What a little cooperation can do

Dog cat shaking handsLast Monday, Placitas Wild, a local group that advocates for keeping free-roaming horses on the land, backed up a horse trailer to a temporary corral on Susan Blumenthal’s Placitas property and loaded up four horses it had purchased from her two weeks earlier. The transaction was a refreshing display of how civil, thinking grown-ups can solve thorny free-roaming horse issues without resorting to name-calling, vandalism and fisticuffs.

The horses had been frequent visitors to Blumenthal’s property, where they trampled riparian areas, overgrazed sparse native grasses, and damaged an archeological conservancy area. Tired of seeing her habitat restoration efforts stomped into oblivion, Blumenthal set up a portable pen. When the horses wandered in for a snack, she shut the gate. With that, she became the proud owner of four previously free-roaming horses, thanks to the surprising ruling by the NM Court of Appeals in August.

Stallions dining

Photo courtesy of Zane Dohner.

Helping hands

Although Blumenthal didn’t want the horses free to continue damaging the Las Huertas Creek basin, she did want to find a good home for them. The NM Livestock Board, which had verified the horses’ unowned status and documented that they now belonged to Blumenthal, offered to help by notifying Placitas Wild of the situation. Placitas Wild, which recently established a horse sanctuary on San Felipe Pueblo, agreed to buy the horses from Blumenthal for $1 each.

Horses in Blumenthal corral

Horses in the Blumenthal corral. Photo courtesy of Zane Dohner.

While arrangements with Placitas Wild were being finalized, Blumenthal continued to care for the horses. She was helped by several Placitas residents (including this blog’s editors) who have been working to protect public and private lands in Placitas from environmental damage caused by free-roaming horses. We ensured the horses were well-fed and the corral kept clean for some weeks. (We so-called “horse haters” also made donations to Placitas Wild to help cover the upcoming expense of gelding the stallions). In spite of differing views about whether free-roaming horses belong on the land, everyone was interested in the welfare of the horses and worked together to ensure a good outcome. The NMLB did what they could to assist while taking pains to comply with the confusing dictates of the recent court ruling.

Imagine! No fist fights. No vandalism of property. No laying down in front of trucks, no chasing of vehicles, and nary a rock thrown. Between Blumenthal, the group of local residents, attorney Dave Reynolds, the Placitas Wild folks, NMLB, and the Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office (which patiently explained to WHOA president Patience O’Dowd that yes, Blumenthal’s actions were entirely legal), everyone worked together to ensure the horse’s welfare and a civil transaction.


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.

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.

Santa Ana Buffalo Tract meeting Saturday

Pronghorn antelopeThe Pueblo of Santa Ana will present its plan for the BLM Buffalo Tract at a public meeting tomorrow, October 25, 9:00-11:00 a.m., Tribal Council Chamber, 2 Dove Rd., Santa Ana Pueblo. (The pueblo headquarters are a short distance north of the town of Bernalillo. At Walgreens in Bernalillo, turn right onto Hwy 313 and go two miles to Dove Rd., then left on Dove Rd.).

The pueblo’s plan for the land, should they acquire it, focuses on habitat restoration and preservation and enhancement of wildlife corridors. We wrote about the pueblo’s experience in these areas in an earlier post.

This public meeting is a great opportunity to learn more about the Pueblo’s Natural Resources Division and expertise, view an excellent slide presentation of their accomplishments in habitat and river restoration and wildlife management, and learn about their goals for preserving wildlife on the Buffalo Tract.

Santa Ana is one of several entities hoping to obtain the BLM tract. In addition to the Pueblo of Santa Ana, the San Antonio de las Huertas Land Grant Association, San Felipe Pueblo, mining interests and real estate developers are all hoping to acquire some or all of the 3142-acre parcel of rolling foothills, arroyos, and creek basin. And everyone is waiting for the BLM’s revised Rio Puerco Resource Management Plan, which is expected to be released in the next few months. This document will contain BLM’s plans for this tract, including a potential expansion of mining operations, as well as BLM’s plans for other lands in the BLM Rio Puerco region.

Three entities vie for BLM “Buffalo Tract”

horse_bufftractEveryone seems to want a piece of the Buffalo Tract, a 3142-acre chunk of BLM land that sits at the north end of Placitas. Along with San Felipe Pueblo and the Pueblo of Santa Ana, the San Antonio de las Huertas Land Grant Association (SALH) is interested in the parcel. The Land Grant is hoping to acquire 1500 acres of the tract through the federal Recreation and Public Purposes Act and is presenting its proposal at a public meeting:

Saturday, October 11, 10:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.
Las Placitas Presbyterian Church

If successful, the organization would develop hiking/equestrian trails and picnic areas on the land. In a recent meeting, Land Grant representatives told us they are working to separately acquire 100 acres of the BLM tract for a solar farm, which would provide revenue to establish an historic working museum in northern Placitas (an architect’s model of the museum will be displayed at the Oct. 11 meeting). The Land Grant’s ad on page 12 of the October issue of the Sandoval Signpost has additional information.

