Thursday, January 7, 2010

BLM Ignores RAC Recommendations Against "Gate-Cutting" Method of Gathering

"....The RAC believes that the BLM should discontinue “gate cut” removals (removal of all age classes without regard to animal adoptability or wild herd genetics) that have been widely used over the past several years..."

Relevant text in bold RED LETTERS;

Bureau of Land Management
Northeast California Resource Advisory Council

Business Meeting
Thursday and Friday, Feb. 8-9, 2007
Summary Minutes

Thursday, Feb. 8

Opening Business

Committee chair Nancy Huffman opened the meeting at about 1 p.m.

Approvals: The agenda was adjusted to move election of officers to closing business. The minutes from the September meeting were approved as mailed.


Category One: Ken McGarva, Skip Willmore, John Erquiaga, Todd Swickard, Jack Razzeto.

Category Two: Frank Bayham, Rosalee Bradley, Martin Balding. Absent: Wes Finley. One vacancy (Gerry Nordstrom).

Category Three: Jim Chapman, Nancy Huffman, Tim Garrod. Absent: Henricus Jansen. One vacancy (Frances Benally).

There are majorities present in each membership group, and therefore, a quorum of the advisory council.

BLM Staff: Deputy State Director (resources) Tony Danna, Alturas Field Manager Tim Burke, Eagle Lake Field Manager Dayne Barron, Acting Surprise Field Manager Lance Bishop, Acting Eagle Lake Associate Field Manager Bob Wick, Eagle Lake Planning Team Leader Sue Noggles, Eagle Lake Outdoor Recreation Planner Stan Bales, Public Affairs Officer Jeff Fontana.

The RAC was told that Surprise Field Manager Owen Billingsley has retired. Jeff Fontana read a letter of thanks from Owen to members of the RAC (attachment).

Guests: Gary McGuin, Nevada Department of Agriculture; Rex Cleary, former BLM Susanville district manager; Lee Delaney, former BLM resource area manager and retired lead for the BLM wild horse and burro program; Brandy Norton, California Department of Fish and Game; Rob Jeffers, Modoc National Forest; Sean Curtis, Modoc County resource advisor: Joel Rathje, Lassen County trails coordinator.

Wild Horse and Burro Program

Bill Phillips (a retired BLM rangeland management specialist) and BLM Public Affairs Officer Jeff Fontana presented an overview about the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program. (The PowerPoint slides are attached to these minutes). Phillips explained in detail the differences among various types of herd management strategies, including gate cut and structured herd management approaches.

Lee Delaney, a retired BLM manager who once headed the national Wild Horse and Burro program, provided background information on development of the management strategy now being used by the BLM. He explained the concept was to reach appropriate management level for all herds within five years. It recognized that large numbers of animals would be held for long periods of time, but also recognized that in the long term, program costs would be reduced through reduced needs to gather excess animals from wild herds.

Rex Cleary, the BLM’s Susanville district manager from 1975 to 1989, provided additional information about herd management approaches that were used in the Susanville District during his tenure.

RAC members discussed the program in detail, particularly management approaches that have focused since 2001 on reaching appropriate management level for all Western herds, and holding many excess horses in long term holding facilities.

RAC Comments:

Frank Bayham: The RAC should adopt a resolution urging the BLM to use the tools available to manage the program to manage herds on the ground and reduce the number of animals going into expensive long term holding.

Nancy Huffman agreed the RAC should use its influence to urge the BLM to adopt policies as Frank recommended. Skip Willmore suggested that the resolution take into consideration the budgetary concerns and the best way to use the BLM’s available financial resources.

Lee Delaney suggested that the RAC start by recommending management policies for the three Northeast California field offices and suggesting that the policy be adopted program wide.

Tim Garrod said the RAC could endorse a BLM return to structured herd management approaches and could attempt to influence the BLM on its own.

He suggested the RAC could go further, working to convince other RACs to join the Northeast California RAC in encouraging the BLM to return to structured herd management approaches rather than the gate cut approaches now being used in wild herd management.

Gary McGuin of the Nevada Department of Agriculture said he would forward this RAC’s recommendation to see if Nevada BLM RACs would join in the effort.

Martin Balding suggested that a Northeast California RAC resolution should be shared with other councils. The resolution should support BLM’s stated appropriate management levels, and support structured management approaches that would maximize adoption, minimize holding in long term, control costs and keep healthy herds on the range.

Todd Swickard suggested that the RAC recommend a structured herd presentation as outlined by Bill Phillips. He said the recommendation should be framed in terms of a specific management prescription.

Jim Chapman said he sees the possibility for consensus. He expressed concern that some management approaches had been ignored. He suggested a reduction in number of “technocrats” involved in policy making.

