Thrashing about

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A trio of Crissal Thrasher eggs. Photo courtesy of Zane Dohner

A bird-watching neighbor who regularly walks the Placitas Open Space spotted this Crissal Thrasher nest in an old Russian olive tree in the bottom of Las Huertas Canyon. He got a photo of the fuzzy hatchlings a few days later.

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Two hatchlings. Photo courtesy of Zane Dohner

It’s always entertaining to watch Crissal Thrashers as they zealously dig through dirt and leaf matter to snag spiders and other insects. They may be drably colored, but they make up for it with their intense eyes and that serious beak. You can hear their beautiful song here.

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The elegant Crissal Thrasher. Photo credit: John J. Mosesso, National Biological Information Infrastructure (NBII)

Trio of WHOA Horse Bills Die in Committee

New_Mexico_State_Capitol_east_entranceThree horse-related bills and amendments died in committee at the Roundhouse yesterday. They were crafted by Wild Horse Observers Association (WHOA NM) president Patience O’Dowd and sponsored by Gail Chasey, D-Bernalillo.

In the packed meeting room, opposition to all three bills was strong, with many people from around the state speaking out against them. As the meeting wore on, Rep. Chasey may have realized she’d been railroaded into sponsoring some rather bad pieces of legislation. O’Dowd was chastised a couple of times by Candy Ezzell, Chair of the Agriculture, Water and Wildlife Committee (and a rancher who knows her horses), for making misleading statements.

Number 1HB 410 proposed to prohibit “horse slaughter or transporting horses for slaughter for human consumption.” It also banned the transportation of horse meat for human consumption within New Mexico. A violation of either law would have been a misdemeanor. While meant to strike a blow against horse slaughter in general, the confusing, poorly written bill would have presented significant enforcement issues. A reader who attended the committee hearing writes, “The ranchers and other horse folks at the hearing…noted that anyone hauling a horse through New Mexico would have to ‘prove’ the horse wasn’t [intended] for human consumption.” The vote: 7-1 against. [Note: this paragraph has been revised to correct the original post].

Number 2Currently, horses are legally considered livestock rather than companion animals, and must be treated and cared for according to livestock and animal husbandry laws. Different laws (cruelty-to-animals laws) address the humane treatment of companion animals and pets. HB 411 proposed to amend an existing animal cruelty law to include “equines not classified as food animals.” Changing which section of the law horses fall under, while it sounds simple, would have many repercussions and present significant problems for ranchers, farmers, horse boarders and trainers, producers of horse events, and others who work with horses. Like cruelty-to-animal  laws, livestock laws also provide protection to animals. Groups such as the American Horse Council and other national and state equine organizations are against redefining horses as companion animals, but it’s a complex issue with arguments on both sides.

Regardless, this particular bill was not well thought out. According to the NM Livestock Board (NMLB), “The proposed amendment is difficult to understand and impossible to implement.” The NM Department of Agriculture said it would “cause problems for normal agricultural operations across the state.” The LFC’s Fiscal Impact Report noted that the bill conflicted with existing state and federal laws regarding livestock and presented a number of enforcement issues. And what the heck are “equines not classified as food animals,” anyway? The NMLB wrote, “It incorrectly leads one to believe there is such a classification as a ‘food horse.’ No such classification or definition exists.” The upshot? 7-1 against.

Number 3HB 412 would have required the NM Livestock Board to “identify and monitor animals at the Mexican border that have been rejected for slaughter for human consumption.” By way of background, horses that are transported to Canada or Mexico must appear to be in reasonable health; horses that are obviously ill or decrepit are turned away at the border. However well-intentioned, HB412 was short on specifics and timelines, didn’t define what is meant by “identify and monitor,” and included no funding for the cash-strapped NMLB to carry out the ambiguous tasks. This one failed 8-0.

Joining Forces to Spur Action

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Sage grouse populations in the West are threatened by habitat destruction from free-roaming horses.

Frustrated by the continuing overpopulation of free-roaming horses and degradation of public lands throughout the West, 13 organizations banded together a couple years ago to form the National Horse and Burro Rangeland Management Coalition.

Among the Coalition’s members are the Wildlife Society and other conservation organizations, sportsmen organizations such as the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and National Rifle Association, and natural resources professional societies such as the Society for Range Management.

According to the Coalition, “The overpopulation of horses and burros on public lands poses a severe threat to the native fish, wildlife and plants that characterize a healthy rangeland ecosystem.”

Western States Fed Up With Poor Horse Management

Placitas is not the only place with horse issues. Throughout the Western states, free-roaming horse populations have burgeoned, causing problems for rangelands, forest lands, public parks, private land, and local communities.

A reader brought to our attention that the State of Wyoming has recently sued the federal government, alleging the BLM isn’t doing enough to control the growing wild horse population in the state, which is now seven times higher than the intended population size.

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Governors of other western states are also fed up. The Western Governors Association has issued a resolution calling for better federal management of horse populations in order to limit land degradation. (You can learn more about the critical horse management problems faced by BLM in this article in the journal Science).

The problem isn’t only on federal lands designated for management of “wild” horse herds. We wrote awhile back about the severe environmental damage caused by free-roaming horses in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in southern California and Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada.