The Pueblo of Santa Ana is also hoping to acquire the BLM tract, via congressional legislation or direct acquisition from the BLM. The primary aim of the “Santa Ana Wildlife Corridor Proposal” is to restore the natural habitat on the land and protect the wildlife corridor through which elk, mountain lion and other animals move between the Sandia and Jemez mountain ranges (read a summary of the proposal here). Most of the Sandia-Jemez corridor lies within the pueblo’s current boundaries. Adding the remaining portion that occurs on the BLM tract would mean the pueblo could ensure the viability of the entire corridor and protect it from development. We recently wrote about Santa Ana’s strong track record in land restoration and wildlife management. Santa Ana will present its plan at a public meeting:

Saturday, October 25, 9:00-11:00 a.m.
Pueblo of Santa Ana Tribal Council Chamber
2 Dove Rd., Santa Ana Pueblo

San Felipe Pueblo, the third contender for the BLM tract, presented its plans at a public meeting on August 23. San Felipe Pueblo land manager Ricardo Ortiz indicated part of the BLM acreage would be combined with adjacent pueblo lands and used for a horse sanctuary and related tourism operation. The sanctuary would be managed by a Colorado organization. It was not clear how many horses the sanctuary would accommodate. Wildlife corridors would also be protected, Ortiz said, but he provided no specifics. In September, the local Wild Horse Observers Association (WHOA) began publicly soliciting funds for a San Felipe “Wild Horse Sanctuary,” with donations going directly to WHOA.

WHOA’s survey shows most Placitans want horses removed or behind a fence

The Wild Horse Observers Association (WHOA) says on its website that its recent telephone poll shows 85.7% of Placitans “want the free-roaming horses to remain.” Remain where? In your yard? In my subdivision? On the BLM tract? Let’s unpack this statistic a bit.rabbit on phone

A total of 208 persons—that’s about 5% of Placitas adults–completed the August phone survey. Using the pollster’s report, we’ve done some simple number crunching to clarify the main findings and sentiments:

  • Move ’em out. About 14% of respondents want the horses to be rounded up and removed.
  • Put ’em behind a fence. About 38% want the horses managed on a horse sanctuary on BLM land.
  • Put ’em behind two fences. About 16% want the horses to be managed on a horse sanctuary on both BLM and Placitas Open Space (POS) lands.
  • All-you-can-eat buffet option. About 22% want the horses to be able to roam on “all unfenced private lands and all public lands in and adjacent to Placitas.”
  • Don’t talk to me about horses. About 11% don’t like any of these options or have no opinion.

Continue reading

Pueblo of Santa Ana: a neighbor committed to wildlife and partnerships

We sometimes get pretty depressed about the seriously trashed state of the lands in Placitas and surrounding areas, thanks to several years of feral horse incursions and a multi-year drought.

But last week was a real bright spot. We learned about the Pueblo of Santa Ana’s achievements in wildlife conservation and land restoration. We met with pueblo staff and also attended a group presentation by the pueblo (more about that in a future post).

Southwestern willow flycatcher

Photo credit: Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA

Maybe we don’t get out enough, but until now, we had known very little about Santa Ana’s programs and successes in these areas. Here’s a brief overview.

The Santa Ana Department of Natural Resources has a staff of 30, many with a background in wildlife science, forestry or environmental science. The department’s main areas of focus are:

  • Bosque restoration
  • Rangeland and wildlife management
  • Water resource management
  • Environmental education
  • Geographic information systems and other data tools

The pueblo has spent nearly two decades restoring the grasslands, rivers and riparian areas within its boundaries. The photos staff showed us of restored bosque areas, riverbanks teeming with vegetation, and healthy grasslands were a real sight for sore eyes. You can read an article about their river restoration and endangered species work here.

In the last decade, Santa Ana has reintroduced both wild turkeys and pronghorn antelope onto pueblo lands. Wildlife staff are currently working to monitor and conserve endangered or threatened species, including the southwestern willow flycatcher, yellow-billed cuckoo, and Rio Grande silvery minnow. They’ve documented 77 species of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians on pueblo lands and regularly see elk and mountain lions.

Pronghorn antelope

Photo credit: US Fish and Wildlife Service

The pueblo makes good use of technology. A network of solar-powered wells and drinkers for wildlife and grazing animals has been installed throughout the pueblo’s 79,000 acres. Along with on-the-ground legwork and annual fly-overs, the natural resources staff use satellite and other imagery to map and monitor the land and vegetation. To better understand wildlife ranges, they track the wanderings of elk, antelope and wild turkeys — both on and off pueblo lands — using radio collars.

The pueblo doesn’t attempt to go it alone. It has a track record of partnering with many agencies and organizations to leverage resources, including:

  • US Environmental Protection Agency
  • US Fish and Wildlife Service
  • USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • US Forest Service
  • NM Department of Game and Fish
  • University of New Mexico Museum of Southwestern Biology
  • National Wild Turkey Federation
  • Ducks Unlimited

The Pueblo of Santa Ana has received a number of significant grants to fund conservation and restoration projects (too many to mention here) and has been recognized nationally and internationally for its achievements. We’re pleased as punch to know there’s such a committed team of experienced professionals—working to preserve lands and wildlife—just down the road.