Tuscarora Wild Horse Gather
About the Owyhee, Rock Creek and Little Humboldt Herd Management Areas
The three herd management areas (HMAs) are about 80 miles northwest of Elko, Nevada, and encompass more than 482,000 acres of public and private lands in north-central Nevada in Elko County.
|Owyhee HMA||336,262 acres public||2,025 private||total 338,287 acres|
|Rock Creek HMA||102,638 acres public||24,115 private||total 126,753 acres|
|Little Humboldt HMA||15,734 acres public|
|total 17,151 acres|
The area is located south of the Owyhee Desert area but within the Columbia Plateau and Great Basin physiographic regions. The Great Basin is one of the largest deserts in the world, and is characterized by a high rolling plateau underlain by basal flows covered with thin loess and alluvial mantel. Elevations range from about 5,100 feet to 7,750 feet in the Tuscarora Mountains. Precipitation ranges from 7 inches in the valley bottoms to 16 to 18 inches in the mountains. Most of the precipitation comes during the winter months in the form of snow with the summer months being quite dry. Temperatures range from 90 plus degrees F. in the summer to minus 15 degrees F. in the winter.
The average annual precipitation is often less than 10 inches. Drought conditions can occur as frequently as 6 out of every 10 years. Climate data from the National Weather Service shows that precipitation for the current water year (beginning October 1, 2009) is approximately 30 percent below the thirty-year average. Given the very dry conditions and the expanding wild horse numbers, along with the limited perennial water sources in the Owyhee HMA, the BLM has a very strong concern that wild horses could suffer from dehydration and possible death in the Owyhee HMA this summer if excess wild horses are not removed. This area has a long history of drought conditions, which have resulted in the need to conduct emergency gathers in order to prevent substantial losses of horses due to extremely limited forage and water supplies.
In addition to ongoing drought conditions, the Rock Creek and Little Humboldt HMAs have been severely impacted by catastrophic wildfires. In 2001, the Buffalo Fire burned 21,186 acres, or about 20 percent of the Rock Creek HMA. In 2006, the Winters and Amazon fires burned 238,462 and 108,563 acres respectively, which included about 95 percent of the Rock Creek HMA, and more than 90 percent of the Little Humboldt HMA. As a result, the BLM has conducted numerous emergency gathers to remove horses due to drought and lack of forage and water.
Questions and Answers
Video: The Tuscarora Gather. . .Extreme Terrain Requires Extreme Diligence
Click here for the transcript of the video.
A news article published during the Tuscarora Wild Horse Gather provided inaccurate information alleging that a dead horse observed on the range had been "driven" to its death during gather operations. The BLM is addressing this report here because it was not based on any first-hand knowledge of the events, and was founded instead on speculation that provides an inaccurate record.
The facts surrounding the mortality addressed in the news article are that on July 11, when there were no gather operations taking place, the contractor and the BLM Nevada Chief Ranger found a severely injured mare and a young foal with broken front legs on the side of a steep canyon wall. Both animals were humanely euthanized and their remains left on-site. The BLM did not "drive" horses to their death in the rocks – as speculated in the news article, given that these wild horses were more than five miles from the area gathered on July 10, and no gathers occurred on July 11.
BLM did not report these two deaths as part of its daily mortality log, because that log documents mortalities for wild horses that are gathered. The BLM was not conducting operations to gather this horse or any excess wild horses within this area either prior to or at the time when these horses were found, therefore the two wild horse deaths were not associated with gather operations. BLM Nevada is examining its reporting methods to better document all wild horse deaths that occur or are found during gather operations.
Summary of Tuscarora Gather Review Team Final Report
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has issued a report prepared by the Tuscarora Gather Review Team on the Tuscarora Wild Horse Gather that began on July 10, 2010, near Elko, Nev., in the Owyhee Herd Management Area (HMA). The need for the gather had previously been established through an Environmental Assessment (EA) issued June 2010.
Key team findings include the following:
- The BLM should share the Review Team Report with other BLM offices to highlight the potential complication associated with gathers when horses are suffering from possible severe dehydration, so that modifications to the gather operations can be made in advance;
- When the lack of water on the range is identified as a concern, and if there are predictions that water sources could dry up in advance of the gather, the BLM should conduct sufficient pre-gather monitoring of water resources and animal condition and behavior to determine if water issues have escalated to the point of creating an emergency situation; and,
- The BLM should develop best management practices that would be periodically updated to include lessons learned for future gather operations.
The BLM stopped regular gather operations on July 11, 2010, after three gathered horses were found dead and several others showed signs of physical distress the morning after the gather began. BLM Director Bob Abbey called for a review before any gather operations could be resumed and, if resumed, under what conditions. Necropsies by the on-site veterinarian revealed that the wild horses had been suffering from water starvation/dehydration prior to the gather and had died as a result of water starvation/dehydration or water intoxication.
While the gather operations were formally suspended, the BLM focused its efforts on care for the animals in the holding pens and animals on the range in need of water. The BLM delivered a total of 46,000 gallons of water to several sites near where horses were located on survey flights of the HMA. Even then, many of the animals appeared not to drink the water the BLM brought to the ponds and troughs. The BLM resumed emergency rescue gather operations in the Owyhee HMA on Friday July 16, and concluded operations on Tuesday, July 20. A total of 636 horses from the Owyhee HMA were successfully gathered, treated, and transported to holding facilities. In all, a total of 13 gather wild horses suffering from water starvation/dehydration-related complications died or were humanely euthanized.
Members of the review team included:
- Mike Mottice, Associate State Director, BLM Oregon/Washington
- Tom Pogacnik, Deputy State Director--Natural Resources, BLM California
- Dr. Boyd Spratling, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DMV) and member of the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board
- Eric Reid, Wild Horse and Burro Specialist, BLM Utah
- Dr. Klell Ekins, Equine DVM
- Robin Lohnes, Director, American Horse Protection Association, and Chair of the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board
Final Report of the Tuscarora Review Team