Lyon-County-logoMany Nevada communities have serious horse problems, too. In Lyon County, Nevada, during one 10-day period in 2014, horse-vehicle collisions on public roads resulted in the death of one person, injuries to two others, and the death of seven horses.

Remind you of anything? In Placitas, we had several horse-vehicle collisions a year and a half ago in which some horses tragically died and drivers narrowly escaped injury or worse. Open space areas and parks in Lyon County (which, ironically, sports an image of a galloping horse on its logo), have had to be fenced to keep out horses, just as they have in Placitas.

All this is just the tip of the iceberg. When you learn how severe the free-roaming horse and related environmental problems are throughout the western US, Australia, Canada and other countries, you realize that Placitas is a microcosm of a much larger problem.

Valentines for Horse Lovers

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day–and a great excuse for hardcore free-roaming horse advocates everywhere to take a break from cutting fences, trespassing on private land, and dumping manure around the neighborhood.

Instead, we suggest you relax and enjoy the day. And this year, why not skip the roses and chocolates in favor of giving a unique gift that really shows your sweetheart you care? Any one of these items is sure to make your special someone feel, well, pretty darn special:

HandicornDoes your lady love unicorns? Then she’ll adore transforming her hand into one with this lovely Handicorn finger puppet set. Added bonus: it hides that rough, reddened skin caused by tossing hay and vandalizing property.

 

horsehead maskFor the man in your life, you can’t do better than this handsome rubber horse mask. Just light a candle, turn on the music, and feel the magic as he dons this suave piece of head gear.

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Here We Go Again–Free-Roaming Horse Advocates Trespass and Vandalize

Property destruction, trespassing, stalking, theft, illegal dumping, and one-finger salutes—welcome to friendly Placitas!

After a quiet winter, horses are now frequently being seen wandering neighborhoods along the north end of Camino de las Huertas. Overgrazing of what little vegetation is left in these areas continues. [2/14/15 update: adding together counts done by various residents in early February, it appears we still have at least 40 free-roaming horses in the vicinity]

Some residents have been putting up portable fence panels in hopes of corralling the horses to protect their property, Las Huertas Creek, and hilly upland areas from further damage and erosion. But in at least three instances in the last month, vandals have trespassed onto residents’ private property. They have dismantled fence panels, taken down and stolen driveway and pipeline gates, and stolen signs. (To be clear, we don’t know if free-roaming horse advocates are behind all the mischief).

Stolen Driveway Gate

All that’s left of one resident’s driveway gate.

And though we say it’s been a quiet winter until now, that’s relative. Several people tell us they’ve been stalked, tail-gated, run off the road, yelled at, honked at, and given the one-finger salute by free-roaming horse advocates for months. Other residents say they have been crudely berated for fencing their property, or for considering fencing it, to keep out horses and protect their pets (we’ve heard of at least two dogs that have been severely injured by free-roaming horses, one losing its eye).

Some residents have built corrals and taken in some of Placitas’ formerly free-roaming horses. That’s an admirable thing; taking care of horses is expensive and cleaning stalls and corrals is labor-intensive. But what to do with all that manure? We’ve heard from several people that piles of manure are being dumped on the BLM parcel known as the Buffalo Tract where it adjoins the Indian Flats neighborhoods. Someone has posted a sign notifying the dumpers that she’d be happy to take the manure for composting (Note to the person in the dark pick-up seen unloading manure: Please call her).

The latest acts of vandalism and theft are reminiscent of last year’s activities, when a few individuals repeatedly cut the fences surrounding the Placitas Open Space (POS) to allow feral horses in. Fences had to be repaired and gates had to be padlocked by the City of Albuquerque and BLM to prevent these individuals from herding horses onto the POS. The pro-free-roaming-horse folks’ response was to bash in the locks or fill them with super glue and add their own locks, which had to be cut off. Thanks to those few individuals, the gates to the POS have had to remain locked (with newer, stronger locks), and visitors now have to climb through the wire fence to get in.

Maybe the northern Placitas vandals are relative newcomers to the Southwest who have little understanding of arid, high-desert ecology. Maybe they have some romantic notion the feral horses are part of an historic wild mustang herd, rather than strays that migrated south from San Felipe Pueblo in recent times. Maybe they think, in spite of long-standing state laws and recent court decisions, that residents don’t have the legal right to gather up trespassing feral horses to protect their own land. Or maybe they’re just bullies, vandals and thieves.

ES-CA Weighs in on BLM Buffalo Tract

What’s in store for the BLM Buffalo Tract north of Placitas? More mining? Real estate development? Preservation of the wildlife corridor?

The Eastern Sandoval Citizens Association (ES-CA) recently surveyed its membership regarding their preferred uses for the land, asking members to rate seven potential uses or restrictions. (Several entities are hoping to obtain all or part of the BLM acreage for various purposes).IMG_0251

Not surprisingly, the majority of ES-CA members surveyed oppose any type of mining on the land. Their other priorities for the land include low water use, limited public access, and prohibition of motorized vehicles (except for emergency and maintenance). A statement by ES-CA regarding the types of land uses it supports, based on its member survey, can be read here.

You can check out the ES-CA website at www.es-ca.org, and their blog at www.es-ca.org/blog.