Nancy suggested the recommendation should be locally focused, and have a strong, broader message recommending a change in wild herd management policy to favor structured herd management over gate cut management.

Action: By full consensus, the RAC adopted the following recommendation, and requested that it be forwarded to California State Director Mike Pool for consideration by the BLM:

Recommendation on Wild Horse Management
Developed by the
Northeast California Resource Advisory Council

The Northeast California Resource Advisory Council supports the publicly stated Bureau of Land Management Appropriate Management Levels (AML) for wild horses on public lands managed by the BLM. The RAC urges the BLM to state herd AMLs as population ranges, managing these populations within those established ranges.

Further, the RAC strongly endorses establishment of structured herd management plans for removal of wild horses when wild herd populations exceed appropriate management levels. The RAC believes that the BLM should discontinue “gate cut” removals (removal of all age classes without regard to animal adoptability or wild herd genetics) that have been widely used over the past several years.

A structured management plan as presented to this RAC at its meeting on Feb. 8, 2007, would maximize wild horse adoptions and minimize the high cost of holding, managing and feeding horses that should be left on their home ranges. Structured herd management as a method to achieve and maintain AMLs will contribute to the health and well being of horses on their home ranges, and contribute to maintaining and improving the health of the land.
Structured herd management approaches have been successfully used in herd management areas across the BLM, and were notably successful in the former Susanville District.

Now that the BLM is in sight of achieving appropriate management levels for western herds, a commendable achievement, it is time to put into place management programs that stabilize and/or reduce the number of horses in long-term holding facilities. There are techniques and technologies now available to the BLM to achieve these goals. Shifting to a structured herd management strategy will enable the BLM to continue managing herd populations at appropriate management levels, provide adoptable animals to the adoption program and reduce the flow of animals into the long-term holding system.

These recommended shifts will enable the BLM to redirect funds from the current use for animal holding. This will enable the BLM to use wild horse and burro program funds for wild herd management.

Adopted by full consensus and
forwarded to BLM State Director Mike Pool:
Friday, Feb. 9, 2007,
Susanville, California

Litchfield Wild Horse and Burro Corrals Management Strategy

Eagle Lake Field Manager Dayne Barron presented information on a five-year management strategy being developed for the Litchfield Wild Horse and Burro Corrals.

It is designed to outline the function of the corrals within the BLM WHB program as a whole and define its role and importance in local herd management.

The strategy recognizes that gather needs will be reduced as AML is achieved, and focuses the corral mission on using staff expertise to support the adoption program, and to support herd gathering needs for other BLM wild horse and burro management facilities. Under the proposed strategy, support of the adoption program would become a larger component of the Litchfield Corrals operation.

Implementation of the strategy is “on hold” pending recommendations from an internal BLM team now looking at BLM WHB program needs and the role of the current facilities, including the Litchfield Corrals.

Dayne also noted that a plan to fill the vacant wild horse and burro program manager position is “on hold.” Dayne and key staff members are managing the program “by committee,” an approach that will continue for the immediate future.

Bill Phillips noted that the numbers of gathers might increase with a shift to structured herd management, but the numbers of animals brought in will be reduced. He said the adoption capability needs to be strengthened to move horses into adoptive homes more quickly.

He said maintaining widely spaced WHB corral facilities provides flexibility, and an outlet for animal holding in cases where disease such s strangles affects other corrals.

Friday, Feb. 9

State Office Update

Deputy State Director (resources) Tony Danna presented national and statewide information:

Kathleen Clarke has resigned as director of the BLM. Jim Hughes, her assistant, has been named acting director. Kathleen expressed a desire to return to her family in Utah. (Her farewell message to employees is attached to the minutes).

The BLM is looking an organizational measures to increase effective use of limited funding:

o The Denver Service Center, which provides support BLM-wide, will be consolidated into a single unit.
o Personnel support – human resources – will be centralized BLM wide.
o The Washington Office will be reorganized.
o The states will be asked to return to three-tier organizations, from the current two-tier organization. Details will be determined by each state. The California state management team will consider options at a meeting in March.

A BLM budget has not been approved. The agencies are being funded under a continuing resolution, which keeps spending at 2006 levels.

The president’s 2008 proposed budget has been released. Congress will now begin discussions.

The BLM/Forest Service Recreation Resource Advisory Council formation effort is still underway, but the councils still have not been formed. The Forest Service continues to lead the effort. There are hopes that a single council for California could be formed within a couple of months.

The BLM is now facing a series of retirements, as the specialists hired with the passage of FLPMA (1976) reach retirement age. BLM is recruiting replacements using a variety of methods including internships.

In response to questions, Tony noted that BLM resource management plans identify lands suitable for disposal, and areas where land acquisitions would benefit public land management.

