Another Salazar Disaster
Sylvia Baca of (formally of) British Petroleum – Salazar’s Deputy Assistant Secretary of Lands and Minerals Management:
“…we should thank them (the BLM) for not euthanizing the wild horses held in holding corrals…”
May 31, 2010
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Ken Salazar, Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary, has come under fire for his lack of oversight on offshore drilling. And on Salazar’s watch, the Deepwater Horizon spill has mushroomed into the planet’s worst environment disaster. While Salazar is being questioned by the House Committee on Natural Resources regarding the Deepwater Horizon disaster, he still continues to mismanage this country’s wild horse populations on public lands. Wild horses and burros are being rounded up off their legal homes on Western ranges while industries like oil and gas drilling are allowed to monopolize public lands at enormous expense to the American taxpayer and the environment.
The impact of oil and gas drilling on public lands is perhaps best described by project coordinator, Lars Ecklund, of the proposed Ruby natural gas pipeline which would impact wild horses and wild public lands in its 600-mile path. As quoted by the Klamath Falls Herald and News on April 16, 2010, Ecklund said “Once we get that [FERC approval], all hell will break loose… don’t think we’re going to put this pipe in without making a mess … It’s going to look like Hiroshima. It’s going to look nasty.” Salazar, who signed an agreement with the FERC Chairman on March 17, 2009 to facilitate offshore drilling, has been unresponsive to public calls to stop the Ruby project.
Secretary Salazar is no friend of wild horses. He stated that “they don’t belong on public lands” while running for the U.S. Senate in Colorado in 2004. Under his leadership at DOI, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has retained the same entrenched bureaucrats who continue to run the Wild Horse and Burro program into the ground. Salazar has continued the Bush-era policy of massive wild horse removals off public land leading to the demise of America’s wild herds—burdening the taxpayer with a bill of $3.5 million per month for the 37,000 now incarcerated wild horses. Since Salazar’s appointment, over one dozen herds have been zeroed out with at least another five on the chopping block for fiscal year 2011.
“Destruction and death of the animals the American public cherishes have been Salazar’s hallmark/brand as Interior Secretary,” states Katie Fite, biodiversity specialist for Western Watersheds. “He failed to protect wolves and sage grouse, and oversaw the brutal Calico wild horse roundup and many others. He’s hell-bent on selling out the public lands to ranchers and big energy scoundrels—in whose corporate interest it is that there are no wolves, no grouse, and no wild horses left.”
In June of 2009, Salazar hired Sylvia Baca away from BP America to become his Deputy Assistant Secretary of Lands and Minerals Management. This is not Baca’s first stint at Interior. From 1995 to 2001 she was the Assistant Secretary for Lands and Mineral management and also served as the Acting Director of the BLM. During her tenure as Acting Director allegations of wild horses being sent to slaughter were revealed in a series of shocking articles by AP reporter, Martha Mendoza. Her meticulously researched articles revealed BLM contractors and employees working together to traffic wild horses to slaughterhouses. In a PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility) White Paper released in 1997 on this topic, PEER reported that “On February 19, 1997, the BLM issued a press release announcing the results of an internal investigation ‘which contradicts recent press allegations that wild horses are routinely sent to slaughter.’ Despite this self-proclaimed clean bill of health the BLM simultaneously announced a series of 20 reforms in the Wild Horse and Burro Program and promised more reforms to come.” Despite the promised ‘reforms’, some of the same employees implicated in this investigation are working at the BLM today, at least one in a position of authority.
In 2001, Baca left the Interior Department to take a job as a senior manager at BP America—the same BP of the Gulf disaster. Ironically, while at BP, one of her responsibilities was to develop health, safety, and emergency response programs. Then in June 2009 the offer came from Salazar for her to return to DOI, this time with a promotion.
Six months after beginning her second stint at DOI, Baca attended the December 2009 BLM Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board Meeting in Reno, representing the “Salazar Plan” to the Board. The Plan would move 26,000 wild horses from the West to preserves in the East and Midwest, on private land purchased with taxpayer dollars. “The Plan requires hundreds of millions of dollars for land acquisitions, yet it's being sold as an eco-tourism opportunity. People are thrilled by the sight of mustangs running free, by battling stallions and long-legged foals," states Phantom Stallion series author Terri Farley who attended the meeting. “But this Plan takes our wild horses off public lands, castrates all stallions and sends segregated, non-reproducing animals to pastures back East. It's expensive, unnecessary and cruel. And for what? Most tax-payers would choose the once-in-a-lifetime experience of seeing mustangs in the wild, over funding more grazing cows and more oil and gas installations pounding away."
During a break in the meeting in Reno, Cloud Foundation Director Ginger Kathrens, used the opportunity to say hello to Secretary Baca and show her pictures of the Calico horses of northwestern Nevada. The horses were slated for a dead of winter removal because, BLM contended, they might starve if left on their half-million acre home range. “Craig Downer had taken wonderful pictures of the wild horses and then enlarged them for the Board to see,” said Kathrens. “When I showed her the pictures and called her attention to the health and beauty of the horses, she stated it didn’t look like they had anything to eat and walked away.”
Then in April 2010, the Cloud Foundation scheduled a meeting with BLM Director Bob Abbey in an attempt to find solutions to the management difficulties within the Wild Horse and Burro Program and to work collaboratively with the BLM. Deputy Secretary Baca attended that meeting “and we were met with open hostility from her,” states Kathrens. “At one point she indicated we should thank them (the BLM) for not euthanizing the wild horses held in holding corrals, intimating that they had the legal authority to do so.”
“Sylvia Baca is just doing Secretary Salazar’s bidding as far as I’m concerned and they are both bad for the wild horses and the environment,” states American Herds blog writer Cindy MacDonald. “ Look what’s happening in the Gulf. Interior is dangerously unresponsive and ineffective under Salazar’s leadership. He was picked to clean up the reported corruption within the agency and instead, it is the same old faces making the same bad decisions.”
Some media pundits have concluded that Salazar has only months to go before being replaced as Secretary of the Interior. “It can’t come too soon for our wild lands, the horses or the environment,” MacDonald concludes.
The Cloud Foundation continues to ask for DOI’s assurance that the elimination of wild horse and burro herds across the West is not motivated by extractive industries. This is difficult to believe because tens of thousands of privately-owned livestock are grazing on herd management areas across the West and oil and gas exploration is rampant in some herd areas.
The Cloud Foundation asks the public to contact President Obama and call for the immediate resignation of both Salazar and Baca. Both need to be replaced with a true stewards of our public lands like the recently deceased Stuart Udall, who established the first public wild horse and burro range in Cloud’s Pryor Mountains and understood the value of protecting and preserving public lands for multiple-use rather than greed-based destruction.
A conservation organization, WildEarth Guardians, is currently circulating a letter demanding that Secretary Salazar resign for his poor decision-making and mismanagement of wildlife and watersheds, air, land and water, to which the Cloud Foundation is one of the signatories. “The country needs an Interior Secretary that will do more than wear a cowboy hat and talk tough in front of cameras,” said Dr. Nicole Rosmarino, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians, “Salazar promised to be the new sheriff in town but his form of policing seems to be to look the other way.”