Photo: Captured mustang stallion in government corral. photo by author 2005
Controversy On The Range
Photo: Captured mustang stallion in government corral. photo by author 2005
Controversy On The Range
“We Don’t Count Foals”
It’s July. Outside Reno, Nevada, in the baking desert, a tiny mustang foal tries to lie down to get the sleep her growing bones needs. But there is no shade; the sun burns as relentlessly as the circling flies. She folds her stick-like legs, and thuds to the hard manure-spotted earth. The air temperature is 105, but the desert ground is over 160. Minutes later, the foal struggles back up without sleeping. Her mother is thirsty. There are over seventy wild horses sharing one trough of water. The mare can’t fight her way to the water as often as she needs. Her milk is compromised.
The foal fights for life, but in a few days, dies.
“The extreme 105-degree temperature overwhelmed me within minutes,” said Marjorie Lynne Wagner, advocate, of her visit on July 1 to the Palomino Valley Holding Facility. “When I tested the ground temperature with a new Ryobi infrared thermometer, I was shocked to see how high it read… up to 164 degrees.”
Thousands of public pleas to provide shade and more water for the horses at Palomino Valley and other facilities went unanswered this summer. Jetara Séhart, executive director of Native Wild Horse Protection, offered the Bureau of Land Management funds and materials to erect shelters for the captured mustangs, but as July’s sweltering days dragged on, there was no response. Instead of shade, the BLM installed sprinklers, which the horses studiously avoided as seen in this press release.
Unhappy with the government’s response, advocates planned a “Gimme Shelter” protest for July 20 to draw attention to the suffering horses. When they arrived at Palomino, they were met with threats and told their cars would be towed.
“You need to play nice,” BLM special agents reportedly said. It was insinuated that more protests and public scrutiny could lead to the entire facility being shuttered to the public, like what happened at Broken Arrow.
The protest was moved to Carson City.
Until 2010, the public was welcome at Broken Arrow, another Nevada mustang and burro holding facility. Most of the almost $80 million annual budget of BLM is spent on the “long term holding” of over 50,000 once-wild mustangs and burros.
Author Terri Farley toured the facility that year and was shocked to see a “tiny emaciated foal standing at the fence line, seeming to plead for help… I was shocked at his condition.”
“I never did witness any shelter to protect near two thousand horses, foals and burros,” said advocate Cat Kindsfather, who photographed that foal the day before its death.
The dead foals are removed from the pens, and their bodies discarded in secret locations. Their deaths are secret, because dead babies are not counted among casualties of the Wild Horse and Burro program.
Why? The official answer is that the foals are too young to have been branded. (A freeze brand is applied to all horses and burros once captured from the wild. The brands serve as identification for each horse.) The obvious beneficial side effect of this policy is that the official death count of the round-ups is kept artificially low. Farley has dubbed them “Phantom Foals”.
“If you are managing the horses properly you need to account for all deaths as these are necessary indicators as to the standard of care,” points out Neda DeMayo, director of Return to Freedom, a 300-acre California sanctuary that houses 400 mustangs, some in intact family bands. De Mayo and others, despite their sanctuaries’ already strained resources, recently outbid killers for mustangs that mysteriously ended up at an auction mixed with Indian mounts, at the Fallon, NV auction last month. For decades, the non-profits and citizens have been left with the clean-up job for a problem artificially created by the wild Horse and Burro Program.
“No animals have passed since July 2,” Palomino Valley Director Jeb Beck said to advocates at a recent press event. But many no longer accept the agency’s numbers.
“We’re concerned about the foal deaths,” Séhart said. “There were 2,000 wild horses at Palomino Valley. The numbers there keep changing mysteriously… now there are 1700. But no horses are dying?”
“If this is what we can see, then what’s going on behind closed doors?”
The horses have their enemies: the corporate ranchers, the oil and gas guys; everybody wants the public lands, now more than ever since “energy independence” is a popular refrain. The Ruby Pipeline that cuts the US out of all profit, while we bear the risk; the frackers, the oil explorers, shale oil diggers, uranium miners, and even the military would all rather operate without having to worry about a bunch of horses dying all over the place. Poisoned water, destroyed ranges and fences: the mustangs are the potential canaries in the coal mine that is the rape of the west.
