free roaming wild horses in Nevada photo/Carrol Abel
Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) California, Oregon and Nevada District Offices along with U.S. Fish and Wildlife are in the conceptual stages of creating a two million acre management complex for wild horses in Southeast Oregon, Northeast California, Northwest Nevada and the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge also in Northeast Nevada. The concept involves a management shift from individual Herd Management Areas ( HMA's) and smaller HMA complexes to an aggregate of HMA's called the Tri-State Complex.
BLM's Winnemucca District Office manager, Gene Seidlitz says, " We're just in the initial discussion stages of developing that sort of strategy of treating all of those areas as one big complex based on what we've been finding recently which is a significant amount of movement between HMA's and outside HMA's into other areas."
As District Office Manager, Seidlitz oversees Nevada's Calico Complex, recently under scrutiny for the highly controversial roundup of almost two thousand wild horses. " BLM somewhat has always had a tendency to look at individual HMA's on an individual basis... we just looked at those imaginary boundaries and thought that's how these horses were to be managed." Seidlitz explained that they learned from the last two roundups in the Calico and are carrying that knowledge forward for more effective management. "Odd as it may seem" said Seidlitz, " we're constantly learning something and adjusting based on that knowledge and expertise."
Appropriate Management Level ( AML)
Wild horse advocates and animal welfare groups have long been at odds with BLM's determination of AML for wild horses and burros. Many existing HMA's have levels far below what is needed for genetic viability and the ratio of cattle to horses has been quoted as 200:1. Combining HMA's into small complexes has been known to result in a loss of acreage for wild horses and the lowering of AML. The Ely District recently zeroed out several HMA's during such a process.
"Within Winnemucca right now, all our HMA's are managed with an AML which means horses are present... none of those HMA's right now have plans internally with the BLM or externally with the horse groups or the general public to be zeroed out. " Seidlitz assured. As to AML's in general, he stated, " I think another thing that we need to do, not only in this district and State but in other States, is to reassess what that true AML of that complex really is. Obviously that assessment is going to be a very detailed analysis of data from the rangeland including forage, habitat, water, etc. to arrive at an AML for the complex. With no pun intended, when you actually manage theses as a complex, it literally becomes complex.
Voices involved in the process
"I think the key to success on any project of this conceptual magnitude" said Seidlitz, " is having not only the State office and the Washington office fully engaged but linking that in with the district and field offices who actually will be tasked with making it work on the ground level."
The process would possibly include a Memorandum of Understanding ( MOU) between the various entities and input from Resource Advisory Committees ( RAC's) involved. " If this concept does become a reality, " said Seidlitz, " we're gonna have to have a very solid communication plan for it. This entails your interactive public, our stakeholders, our County, City and State governments. It won't be a hidden agenda is what I'm saying."
Though Environmental Assessment (EA) processes require that public comments be allowed and addressed, input from the general public could possibly be limited to comments made at regional RAC meetings because an EA is not required until action is actually taken on the ground. Seidlitz says, however, " You have a spectrum of people who truly support something and those who adversely oppose. I'm a firm believer in bringing folks together around the table and listen and learn from their concerns and find a middle ground."
Mega-complexes could be the wave of the future for BLM's Wild Horse and Burro Program
"Speaking just on behalf of Nevada," explains Seidlitz, "I think these complexes are going to be the future. Whether it's complexes out of the Ely District, the Elko District, the Winnemucca District or Nevada Mountain District. I think you're going to see more of these HMA's being treated as complexes based on the location of them and based on the similarities of movement, forage, water, etc."
NOTE: A collaborative population survey flight is planned for late spring or early summer of this year. The census area will include all but the Oregon acreage involved in the Tri-State Complex concept.
Could this twist in a management approach be a step needed to put BLM's Wild Horse and Burro Program on the right track? Should the concept become a reality, the proof will be in the pudding.
Look for reactions and questions from different factions concerned with wild horse and burro management in an upcoming article.