Resource Management Planning Update

Sue Noggles, planning team leader for the Northeast California planning initiative, updated the council on progress toward public release of proposed final resource management plans/final environmental statements for the Alturas, Eagle Lake and Surprise field offices. Highlights:

Draft plans were released in April. A contractor is assisting the BLM with responses to public comments received during a 90-day public comment period.
An appendix in the final EIS will contain responses to the comments.

Sue presented a PowerPoint presentation (slides are attached to these minutes) to summarize public comments received and BLM responses.


Jim Chapman characterized the new resource management plans as refinements of plans that are working well now.

Sue explained that the proposed final RMPs will display the preferred alternative, but not the full range of alternatives discussed in the draft RMP. The wording changes from the draft to proposed final documents were only in the preferred alternatives. There were no wording changes in the other alternatives. The full text will not be duplicated from the draft to the proposed final, but will continue to be available in the draft documents.

She said avoiding the duplication will help reduce printing costs.

Nancy Huffman expressed concern about the tables of contents in the drafts and problems with finding information. Sue said inconsistencies among the documents will be addressed and tables of contents will be improved.

Responding to a question, Sue said the biological assessment is part of the required consultation process with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It addresses how proposed management actions will affect threatened or endangered species, assuring there will not be impacts. The biological assessments are not included in the published resource management plans/environmental impact statements. Tim added that the BLM hopes to have biological opinions from the Fish and Wildlife Service that conclude the management actions are not likely to affect threatened and endangered species.

Sagebrush Steppe Restoration Project

Alturas Field Manager Tim Burke and project manager Rob Jeffers of the Modoc National Forest updated the RAC on the status of the project.

Rob provided these highlights:

The project began several years ago, with support and encouragement from the RAC, as a way to address juniper encroachment issues on a landscape scale.

The BLM has provided $200,000, and the Modoc County Resource Advisory Committee a like amount, to develop an environmental impact statement (EIS) to assess the cumulative environmental impacts of treating juniper encroachment, and improving sagebrush steppe ecosystem health over about 6.5 million acres of public lands and private lands (the EIS would not have management control over private lands).

The purpose is to restore these landscapes through juniper reduction to a more naturally-functioning condition. Many of the sagebrush steppe areas have seen health and productivity reduced because of heavy juniper stands, including areas where canopies are fully enclosed.

The sagebrush steppe EIS will be incorporated into the new Modoc National Forest Plan which is now under development.

The joint project involves the BLM, Modoc National Forest, Modoc County and other counties including eastern Siskiyou and Shasta in California and northern Washoe County in far northwest Nevada.

The project is led by a board of directors that includes a county supervisor from Modoc, Lassen and Siskiyou counties, Modoc National Forest Supervisor Stan Sylva and BLM Alturas Field Manager Tim Burke.

A management team of staff members from the various agencies work on the day to day needs.

The EIS is being developed by JW Associates of Breckenridge, Colo. Rob said the working relationship between the agencies and the company is sound.

The North Cal Neva Resource Conservation and Development District is coordinating a working group that also provides input and review.

Agency specialists from the BLM and Forest Service work on a specialist review team to review technical natural resources information.

The FS and the BLM are working under a MOU with Modoc County, making the county a cooperating agency.

In 2004, eight public meetings were held to formulate a proposed action. The project began officially on July 18, 2005, with publication of a Forest Service notice of intent to begin the planning process.

o The agencies received 284 individual comments during the scoping period. The contractor has posted the scoping report on the internet. From the scoping report, the agencies derived 13 significant issues.

Rob said a range of four management alternatives was developed to address the issues raised during public scoping. They address varying rates of treatments compared to the proposed alternative of treating about 50,000 acres annually. All alternatives address a combination of prescribed fire and mechanical treatments, with alternatives analyzing various mixes of fire and mechanical treatments.

The team continues to refine data. Rob said significant research, including study of General Land Office surveys and historic photo comparisons have been completed to quantify the extent of juniper encroachment from historical woodland areas into sagebrush-steppe ecosystems, which in healthy condition are mixes of grasses and shrubs with very few juniper trees.

While there is an economic benefit to juniper harvest, Sean Curtis of Modoc County stressed the focus on the plan is sagebrush steppe restoration, not providing biomass fuel or solely providing more livestock grazing opportunities. Rob added that biomass and increased forage would be side benefits of juniper treatments.

Martin Balding questioned whether the plan addresses the release of carbon, the prime “culprit” in global warming, that will result from juniper reduction. Rob said one specialist is at work on the question.

Release of the draft EIS release is anticipated in June with a 45-day public review and comment period to follow. A series of public meetings will be held throughout the analysis area to solicit public comments. There are 180 people on the mail list who will be receiving regular informational updates.

Information is posted on the web. The site can be accessed from the Modoc National Forest homepage or the Alturas BLM Field Office web page.