The semi trucks carrying poisons in and money out don’t want to slow down for a bunch of horses on the road. But most articles that reach the public don’t point to the corporations or the ranchers, but instead scapegoat the horses and burros, and are stuffed full of tired old facts and figures. Despite outside scientific censure the BLM keeps spouting the same numbers year after year despite the thousands of horses whose lives are shattered with the round ups each season. In the last twelve months over 3,660 horses and burros were captured, their future uncertain.
“The Wild Horse and Burro Program has not used scientifically rigorous methods to estimate the population sizes of horses and burros, to model the effects of management actions on the animals, or to assess the availability and use of forage on rangelands,” said the National Research Council’s Report. The product of almost two years worth of investigation and research, it devastatingly details the failure of the BLM to manage the federally protected wild horses in its care.
Reporter Andrew Cohen who has followed the issue for years put the report in regular language. “There is no scientific basis for removing thousands of the nation’s horses from public lands and placing them in expensive and dangerous enclosures. There is no scientific basis for ignoring or minimizing safe fertility controls. There is no scientific basis for claiming that the relatively small number of horses do more damage to our lands than do the vast number of cattle and sheep who graze on it at vastly under-market “welfare ranching” rates.”
Off the record, BLM employees admit “Nobody knows how many horses are out there.”
Congressman Raul Grijalva, touring the facility with the press last month, agreed, calling the BLM “a very broken management system” that is “not functional.”
“When advocates are passionate about an issue — as advocates for the wild horses are — sometimes unfortunately you dismiss that as being ‘a point of view,’ the congressman said. “I think what the academy did is validate it.”
Towards the end of August the BLM held a public meeting to discuss whether the mustangs at Palomino and other holding facilities required shelter, and if so, gather information on how to proceed.
Some of the advocates were encouraged that the agency was finally responding. Others said action was needed, not a discussion, pointing out that in the wild, mustangs have the freedom to seek shade. “It’s ridiculous to question whether a baby horse needs shelter on a 106-degree day. The BLM requires mustang and burro adopters to provide a 3-sided shelter. It’s a no-brainer.”
Deaths of foals are not counted; herds are not actually or factually counted; photographers are fenced away from entire pens of horses at holding facilities; and kept miles away from round-up trap sites…
A report almost two years in the making is still not acted on half a year later. Facilities that have received negative publicity, like Broken Arrow, have been closed to the public…
Thousands of rounded-up horses with no adoption market end up every year in long term holding are on private lands. A gal who calls herself Pioneer Woman is among the few with lucrative government contracts in the millions, to run mustangs on their properties with no oversight. The BLM’s budget is 70 million dollars and most of it is spent on round ups and long term holding costs…
Thousands of signatures on a petition were counted by the BLM as one public response…
Wild Mustang Robin, a twelve year old, traveled to Capitol Hill with 250,000 signed letters, asking for humane treatment for America’s mustangs. She was told she could not deliver her letters, and she was ridiculed, but the next day, she prevailed.
A court battle over reporter’s rights to document the roundups has gained support from thirteen press organizations and overturned a lower court’s decision: “I have spent the last four years trying to tell the story of the wild horse on the range, during capture and in holding,” stated Laura Leigh, plaintiff. “I have been met with restrictions at every turn.”
Sally Jewell, the new head of the Department of Interior, has said nothing specific about her plans for the program. Her predecessor, Ken Salazar, stepped down a few months after threatening a reporter.
Despite lots of talk of transparency, the BLM is still opaque. The hot light of public scrutiny and dissatisfaction may be beginning to sweat the agency – though still not as painfully as the desert sun on the backs of the mustangs at Palomino Valley.
*italics by author
correction 9/24 Top photo was incorrectly attributed, photo is courtesy Cat Kindsfather. Apologies!
#LivingLikeJulia Week Two – Empire Strikes Back
I love that girl Karen Karbo. We are not close friends though, and I am old enough to be her maiden aunt, the one that works at the DMV and has gross lip wrinkles like Marge Simpson’s sisters.
K2 has awesome dimples, and an un-fancy, honest way about her.
Having met her is right up there in my life with passing Michael Jackson in a hallway, flirting with Dustin Hoffman, and answering the phone for Diane Keaton one day to take a message for Al Pacino.
When I got to hang with Karen, she was one of the first working writers I’d met since I realized that was what I wanted to be.
As we sat by the edge of the pond she told me a little of her life: and that a magazine column each month paid her mortgage. I still think: How amazing that she shared that, making my own goal somehow tangible.
