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Eureka County Stages Public Tour of Fish Creek HMA

Eureka County Public Tour of Fish Creek HMA: More questions than answers.

Yesterday Eureka County Staged a Public Tour of Fish Creek HMA and I was privileged to attend. After meeting at the Eureka County administration building we regrouped at Hwy. 50 and Antelope Rd. This was also the site of recent conflicts between BLM and rancher Kevin Borba. Eureka County Natural Resource Manager Jake Tibbitts, well prepared with multiple talking points, made a rather lengthy presentation of grievances. Clarifications were made, including how I happened to be involved. I explained I’d met WH&B specialist Shawna Richardson at the Elko RAC meeting last October. As I realize the need for controlling wild horse numbers, I had been following the development and implementation of the Fish Creek Fertility Control Program. There was also much animosity expressed about Laura Leigh’s involvement. There some confusion about her role as an official BLM volunteer versus her actions as a public citizen, which I will not debate here.

Fish Creek HMA, Eureka County, Borba, BLM Photo by Kerry O'Brien

BLM District Manager Doug Furtado in discussion with the Eureka County tour of Fish Creek HMA. Eureka County Natural Resource Manager Jake Tibbitts (center).

There were approximately 20-25 people in attendance. In addition to Mr. Tibbitts was  Eureka County Commission Chairman JJ Goicoechea, BLM Battle Mountain District Manager Doug Furtado, Acting State Director John Ruhs, a number of local ranchers and journalists from Progressive Rancher and  Range magazine. I offered clarification about the KB brand, that it does not mean Kick Butt (this was the first I’d heard of that!) but is code for the date and HMA. More on that in a later post.

 

Fish Creek HMA, Eureka County, Borba, BLM Photo by Kerry O'Brien

 

Water Rights

We caravaned to most of the major watering sites on the HMA, going deeply south to the Davis Pipeline where a small group of horses was watering. There was discussion of who actually owns the water rights. I got an education in just how confusing water rights are in Nevada. Mr. Tibbitts had the original maps from the State Water Engineer and it appears that the water rights on much of the property go back to 1905 – 1926. What is confusing is that there are several overlapping layers of “rights” and permits. In general the rights are historical and go with the land. Mr. Tibbitts suggested that the only way to absolutely solve the question is to adjudicate, a legal process presenting evidence to a judge who makes a decision. In this case the evidence appears to favor Mr. Borba who made a point of telling everyone, once again, that the Number Four Spring “hadn’t run for eight years and we got it running.” Interestingly, it states on all grazing permits, “The permittee will be required to repair and maintain all functional water wells, pipelines and troughs prior to turnout. Grazing use will not be authorized unless water wells, pipelines and troughs are functional.” I’m not sure how this makes him a hero. On the State of Nevada Division of Water Resources website I found three permits for the Number Four Spring, two for BLM and one for the previous permittee. View here: Permit. Again, the confusion about permits, versus rights.

 

Fish Creek HMA, Eureka County, Borba, BLM Photo by Kerry O'Brien

Small family band at the Davis Pipeline. Fish Creek HMA, You can see the trails to the trough, and that this is rather rough country.

 

HMA Boundaries

Below is a map provided by Mr. Tibbitts. The horse icon in the upper left is the intersect between Hwy 50 and Antelope Rd. where horses lingered because they found water before, both in the seasonal depression and when Mr. Borba hauled water to them. The point was made repeatedly that the horses were off the HMA. (Just for yuks here’s a pic of cows in my fence out campground Cows in Camp)

 

Fish Creek HMA, Eureka County, Borba, BLM Photo by Kerry O'Brien

Fish Creek HMA with major water sources

 

Bob Brown Well

We proceeded to Bob Brown Well, (see map) which was a major bone of contention. This was one of the water sources that went dry the week before my arrival in Battle Mountain. BLM does own the rights to this water but, it is roughly a thousand feet outside the HMA. Oopsie. Much was made of BLM not keeping to the same regulations that it demands of it’s permittees. It seems there have been numerous bureaucratic oversights by BLM in regard to the various water sources. The solution proposed by Mr. Furtado for Bob Brown Well is to pipe the water back up into the HMA but the details are fuzzy at this time.

Fish Creek HMA NV - Photo by Kerry O'Brien

Bob Brown Well. Contrary to accusations that were made, the Metadata embedded in the file indicates this photo was taken Thursday, July 30, 2015, 2:45pm

 

On the way to view the Slough Water Haul (see map) we saw several family groups. I truly don’t think there was a person there, from the ranchers, to officials, to the sheriff, who didn’t appreciate the sight of wild horses running in distance.

