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!)