kody away. At least now he will know what to expect in gentling a wild horse. He is looking forward to the unbreakable bond that can be made. I am excited for him. I hope he can go through with it. I cannot adopt one myself at this time, but it would be great for me to be able to learn through my dad more about the process.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Mare at Antelope Roundup

“The care, well-being, and humane treatment of America’s wild horses, both on and off the range, are the highest priority for the BLM. The BLM is aware of the video taken on Jan. 27, 2011, during the Antelope Complex gather of the mare that slipped and fell in the snow. The BLM is conducting an internal review of the incident, and will make the information available to the public once that review has been completed.” ~BLM Nevada
I am interested to see the review.  As I have watched the video twice, I did not notice that the pilot did anything wrong.  He was far back the entire time.  The horses were loping or trotting.  It was when they released the Judas horse that the band lumped together, made a sharp turn, and then the mare slipped on the snow.  The pilot did not torture her or buzz her or hound her to get up and get a move on.  She is breathing normal and appears to be calm. Then she finds her footing, gets up, and lopes down the hill.  It is at this time that the pilot attempted twice to turn her into the trap site where she loped some and trotted some, but she refused to be herded in.  He let her go.  I do not know what happened after that or if she was let free for the day to be rounded up later, but either way, the helicopter pilot released the pressure when he saw she was not going to go in where he wanted her.  That is my take on the occurrence.  Here is the video for you to make your own determination.  These of course are just my opinions.
AR's take any footage they can of horses falling and blow it out of proportion to look like animal cruelty.  In another clip a horse slipped and you can hear in the background people gasping at the audacity of it.  Their antics are unforgiving, thoughtless, and single-minded.  They are as cruel as they believe the BLM to be.  They jump at any attempt to make the them look bad when rounding up the horses.  
What gets me, is if the BLM did not round them up, they would later be charging the BLM again with footage of starving horses and dusty ranges.  Either that, or they would blame the cows like they do day in and day out.  What they refuse to realize is that cows are managed and controlled.  Even if every last cow was removed from the range and the horses were allowed all of it, within a decade there would be mass starvation die-offs and the range would be bare.  
I am using the Yakama Reservation as an example.  They have not had much cattle grazing on their ranges in many years.  The horses population has exploded to 12,000 and there are accounts of areas where it has been so overgrazed that forage is not growing back. That can be expected to happen if Animal Rights' activists get their way with wild horse management.
At least the BLM and those who really do advocate for the wild horses, and wildlife, get that and understand that.  Hopefully we can be the voice of reason that wins over this voice of hysteria.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Give Me A Horse!

Give me a horse!
One that has thunder in his hooves,
One that has lightening in his legs,
One with fire in his eyes --
Give me a horse!
So that I may ride until the ends of time
Upon a steed with the power of the world.


The following was written in a dissent to the case involving Rock Springs Grazing Association in Wyoming and the Secretary of Interior. Horses were straying onto these private lands from public lands. Though the grazing association had called the BLM and asked for the horses to be removed, it did not happen. The horses ate forage that otherwise cattle would have eaten. The association filed suit against the secretary alleging that a taking had occurred under the fifth amendment. The court found that the horses did not interfere with using their land for cattle grazing, nor did it impeded their right to investment value of the property. Court declared that the plaintiffs were not deprived of the right to exclude the horses by building a fence. The court admitted that horses did diminish value of the property, but that is not necessarily a taking. Court ordered that no taking had occurred and the Secretary was dismissed of the associations claim.

In a dissent, Seth and Barrett argued that the case should be remanded for factual determination to find if the taking occurred because of failure for the government to remove horses from private land. The horses are a part of government property and it is stated in the Act that the government is enacted to control them.

I found this quote interesting:

"These horses are thus placed in a newly created legal category not wild animals, not strays, not migratory, not related to treaty obligations but as part of the public lands as the Supreme Court noted.......Thus they cannot be described as 'wild animals,' as the Act avoids doing this, but instead are a part of the public lands -- a 'component' thereof, a part thereof and that alone."

Using such language as found in the Act, that horses are "components of the public lands," Seth and Barrett claimed that the Government used the association's private property for a public purpose. Thus, this judge felt that the plaintiffs were entitled to compensation when that control was not initiated to prevent grazing of private lands when the horses were asked to be removed.

I found this case to be interesting and educating. I had not thought about the Wild Horse Act in comparison with the bald eagle acts or endangered species act. But two of these takings cases referred to their similarities. These acts federally protect species and there is no taking allowed, despite what injury is caused (grazing, livestock loss, crop loss).

The first time the grazing association brought this file to suit in 1984 against the prior Secretary, it was remanded for factual determination and not heard again until 1986. In that first case, a different judge dissented agreeing with the Court based partly on the fact that if the association were allowed compensation, then everyone who ever had a similar situation with other wildlife would be filing suit under the fifth amendment as well.

I don't know what became of this 1986 case. Judges Seth and Barrett's dissent made sense where the Court's decision did not. How frustrating it must be to have wild horses on your property and be unable to move them! And then they are eating your forage and possibly overgrazing your lands, but you can do nothing because of the Wild Horse Act. You must wait on the Government.