 

Fish Creek HMA, Eureka County, Borba, BLM Photo by Kerry O'Brien

 

Slough Water Haul

The Slough Water Haul was the second of the water sources that failed at the end of July. 3800 gallons of water is hauled on a regular basis from Diamond Valley. Again, the complicated nature of Nevada water rights asserted itself. It’s not simply buying water. (Mr. Borba relayed to me that BLM said they didn’t have money to haul water.) Actually, the issue is not money, but that the water is coming from Diamond Valley. That makes it an “inter-basin transfer.” Because the point of use (the Slough) is different from the point of diversion (Diamond Valley) it requires a permit that has not been secured. Again it was argued that BLM was not adhering to the same types of regulations that it requires of permittees. The reasons for how the Slough tank came to be dry or why water deliveries contracted by BLM were discontinued remained a mystery.

 

Wild Horse Numbers

Many of the ranchers responded angrily toward BLM representatives, expressing their frustration that same solutions have been offered repeatedly since the 1990’s. While ranchers have been cut and are now voluntarily keeping their grazing numbers at roughly half of what is allowed, promises that were made with each succeeding program, that horses will be kept at AML and have never been kept.

Fish Creek HMA Population

While their anger is understandable, the fact that 246 horses were removed and NOT returned to the range is a point that seems to have been lost along with the fact that removal numbers were limited to 200 at the federal level, not the local level (because of lack of holding space). Also lost is the fact that nearly fifty horses beyond that quota actually were taken off. Final numbers according to WH&B Specialist Shawna Richardson are as follows:*

  • 247 horses removed and NOT returned, including those euthanized and adopted.
  • 168 horses branded, the mares treated with PZP-22 and returned to the range.
  • 15 mares with foals are still in holding awaiting release.
  • 120 horses estimated NOT captured.
  • 351 horses estimated to currently be on the HMA, not including spring foals.

*Numbers may differ very slightly.

Here are some links with some brief background info:

History on Fish Creek HMA

Fish Creek HMA Gather Info

Horses released in spite of protest

 

PZP Follow Through

There was a great deal of mistrust of and misunderstanding about the current PZP program. The mistrust is understandable since PZP was administered once in 1998, was estimated to be 90% effective in preventing foal births in 1999 and failed once again due to lack of commitment and follow through. Everything the ranchers are hearing now, they have heard before. Repeatedly. It is incumbent upon BLM to keep their commitment, both to the ranchers, the horses and the American public. This means follow through, treating the remaining untreated mares and boosters to the treated mares, regardless of whether it is accomplished with water trapping or requires helicopter gathers. The breach of trust in this community is so deep it’s going to require BLM to follow through with cooperation and action. Acting State Director John Ruhs listened well and offered assurances. Time will tell.

 

Fish Creek HMA, Eureka County, Borba, BLM Photo by Kerry O'Brien

 

After the tour I attended the Eureka County Natural Resources Advisory Commission. That’s for another post, probably after I field the flack from this one.

I want to offer a special thank you to Eureka County Sheriff Keith Logan for allowing me to ride along and share his insights. Could not even take my van on those roads!

 

*Update. Because of the severe resistance in the ranching community, the contraceptive program has been suspended, dooming a thorough and committed plan to failure. I fail to see the logic of this.

 

 

Borba-Landia: Where Truth Takes a Holiday

I’ve been spending the past week in Borba-Landia: Where Truth Takes a Holiday for scofflaw trespass rancher Kevin Borba. It started innocently enough. Last Tuesday, July 28 on Hwy 50 in Nevada, I noticed something didn’t geel quite right and wrote about that in the last post. A beat up long yearling that had been pushed out and fenced out.

Little did I know I was about to step into a middle of a range war between a trespass rancher and BLM.

It was late so I found a place to camp and continued on to Battle Mountain the next morning to meet Shawna Richardson, the Wild Horse and Burro Specialist. She had invited me to come find out about the comprehensive contraception she had implemented there. I met Shawna last October at the Great Basin Advisory Committee meeting in Elko. She has nearly twenty years experience managing the BLM wild horses and I’d come to respect not only her passion and commitment, but her transparency.

I’d tried to get here for over a month, but fate had different had plans and my delay put me right in the middle of a rancher/BLM sh*t storm. Made it to Battle Mountain Wed afternoon. One of the angry signs in the empty lot across from the Mount Lewis Field Office said, “Impeach Doug Furtado” the district manager, and other epitaphs. It was disconcerting. I showed Shawna the pics of the colt. She had concerns. The next morning, Thursday, July 30 I drove to the Fish Creek HMA with she and Laura Leigh. Leigh, who has been a thorn in the side of both ranchers and BLM, was now an official volunteer, trained by Dr. Jay Kirkpatrick to dart the contraceptive PZP.  We were to set panels near the southern water source in preparation for possible water trapping and contraception treatment later this year.

When we got there horses were at the road head and Shawna remarked that something did not feel right.

