FAQ on Proposal for a Wild Horse Preserve at Calico

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Prepared by Return to Freedom and Soldier Meadows Ranch, June 25, 2010

What is the proposal?

Return to Freedom (RTF) has partnered with Soldier Meadows Ranch (SMR) to propose a new direction to BLM for the management of the wild horses in the Calico Mountains Complex. The overarching goal of the proposal is to manage the horses on the range and break the BLM’s unsustainable cycle of roundups, removal, and long-term holding of horses in Midwestern facilities far from their native lands. The plan would maximize habitat for horses by:

•Improving water resources by restoring damaged, non-functioning springs and other water facilities;
•Increasing forage by converting Soldier Meadows Ranch’s public grazing allotment from cattle to wild horses;
•Controlling reproduction of horses within the Complex as needed with PZP immunocontraception.

What about the horses at Fallon in BLM holding pens?

RTF and SMR have offered a solution to BLM which would allow for the return of many of the recently captured Calico horses to the private lands of Soldier Meadows ranch. Originally, we had offered to take all of the horses. As BLM continued to process, geld, and move horses to various adoption centers, we still remained hopeful that the BLM would respond so that we could negotiate for the transfer of a reasonable number of horses. Unfortunately, we still have not had the opportunity to have a conversation with BLM, although we remain ready to act immediately on this proposal.

In the event that the BLM does respond, we will make the Soldier Meadows Ranch available as a sanctuary for horses age 5 and over. According to BLM records, there are 521 horses in this age category gathered from the three Herd Management Areas that are part of Soldier Meadows Ranch’s grazing allotment. RTF would manage the PZP program including costs and application by trained staff. The ultimate goal is to re-establish family bands and work together towards the eventual release of as many of the horses as possible back to the range after springs are restored, range health is re-evaluated and the conversion of AUMs (Animal Unit Months) from livestock to horses is made possible.

Who is behind this proposal for the Calico Complex?

The proposal is a joint venture between RTF and SMR. RTF would be responsible for running the ranch and managing any wild horses maintained on the private lands.

Why haven’t more details of the plan been made available?

This proposal was written as a concept, with various elements of the more detailed management plan to be worked out in discussions with BLM and other stakeholders. It is subject to modification and refinement. RTF, in partnership with SMR, is committed to the highest ethical, ecological and humane standards for the horses and the land we will steward.

Didn’t the owner of Soldier Meadows Ranch support the recent roundup?

Jim and Kathy Kudrna, owner’s of the Ranch, are active conservationists concerned with protecting all the wildlife in the area. Jim has, for several years, advocated for restoration of non-functioning springs and other existing water facilities so that the range can sustain the wild horses and all the wildlife species. He has also been well documented in a recent Vanity Fair documentary expressing their sympathetic philosophy for the horses to remain on the range as long as BLM takes care of the water and other range health issues. His views on wild horses have evolved since purchasing the Ranch, and he now views the mustang as a species living as wild and free as any other wildlife in the area. He is in the process of updating his website text to more accurately reflect his views about wild horses.

Who will be responsible for the welfare of the horses at Soldier Meadows Ranch?

The horses represented by this proposal will remain titled to BLM, and RTF will manage the ranch and any horses that reside on it. The overriding goal of this plan is to keep the horses on their home range. Details of what to do with horses who may need to remain in the preserve on the SMR private lands will be worked out, and if necessary such horses may be titled to RTF. RTF will only move forward with the plan under a legally-binding agreement that protects the horses and acknowledges that RTF is responsible for the care and management of any horses on the ranch’s private lands. In the future, should Soldier Meadows Ranch become available for sale, RTF may purchase the property as a satellite to our main sanctuary, located in Santa Barbara County, California.

RTF has over a decade of experience managing wild horses in natural band structures and we will apply that knowledge to the Soldier Meadows project. RTF has always put the welfare of the horses as a first priority and that will remain our top goal in this venture. RTF’s California sanctuary is open to the public during tour weekends, and we invite all concerned parties to visit our facility and see first-hand how our commitment to the horses translates into positive solutions for wild horses.

Will this plan result in increased grazing by wild horses on the Soldier Meadows Allotment?

The Soldier Meadows Allotment is the area of public land on which the SMR is authorized to graze cattle. Our plan calls for converting the Ranch’s cattle grazing authorization on the Soldier Meadows allotment to instead preserve wild horses. If the plan moves forward, SMR’s cattle would be managed entirely on private lands.

RTF/SMR are committed to reducing grazing pressures within the SM Allotment and restoring the health of the land. If the proposal is adopted, we will work with our Advisory Board to determine appropriate levels for conversion of livestock Animal Unit Months to wild horses. (Currently the Soldier Meadows Ranch Allotment is authorized for more than 16,000 Animal Unit Months per year, with grazing authorized for 11 of the 12 months of each year.) All recommendations would be subject to the BLM’s land use planning process.

Doesn’t the proposal call for paying the rancher for his cattle allotments? Why should the taxpayer pay to have our wild horses on our public lands?

Yes, under the proposal, the BLM would pay the ranch for short-term holding of the horses on its private lands (at a rate lower than the cost of the BLM holding facilities). These fees would be used to compensate SMR/RTF for staff, feeding and management of the horses and pastures during the time that horses are confined to SMR's private lands.