I can see why the judge dissented...(Several judges actually dissented on this case, Halloway agreed with Seth and Barrett's dissent.)

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Where I Come From: A love of horses, wildlife, wilderness

I have been around horses since I was 12 years old.  My neighbors were always saving old mares from kill buyers at the auction and I got my start riding on many of them.  Well, that’s not right.  They bought my other neighbors pony, Chief and it was on him that I first really started riding.  But I rode their older mares too.  Such as Jade.  Sometimes, I think of her as my first horse, even though she wasn’t.  She was euthanized after she went down, could not get up, and lay in the lean-to all night.  By morning when they found her, she’d cast herself and despite our best efforts, we never could get her to her feet again.   

Soon, I had my own horse.  A freebie Arab who took a lot of work to be able to ride without him bolting.  We’d have to shove him against a fence or mount him in the stall the first few months before I could get on him without being trampled.  Then, I won a horse in an essay contest.  I had him for a while -- sold him, but not before he broke my arm when I was breaking him to saddle.  He was the first horse I broke and well, lessons learned for future training.  My next horse was a magnificent black mare, Journey.  I loved her and hated her at the same time.  She taught me so much about patience and reservation.  She died from cancer, and broke my heart.  I grieved for a year.  I now own a stubborn gray gelding QH who I have tried to sell many times, but have never been able to…someday, once I am graduated, I hope to do some barrel racing on him.  I’ve trained him for it, but because of motherhood and school, have been unable to season him.  That’s my horse story, in brief.

Now.  I have always had a passion for wilderness, wildlife, outdoors – the farther from town I am, the happier I am.  I praise cattle ranchers because they preserve these last remaining swaths of undeveloped land.  Did and does overgrazing exist?  Yes, not all ranchers are conservationists.  Do I want to help restore and reverse that?  Yes.  But, back up a bit.  I started college thinking I would go into Pre-Vet, but I’m not a chemistry person or hard science person, so I switched to Geography…I loved geography.  Places, people, wildlife, ecosystems.  It was all wrapped up together. We are a part of the landscape, an ecosystem, a global world.  Since there are not rangeland classes or equine classes at my school, I delved into that research on my own; applying all papers I could to the topic in classes.  But, what kind of job can you get with geography?  I ended up doing water quality monitoring for a small environmental firm.  It was not where I wanted to be.

Old research...

I was looking for old papers that I had written that might contain the information I need for my proposal. I have done research in the Kiger HMA in the past and hoped I could use some of it to write up my “Study Area” section form my thesis proposal on Riddle Mountain’s HMA. While I did not find what I hoped, I did find the paper I wrote to go with the poster I presented at the 2008 Symposium Of University Research and Expression (SOURCE). It was declared an outstanding award and I got a gift card and a certificate. Good times. (I hope to do another one this year :o) Anyway, took me back….still need to find info on Riddle Mountain. I wish I could get grazing history from the BLM site.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

More on sage-grouse, horses, and cattle

The greater sage-grouse once had large populations on rangelands in North America.  Then they declined in the early twentieth century following the alterations to their habitat that occurred in the shrub steppe biome. Many studies have since been conducted in order to learn about their habitat requirements and what can be done to prevent the extinction of this species.  Based on studies of sage-grouse nesting habitat, including those done by Gregg et al. (1994) and Connelly et al. (1991), it was found that sage-grouse need sagebrush and a certain height, no less than eighteen centimeters (Gregg et al., 1994) of herbaceous cover to be successful.  Despite the importance of vegetation to the greater sage-grouse’s survival, there is a dirth of literature exploring whether grazing by cattle and feral horses, two controversial ungulates on rangelands, have direct impact on sage-grouse.  A few papers synthesize effects of these grazers on the sagebrush habitat used by sage-grouse.  Beck and Mitchell (2000) hypothesize that known grazing impacts, which directly affect vegetation, might also have a direct effect on sage-grouse populations. Connelly et al. (2000) and Crawford et al. (2004) claim there is no empirical evidence to support the direct impact of grazing on sage-grouse populations.  Though my study is to examine cattle and feral horse grazing impacts in sage-grouse breeding sites, it might also provide evidence linking them to declines in population.


Connelly and Braun (1997) stated that there are three common factors contributing to habitat alteration that occur across all regions: livestock grazing, weather, and fire.  Though there is no empirical evidence to support it, grazing by domestic and feral livestock, may have a direct influence on sage-grouse populations and their breeding sites.  Since sage-grouse populations have been suffering widespread decline since early in the 20th century (Connelly and Bruan, 1997), it is important to further study the potential effects of grazing on their breeding sites.  In addition to livestock grazing and the clearing of sagebrush to make room for forage, sage-grouse habitats have also been altered by agriculture (Braun et al. 1976).
Leks, which are strutting sites where male sage-grouse attract females, are central to nesting sites (Crawford et al., 2004).  The leks are open areas surrounded by sagebrush, in which the hens find suitable habitat to create their nests.  Several studies, including one done by Gregg et al. (1994) on nest sites in Idaho and on by Connelly et al. (1991), who focused on sites in Wyoming, have found that most successful sage-grouse nests were concealed under shrubs, and a high percentage of this shrub overstory was sagebrush.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Proposal Introduction