Responding to questions, Tim Burke said the field office resource management plans will accommodate the strategies contained in the sagebrush steppe EIS, negating the need to amend the RMPs. Rob added that site specific NEPA analysis will still be needed for individual juniper reduction projects, but the larger EIS will contain all the needed data about cumulative effects, a benefit because cumulative effects analysis will not have to be completed for each individual project NEPA analysis.

Field Managers Reports


Acting Field Manager Lance Bishop distributed a written field report covering rangeland management, wild horse herd management, wildlife, realty, energy, cultural resources, the soil/water program, vegetation management, the noxious weed program, fuels and forestry, the Experimental Stewardship Program and the Black Rock Desert-High Rock Canyon-Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area (attachment).

Additionally he said:

He appreciates the opportunity to participate in the RAC meeting and is impressed with the feedback the RAC provides to the BLM.

The field office priority now is completing the proposed final RMP/final EIS for public release.


Field Manager Tim Burke distributed a field office status report covering precipitation totals and the field office drought policy, grazing permit renewals, prescribed fire projects, the Red Rock wild horse herd, Medicine Lake geothermal projects and staff vacancies (attachment). He commended the RAC for its work on developing the field office drought policy several years ago, saying it might be put in place if precipitation does not increase this winter.

Tim distributed a summary report on status of the rail banking proposal for the Modoc Line. He said the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, Lassen and Modoc counties, the Lassen
Land and Trails Trust and the American Lands Conservancy are now working with the BLM on the rail banking proposal that would result in retaining the linear corridor of the Union Pacific rail line between Wendel and Alturas, rather than allowing property to revert to adjacent landowners. The line has been abandoned by UP. Burke said the U. S. Surface Transportation Board has granted the local coalition a six-month extension of the rail banking negotiation period, providing time for appraising UP-owned lands that would be purchased by the local rail banking entity.

Jim Chapman noted that rail banking provides the greatest flexibility for future management of the rail corridor, by preserving options for future resumption of rail use and allowing immediate use for recreational trails or other uses.

Responding to questions, Tim noted that the field office has opened two free firewood cutting areas. There have not been negative impacts. It has provided an incentive for people to harvest juniper firewood. Permits are still required. Free use areas will be opened in appropriate areas.

Eagle Lake

Field Manager Dayne Barron presented a written report covering forestry, rangeland management, wild horse and burro management, wildlife, fire, recreation, botany/weeds, resource management plan development, wind energy and personnel (attachment). In addition, he stressed that wind energy is an emerging major issue with two companies now considering submitting plans of development that for wind energy “farms.” He said proposals will require environmental analysis and consistency with the resource management plan soon to be released. An amendment will likely be needed for the Eagle Lake Field Office RMP. EIS-level analysis will be required to amend the plan and to analyze the wind energy impacts. Tribal consultations also will be required.

Wind Energy Comments:

Todd Swickard said he feels wind energy companies are looking for “places of least resistance” for wind farms, and will transfer the energy to areas outside of the local area. He said there will be no local benefit. The power produced here will not lower local rates. He said wind farms will depreciate land values.

Skip said the field offices and the RAC should have “seen wind energy proposals coming” while working on the draft resource management plans.

Martin said the BLM needs to establish guidelines for wind energy projects

Bob Wick said there is the potential for the National Renewable Energy Lab to do wind energy feasibility assessments independent of energy company assessments. He said the field office will investigate.

Joel Rathje said there are opportunities for local communities to learn from experiences elsewhere in the nation.

Jim Chapman said Lassen County government will weigh in on the need for local benefit from any wind energy project located here.

Dayne also announced completion of a national BLM/Forest Service policy concerning gathering of plant materials by Native American tribes (attachment). The policy sets forth consistent procedures governing collection of plants for purposes such as basket weaving and ceremonies.

Closing Business

Subcommittee assignments
A subcommittee consisting of Nancy Huffman, Jack Razzeto and Martin Balding will be available for review of the draft EIS on the Sagebrush Steppe Ecosystem Restoration Project.

Election of Officers
The council elected Nancy Huffman chair and Skip Willmore vice chair.

Next meeting dates
Thursday and Friday, May 31 and June 1. The Alturas Field Office will host the meeting in Burney. Skip Willmore will arrange a field tour to a nearby saleable minerals mining operation.

Next meeting topics
RMP update, Sagebrush Steppe Ecosystem Restoration Project, wind energy developments, follow-up on the wild horse management resolution, update on free juniper cutting areas, field office accomplishments, and BLM reorganization update.

The meeting was adjourned at 12:30 p.m.

Note: Attachments referenced in these minutes are on file at the BLM Eagle Lake Field Office. Contact Public Affairs Officer Jeff Fontana, (530) 252-5332, for copies.

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