The proposal also envisions payment to SM Ranch for its cattle grazing authorization being converted to use by wild horses instead of cattle. The economics of most ranches in the West are tied to their public lands grazing allotments. Every proposal for grazing reform put forth by conservation groups includes compensation for retirement or conversion of grazing permits because of this fact.

In the case of Soldier Meadows, the Ranch will either run cattle or have a wild horse preserve. Given the choice, we prefer to provide reasonable compensation to offset the cattle profits a rancher gives up to keep the mustangs on their home range, rather than paying a Midwestern US rancher to house the horses in pastures on land to which they are not adapted and where they have no hope of re-establishing family bands or engaging in natural social and free-roaming behaviors.

Even with the compensation to SMR, our proposal represents significant cost savings for taxpayers. Our proposal significantly reduces the costs of long-term holding and repeated roundups and removals of wild horses from the region.

Can cattle grazing legally be converted to wild horses?

Yes but compensating the rancher for his cattle allotment may require a legislative change. Remember, however, that BLM has no legal authority to pay Midwestern ranchers to house wild horses in long term holding, but the agency does so all the time, housing 35,000 horses in the Midwest under contracts that cost taxpayers at least $13 million annually. In addition, the idea of converting livestock grazing allotments to wild horses is part of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s plan for reform of the BLM. The bottom line is, if the BLM wants to move forward with our plan, it can do so and will save taxpayers millions of dollars in the process.

How will you deal with the environmental issues related to this plan?

RTF/SMR is in conversations with reputable conservation groups and individuals and will establish an Environmental Advisory Board, comprised of conservationists and range health experts, to advise us about the myriad of complex environmental issues related to the operation of Soldier Meadows Ranch as a wild horse preserve.

What are the environmental implications of fixing non-functioning springs?

Our proposal envisions restoration of as many as 200 naturally occurring springs that are no longer functioning due to compaction by livestock and wild horses. Concerns have been raised about the suggested method to repair the springs and prevent them from future damage.

We understand the concerns about repair of springs, and we are committed to promoting natural restoration, in the most ecologically sensitive manner possible. This is another issue that we would look to our Environmental Advisory Board for advice and direction on accomplishing the goal of restoring the areas naturally flowing springs to enhance water availability for wild horses and all the other wildlife species.

When returned to the range, would the Calico horses be fenced within the SM Allotment or free to roam the Complex?

When the horses are returned to the range they would not be fenced within the SM Allotment. RTF and SMR are committed to as fence-free a range as possible so that the horses and other wildlife can freely migrate through their habitats in the beautiful Black Rock Desert environment.

How will this plan benefit the local economy?

The proposal fulfills one of the goals of Interior Secretary Salazar’s initiative for BLM reform by promoting ecotourism in a rural community. RTF will build on its international reputation for educational programs and will operate the Soldier Meadows Lodge as a major center for wild horse ecotourism. The plan will showcase the historically significant Ranch and offer excursions to view the horses, living in their natural state, on the open range. The ranch will remain open to the public. Tours will be specially-scheduled for people who want to visit the horses which are returned from the BLM’s Fallon holding facility while they are on the SMR private lands.

Is there a connection between Soldier Meadows Ranch and the Ruby Pipeline?

If constructed, the Ruby natural gas pipeline will transect the northernmost part of the SM Allotment. Previously, El Paso Gas contacted the Kudrna's about possibly purchasing a small amount of private land they also own, which is inside the Sheldon Wildlife Refuge (not part of SMR). However the company never followed up after initial inquiry. SMR did appear in a draft Environmental Assessment on pipeline mitigations. Apparently, BLM would like to use pipeline mitigation funds to purchase the ranch and add it to the public lands domain. However, the Kudrnas have no knowledge of this BLM “wish.”

Why should conservationists and wild horse advocates support this plan?

Our proposal, to convert the SMR livestock grazing authorization to wild horses, will advance the cause of conservationists who support grazing reform because, it will establish a model for cooperation between ranchers and conservation organizations for conversion of livestock grazing permits to other, environmentally superior, uses. (It is known that horses have different usage patterns than livestock and cause less damage to riparian areas than cattle when they are provided sufficient water. In addition, the horses will have the ability to range freely and not be confined to specific pastures within the Allotment, further improving range health within the Allotment.)

In addition, by working with our Environmental Advisory Board, RTF and SMR will showcase our commitment to the highest ecological standards in our stewardship of the range land and the animals who reside on it.

For wild horse advocates, the choice is clear: This is a plan to create a pilot program that will keep the wild horses on the range and return as many of the captured Calico complex horses as possible to their native home land. The alternative is gelded stallions, sterilized mares, long-term holding, and more roundups and mass removals of horses from the Calico Complex.

Our goal is to do good for the horses, all the wildlife and the public lands.

How has the BLM reacted to this proposal?

BLM has not responded to this plan in the two months since we submitted it to the Department of Interior. RTF and SMR are disappointed that the agency continues to spend tax dollars on the processing/gelding of the Calico horses before even arranging a meeting to discuss the potential for relocating at least some of the bands to the RTF/SMR preserve. We were especially disappointed to learn that BLM had gelded the older stallions before exploring this valid and generous offer to relocate these horses as an alternative to long term holding in the Midwest.

We remain hopeful that the broad support we are receiving for this concept will result in some pro-active dialogue with the Agency.

Read more about this historic partnership between a rancher and wild horse preservation group read more here and watch the Vanity Fair interview with RTF's Neda DeMayo and SMR's Jim Kudrna here.