I have written four novels, several screenplays and many newspaper articles that have never been read, or if sold, never paid me enough for a sushi dinner.
For a while I got paid $25 bucks a newspaper article, plus $5 for a picture. In one year I wrote almost 200 headline stories for the local paper. Some months I made almost $250.
But I keep bumping into people who seem to keep me from slitting my throat over such things: Karen – so approachable and encouraging. The incomparable Jane Smiley, and Janet Fitch, Deanne Stillman, Carol Walker, Terri Farley – none whom I know well but all have been so helpful to me, amazingly so; that it seems that the sisterhood that I envisioned as a 17-year-old member of National Organization of Women buoys me to this day.
I write because I can I write and because it amuses me, and because people I respect, and who turn me on, encourage me and challenge me.
I believe Julia Child wrote and cooked and went on TV for the same reasons.
Julia embraced who she was; and my challenge is to live for a month under one of Julia’s rules. It’s without any sort of ego I have got to say: I always have. I am short, my hair is like a baby’s, but I swear like a sailor.
Julia had money, but I had the pride of being different. The lure of the Disney princess never called to me. I was the barefoot, bareback hoyden trampling Midwest farmlands and deep rivers, my kaleidoscope eyes absorbing the moon landing, the sixties, rock and roll rebellion…when your family is composed of generations of liberal democrats, actors, activists and musicians… your rebellion has to be really wild, man!
Julia Child adored being different.
I, too, had a big old bug up my ass. Having scored a scholarship to a fancy women’s college, I left with the first guy going west. The fact that he was a dead ringer for Cat Stevens and wanted to be a forest ranger, okay, that didn’t hurt. My dad cried as I packed up my childhood room and I remember him pleading with me to stay in school. I reasoned with him, we did not yell; even so, as I drove away in the truck with Ferrucio, tears fell hot and I felt my heart being ripped from my body.
But it was soon after that I first tasted food. Endive, sea bass, sushi, avocado. Margairitas with anejo tequila, lime and Cointrueu. Al dente handmade pasta with olive oil, garlic and anchovies. Cracked Dungeness crab, sourdough bread, smokey chardonnay. Cake made with butter and sugar, a French chef’s cheesecake, still puffing hot from the oven. A burrito as big as a baby’s head with real simmered pintos and quesa fresca and fresh jalepenos that blew off the top of your head.
Leaving the Midwest was an intellectual journey, but the journey of food was one I had never imagined. Korean Barbeque. Dim Sum. Sake. Lobster on the grill with a pound of melted butter and a bowl of lemons. Croissants, bagels, yeasty sticky cinnamon rolls fresh and hot from the oven.
I was not a foodie, yet I got to eat some great food – in Oregon, and San Francisco and LA, Chicago, New York and Central America. Along the way I became unafraid to throw in some tumeric, or fish sauce, cilantro, cumin, coriander, dill, or lemongrass; sprinkle on some basalmic vinegar, or fresh ginger, or roll stuff in Panko.
In Illinois, in the 1960’s, talking like this might get you a weekend in the lockup with Sylvia Plath.
Thank god we women have helped each other evolve. I don’t have kids; neither did Julia. But with a little help from our friends, we all can make a memorable story, or a meal or two, that some might remember, and pass on.
In “Julia Child Rules”, author Karen Karbo writes: “…she could spend her life trying, and always failing, to be cast as a princess, or she could embrace her height, her quick wits and big personality and she could go with it. She could own her role as the Emperor, who, unlike a princess, is active, not passive, takes up a lot of space, strides around issuing edicts and proclamations. Expresses not desires, but demands.”
I chose Chapter Two, Be the Emperor, to live for a week because having fallen from my horse I am stuck in a green leather throne (it reclines!). As much as I am a normally control freak, and insist on doing everything for myself, suddenly, and for the next few weeks at least, I must depend on others for everything.
I can’t work, or drive. Or feed my horse, nor muck his corral. I can’t clean house, or cook anything more elaborate than a smoothie, or even wash my own hair.
Right away I realized I could whine about my fate – or enjoy being treated like, well, royalty! Of course, I strive to rule my kingdom benignly, always saying “Thank You Sweetie”, and so far I have not chopped off anyone’s head.
The Blind Leading the Blond.