 

Fish Creek HMA NV - Photo by Kerry O'Brien  Fish Creek HMA NV - Photo by Kerry O'Brien

We were lucky to have the  fire crew guys to do the heavy lifting. (Woo hoo!) Shawna and Laura changed out the cards in the game cameras and we looped back north to check other water sources.

 

Fish Creek HMA NV - Photo by Kerry O'Brien

We spotted several bands moving toward a marginal water source. They don’t look so bad here on Thursday. Rancher Kevin Borba apparently shadowed us to the place where we set the panels and right after we left  recorded a video, carefully implying the water was his without actually saying so. I pulled the permits and BLM owns two of the three permits for that water. There is a third registered to the previous lease owner. Seems like someone forgot to do their paperwork. Part of the grazing lease agreement is the responsibility of the leasee to maintain water sources. Not only that, on any HMA in Nevada, wild horses have a right to water. Click here: Nevada Water Rights for Wild Horses You can see the Borba video here: Kevin Borba water claim video.

 

Fish Creek HMA NV - Photo by Kerry O'Brien

Here some of the Fish Creek horses go down to a marginal water source. We were soon to discover the reason. A float malfunction on their main water source had caused the water to drain prematurely.

 

Fish Creek HMA NV - Photo by Kerry O'Brien

We immediately drove to Eureka, about 30 minutes away to procure gas for the generator that fills this tank. It’s Thursday, July 30, 2014 at 2:46 pm (date and time taken from the photo metadata) and the water is running. Problem solved, one would think. We won’t know how long the horses were without a good source of water until the game camera photos are analyzed. While we had coverage in Eureka it was discovered that there was “slam the BLM” video on Facebook, linked above, where Mr. Borba implies the southern water is his. Tensions escalated.

Things began to unravel from there. Later Mr. Borba took it upon himself to begin watering horses  at the road and continued to do so, posting inflammatory videos and stirring up an enormous backlash. Click here to view  Borba video 2 This would later snowball in the media sensation around Sarge, the extremely sick horse that became once again, a propaganda pawn. You have to wonder how a busy rancher has so much time to kill.

The storm that brewed over the weekend had hysterical people calling literally, from all over the world. I had put my ass on the line saying that there was water there and was being accused of using old photographs, even though this was the first and only time I’d been here. I felt compelled to drive the 150 miles back down to Fish Creek to make sure for myself. I was warned that Mr. Borba was filming, probably with Protect the Harvest, a right wing, pro rancher coalition and maker of propaganda videos, financed by by Dave Duquette and Lucas Oil, gazillionaire, pro-slaughter rancher and race car aficionado, who have been using Mr. Borba as their poster child. One of the last videos posted by Borba show him expressing his gratitude to Protect the Harvest for the ATV they gave him.

I was warned to be careful. Tensions were running high in Nevada. There was a dispute, similar to the Cliven Bundy issue over the Argenta Allotment. The tension in the air was palpable.

It was dark by the time I got there so I slept in the van.  I woke early and reveled momentarily in the peace of dawn in the desert dawn. When I got to Antelope Rd. this is what I saw.

Fish Creek HMA NV - Photo by Kerry O'Brien

Mr. Borba’s trough was dry and I hoped that he had ceased watering as asked so the horses would return to their regular source. There were no horses visible. I hoped that they had gone back up to their good water.

 

Fish Creek HMA NV - Photo by Kerry O'Brien

Far in the distance I saw a group of eight horses making their way back up in the direction of water.

 

Fish Creek HMA NV - Photo by Kerry O'Brien

Taking their sweet time, grazing as they went. So much for the hysteria on FB with people wanting to bring them food. Plenty of graze out here right now, thank Dog.

 

Fish Creek HMA NV - Photo by Kerry O'Brien

Relieved, I saw that there was plenty of good water.

 

Fish Creek HMA NV - Photo by Kerry O'Brien

And glad to see hoof prints, including a foal’s as well as deer and pronghorn. Something bothered me though. There should have been a lot more action at the trough. It seemed that only 4 or 5 horses had been there. I hoped that Mr. Borba had stopped watering and that the horses that I saw coming this way would show up soon. But they did not.

 

Fish Creek HMA NV - Photo by Kerry O'Brien

I went to Eureka for breakfast and came back in the afternoon. Good water and still no horses. Hmmm… But wait… more videos from Mr. Borba!  Borba video 3

After illegally watering horses for five days, when they had good water waiting for them, and the viral nature of these self promotional propaganda videos there is a massive backlash against BLM for “not doing something.” Shawna Richardson, managing twenty eight Horse Management Areas, and stationed 150 miles away, was catching flack for not being the all seeing eye. Seems Mr. Borba, who is having financial issues with his ranch, saw an opportunity and grabbed it.

For more background on this here are some links:

Horseback Magazine 2/15 gives even-handed background on the Fish Creek Contraceptive program and why it’s important as well as a bit on Borba.

 

I will continue with more details as I have time to post. This is just the half of it.