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Questions and Answers
What is the Proposed Action and other alternatives considered in the Preliminary Environmental Assessment (EA)?
• Proposed Action: Remove excess wild horses to the lower limit of AML, apply fertility control to released mares and/or adjust the sex ratio to 60% males and 40% females within the Owyhee HMA. Gather wild horses within the Rock Creek and Little Humboldt HMAs to apply fertility control to release mares and to remove small numbers of weanlings to four year old mares to adjust the sex ratio. Any wild horses residing outside the HMA boundaries will be removed.
• Alternative B - Remove to AML lower limit and adjust the sex ratio to 60% males and 40% females in the Owyhee, Rock Creek and Little Humboldt HMAs and remove any wild horses residing outside the HMA boundaries.
• Alternative C – Removal only to AML lower limit and remove any wild horses residing outside the HMAs boundaries.
• Alternative D (No Action) – Defer the gathering and removal of wild horses.
The BLM also considered several other alternatives but didn’t fully analyze them because they didn’t meet the purpose and need of the EA or were unfeasible.
No wild burros reside within the project area.
Alternatives Considered but Dismissed from Detailed Analysis
• Use of Bait and/or Water Trapping
Though water/bait trapping is an effective tool for specific management purposes, this alternative was dismissed from detailed study for the following reasons: 1) the three HMAs encompass more than 480,000 acres and are too large to feasibly use this method; 2) because the area has several, widely scattered small water sources on public and private lands, it would be difficult to restrict horse access to water in order to use water traps; 3) access for vehicles necessary to safely transport gathered wild horses is limited especially in the Rock Creek and Little Humboldt HMAs.
• Remove or Reduce Livestock within the HMAs
This alternative would involve no removal of wild horses and would instead address excess wild horse numbers through removal or reduction of livestock within the HMAs. This alternative was not brought forward for analysis because it is inconsistent with the 1987 Elko Resource Management Plan Record of Decision, the 2003 Elko Resource Management Plan Wild Horse Amendment and the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act which directs the Secretary to immediately remove excess wild horses. This alternative is also inconsistent with the BLM’s multiple use management mission under the 1976 Federal Land Policy Management Act.
Livestock use has already been adjusted and decreased due to on-going drought conditions within the area. Significant portions of the HMAs have been closed since 2007 due to rehabilitation efforts associated with catastrophic wildfires in 2006. In contrast, the current population of wild horses on the Owyhee, Rock Creek, and Little Humboldt HMAs equates to more than 17,256 AUMs, which exceeds the identified carrying capacity of 6,729 AUMs (high end of AMLs) for wild horses established through prior decisions and land-use planning.
• Gather Owyhee, Rock Creek and Little Humboldt HMAs to the upper range of AML
This alternative does not comply with the Act because management within AML would not be achieved, and it would not allow for removal of sufficient excess animals to achieve or maintain a thriving natural ecological balance. The three HMAs would immediately exceed the established AML with the 2011 foal crop, extending the overpopulation that would result in ongoing impacts to the rangelands and prevent the BLM from managing wild horses at a level that achieves a thriving natural ecological balance within the area.
• Wild Horse Numbers Controlled by Natural Means
This alternative was eliminated from further consideration because it is contrary to the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act which requires the BLM to prevent the range from deterioration associated with overpopulation. It is also inconsistent with the 1987 Elko Resource Management Plan and the 2003 Wild Horse Amendment which directs that Elko District BLM conduct gathers as necessary to achieve and maintain AML. In addition, wild horses are a long-lived species with documented foal survival rates exceeding 95 percent and they are not a self-regulating species.
This alternative would result in a steady increase in numbers which would continually exceed the carrying capacity of the range until severe and unusual conditions, that occur periodically such as blizzards or extreme drought, would result in catastrophic mortality.
Description of the Environment
The project area is located in northwestern Elko County, approximately 80 air miles northwest of Elko, Nevada. The region is located just south of the Owyhee Desert area within the Columbia Plateau and Great Basin regions. These regions are in the Great Basin, one of the largest deserts in the world. It 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.
In general, the vegetation consists of Wyoming big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata var. wyomingensis), Sandberg bluegrass (Poa secunda), squirretail (Sitanion hystrix) with scattered bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudorogneria spicatum) and Indian ricegrass (Oryzopsis hymenoides).