I am incredibly fortunate to have a loyal subject, who like me is somewhat captive in our little empire. My lover and Best Friend of the Opposite Gender Is Dave. He’s blind, having been born with glaucoma, and became completely blind at age 14 after a botched operation. We share a five acre property where I have my trailer, he has his which he shares with his 14-year-old daughter, Princess Crankypants. In addition to Dad duties, he sings and plays Swamp Music for food and tuppence at the local Farmer’s Market and bars.
Because Dave’s blind, I’m used to doing all the driving; and when out and about, he lightly holds my elbow, and I try to not walk him in front of a truck or off a steep curb without warning. But since breaking a couple ribs in my fall, I am the one leaning on him, as he strikes far beyond his comfort zone by feeding the mustang, dogs, chickens, watering the garden, feeding me and monitoring both my bowel health and my Vicodin intake.
While an unexpected injury has the potential to be awful and stressful, we have embraced it as an unasked for gift of Time. We spend all day lounging and FaceBooking. Napping and watching old movies and talking politics and gossiping and laughing, although that hurts. I tell him “Quit it!” and he makes a face.
Right now he’s making breakfast burritos from his homemade salsa and eggs from our chickens. I am not allowed to help; and I sit here and Blog. After he feeds me, I won’t even worry about the dishes. I shall post my blog then watch “Chopped” or read Cheryl Strayed’s first novel, and later fall sleep right here in my throne. In the morning I plan a bath, and Dave can wash my hair.
God help me – I could get used to this! Thanks Karbo! *
-Emperor Kate Mac MountainMouth
*Dave may not necessarily agree.
Who do you look to for inspiration? Some people’s heroes are historical or political figures; famous people, artists, thinkers, writers. I have lots of heroes. Wild Horse Annie, for her lifelong commitment to legally protect the wild horses and burros. Jane Goodall and Diane Fossey for devoting their lives to the study of primates in the African jungles; and Jacques Costeau for pioneering undersea research. Dr. Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and Mother Theresa for their humanitarianism. Helen Keller for overcoming and teaching. Then there are the artists: photographers Diane Arbus, Annie Liebowitz, Ansel Adams, Jim Westin. Too many painters to list… but definitely: Van Gogh, Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol; filmmakers Stanley Kubrick, Francis Coppola, Martin Scorsese. Ellen Degeneres and Oprah for being Ellen and Oprah. Writers and musicians? Too, too many to list … so many brilliant lights sharing their visions, emotions, longings and insights.
I’m inspired by these people because they were not born famous. They turned a life into a statement. They gave and achieved and held fast to their vision of what was right, what was beautiful, what mattered. As I look at the list, all of them suffered for their vision; struggled against haters and critics, held fast to their mission. They made something of their lives, shared themselves in a big way.
But not all my heroes are dead or even famous. I’m inspired by people I know who are just amazing in their everyday life.
Lately my hero is my sister. She six years younger than I; growing up, she was a cramp in my style, a pain in my posterior. As young adults we became tight and have remained so through many an up and down.
Sarah was wild like me. She got kicked out of the fancy shmancy Catholic high school, but graduated from the next, then went to college where she lived with our Aunt and worked her way to a degree by selling shoes at a department store. (Some weeks she would barely get a check because it had already been spent. My sister loves shoes!) She got her degree, the first in our family. She got married and moved to Cleveland, then Tampa. She had a kid. Then another. Then… another, her one girl. Everyone assumed that would be it, but she wanted a big family and got it by having two more boys! During this period my sister struggled with addiction. The family had some rocky times. They lost their house and moved back to our hometown. Finally Sarah overcame her addiction and all of a sudden she was super-capable, unstoppable. Her daughter just graduated from high school as Valedictorian, with a necklace full of achievement medals and is now a freshman, away at college. Now with only two boys left at home you’d think my sister would be lunching and shopping, maybe taking up scrap-booking. But instead she went back to school for another degree. She got hired for an internship too. Now she’s taking classes, working, still raising those two boys, but that’s not all. She takes care of her grandbaby a lot. She’s also taking care of our Dad who has gotten old while nobody was looking. He’s been having some memory problems and since his wife still works, my sister is over there all the time. Helping my Dad with the everyday stuff, keeping him laughing and looking on the bright side.
Sarah always admired me for my career, my adventures. Now I admire her for her quiet, everyday heroism. To go back to college at age fifty with all her obligations is an act of hope and courage. Yes, she is tearing her hair out some days, but she just laughs off the exhaustion, the difficulties, the car breakdowns and the spilt milk.
Here’s to Heroes!
The Mountain Mouth