Feral horses, cows, and the greater sage-grouse share the same habitat in many places within the shrub-steppe biome. The sage-grouse is not yet listed under the Endangered Species Act, but management practices implemented to protect them and their habitat are critical to prevent them from having to be listed.  Their population decline is largely a result of habitat loss due to the depletion of the shrub-steppe biome that the sage-grouse depend upon for survival.  Their habitat is being damaged by changes in fire regimes, invasive alien species, and the conversion of land for agricultural uses and development (Crawford et al. 2004). Although there are no empirical data to support the hypothesis, it is often suggested that overgrazing and the resulting decline in herbaceous understory have resulted in the decreasing population of sage-grouse (Wambolt et al. 2002).

Friday, January 14, 2011

Thoughts on sage-grouse, horses, and cows

As I learn about the Greater Sage-grouse and its candidacy for listing as an endangered species, I wonder what management impacts this will have on free-roaming equids – or more commonly – wild horses. Protecting the sage-grouse under the ESA will list the shrub steppe biome as "critical habitat." Management regimes will have to be altered to preserve and enhance this habitat. This will include altering livestock grazing by using adaptive management (changing duration, allotments, turn out time, and intensity) and making sure horses do not go over AML. While Animal Right's activists are pushing for a moratorium on horse round ups, the Bureau of Land Management has to maintain horse numbers in order to prevent habitat degradation.

On a side note: speaking of AR's who claim that wild horses are making their last stand on rangelands, I argue that the sage-grouse is the species really making the last stand here. If action is not taken now to protect, enhance, and preserve their habitat, which is threatened by invasive alien species (juniper and cheatgrass), development, livestock grazing, mineral and oil development, and agriculture, they will be gone – extinct in the true sense of the word. And if they are gone, then our sagebrush biome is not far behind.

When it comes to sagebrush habitat and trying to conserve it by minimizing grazing, the truth of the matter is that horses are managed minimally while cattle are managed intensively by comparison. Where cattle can be managed in a way that works around, and even can improve, sage-grouse habitat, horses are left to their own devices – to roam without fences and all year long. They can congregate in leks during the bird's breeding season and graze to their heart's content without someone coming in and moving them elsewhere.

No studies have yet been done to provide empirical data, proving that wild horses and domestic livestock have direct impact on sage-grouse populations, but there is enough data to support that they do have an influence on plant communities in the shrub steppe biome. Should the sage-grouse become listed, I do not know how management will change for wild horses, or even if it will. It might just be that the BLM will have to be quicker to gather up excess horses to prevent overpopulation in HMAs that contain sage-grouse habitat. I do not plan, with my limited knowledge on sage-grouse, among other things, to make suggestions or form theories about what will happen if the sage-grouse is placed under the protection of the Endangered Species Act. But I do wonder…

Monday, January 10, 2011

Thesis Interest Statement

Following is the statement I had to write for my Graduate Research class to prepare myself, and familiarize the professors with my topic, for writing my proposal. That begins this week. By this Saturday I will have a draft of the introduction to my proposal written, with the final due next Saturday. Writing this simple 200 word statement took a lot of effort. I did not realize that I had to narrow down my topic so much. I have been so used to focusing my writing on wild horses, but now I have to focus more on the sage grouse. I knew I had switched my subject from fertility control impacts on herd behavior to wild horse and cattle grazing on sage-grouse habitat, but it had not clicked with me that I now needed to switch my writing to focus on them

If anyone reading this knows about sage grouse, please make sure I am getting my facts right in the upcoming posts. While I have 5 years of built up knowledge about horses, I now quickly have to digest the information about sage grouse without much time to chew on it. ….

Tentative Title: Effects of feral horse and cattle grazing on Greater Sage-grouse Habitat in Southeastern, Oregon

Feral horses, cows, and the Greater sage-grouse share the same habitat in many places of the shrub-steppe. Horses on public lands are federally protected under the Free-Roaming Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1971 to be managed as an "integral part of the natural system." There is still little known about their interactions with some native wildlife. The lands they roam are also mandated for multiple uses by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976. This includes the highly controversial use of livestock grazing. Then there is the Greater sage-grouse, a declining species on the rangelands these large omnivores use.

Sage-grouse need large swaths of sagebrush habitat for forage and nesting sites. Though there is no empirical data to support it, it is concluded that grazing has an impact. In order to minimize this, it must be determined which grazer is doing more damage.  Between horses and cattle, this is a highly controversial topic.

By conducting vegetation surveys throughout the summer, I aim to fill a data gap and answer this question:  Is it feral horses or cows that have more impact on sage-grouse habitat on Riddle Mountain in southeastern Oregon?

.....My thesis proposal will build from this. And, subsequently, my proposal will be the foundation on which I will build my thesis!