Editorial: Someone needs to commit to realistic wild horse population control

Wild horses in corrals in Carson City (R-J photo by John Locher)

Twenty Republican members of Congress, including Nevada’s Sen. Dean Heller and Rep. Mark Amodei, sent a letter earlier this month to Neil Kornze, the director of the Bureau of Land Management, asking him to provide suggestions for how to rein in the exploding wild horse population in the West, which is damaging water resources, overgrazing the range and jeopardizing their own health, as well as that of other wildlife and the livelihoods of ranchers.

The letter notes that almost half of the 100,000 horses under BLM management are located in holding facilities at a cost of $50,000 over the lifetime of each captive horse and that adoptions of wild horses have fallen 70 percent in the past decade. Currently more than 60 percent of the BLM’s $70 million annual budget for managing wild horses and burros is consumed by warehousing the animals.

When Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971 there were about 25,000 wild horses and burros on the range, but since then the number of animals on public lands has more than doubled to 58,150 — 9,000 of those were born in the past year alone. Half of these free roaming feral horses are in Nevada.

“We believe it is clear that the current management strategy of wild horses and burros has proven ineffective,” the letter says. “Wildfire, drought, and invasive species exacerbate poor range conditions caused by overstocked HMAs (herd management areas). Across 10 western states where the BLM manages wild horses and burros, every state exceeds AML (appropriate management level). In some cases, like Arizona, there are HMAs that surpass the agency-determined AML by more than 9 times the allowable herd size. We understand long-term fertility control methods take time to develop, and once implemented will maintain horse populations at more appropriate levels. In the interim, however, steps must be taken to decrease herd sizes to allow rangeland recovery and effective management of future populations.”

The letter does not pretend to lay the entire blame for the current situation on the managers of the BLM, and asks guilelessly what congressional action could be taken to give the agency the flexibility it needs to accomplish herd management.

The letter discusses fertilization suppression efforts at length.

In fact, this past summer the BLM announced it would initiate 21 research projects with a goal of maintaining a sustainable population of wild horses and burros at a cost of $11 million. The BLM says it plans to spend that money on university and U.S. Geological Survey scientists, primarily to develop longer lasting fertility-control vaccines, as well as efficient methods for spaying and neutering wild horses.

That could be the long-term solution, but the four-page congressional letter hints at one point at what is really the best and cheapest short-term solution, asking rhetorically whether “humane euthanasia” might be among the population control methods.

That 1971 wild horse law specifically states, “The Secretary (of Interior) shall cause additional excess wild free roaming horses and burros for which an adoption demand by qualified individuals does not exist to be destroyed in the most humane and cost efficient manner possible.”

But budgets since 2009 has stipulated that no funds are to used “for the destruction of healthy, unadopted, wild horses and burros …”

Of course, any hint at the necessity to slaughter these beautiful — though too often emaciated and crippled due to overgrazing and brutal combat between the studs for the mares healthy enough to breed — animals results in apoplectic outrage and threats of litigation from self-styled, but wrongheaded animal lovers.

But that is the only workable solution that will allow contraceptive efforts to work in the long- run.

A version of this editorial appears this past week in the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.



Newspaper column: Health and safety of Nevada community in limbo, awaiting BLM approval

Main Street in Baker, Nev.

The residents of the tiny community of Baker at the entrance to Great Basin National Park are concerned that their health and safety may be jeopardized for the sake of some vague concerns about perturbing sage grouse.

This past spring the Baker Water and Sewer General Improvement District board decided it had to replace its decades-old, 250,000-gallon leaking water storage tank located on a Bureau of Land Management right of way. There were fears that the leak might result in contamination of the water supply or put the community firefighting capability at risk for its approximately 100 users.

The board came up with a plan to build a new tank on a 30-by-100-foot site next to the current tank and then demolish the old tank. The district received fast track approval for a loan from the state, which receives funding under the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act, contingent upon receipt of a BLM permit.

In September the Interior Department, of which the BLM is a division, decided the greater sage grouse would not be listed under the Endangered Species Act but instead issued thousands of pages of land use restrictions as a means of protecting the bird — which still is legally hunted in several states, including Nevada.

When water district board members met at the site with a BLM representative, they were hit with a verbal list of unanticipated demands and told an expensive and time-consuming environmental impact statement would be needed due to those new grouse regulations.

In a Nov. 9 letter to White Pine County commissioners outlining the district’s dire straits, water district Chairman David Sturlin and Treasurer Terry Steadman write, “We were originally told by the BLM that the review process would only take a couple of weeks to complete. It is now over a month since the sage grouse monkey wrench was thrown into the works. Our tank replacement project is now on indefinite hold, which has also caused the SRF administrators to stop any disbursement of funds. The district has already incurred expenses that were to be paid out of the State Revolving Fund which we can’t pay. Project delays ultimately translate into cost overruns. It is imperative that we complete this project prior to the start of summer when water consumption increases dramatically and the official fire season starts.”

Chris Hanefeld, a spokesman for the Ely office of the BLM, said the new sage grouse land use restrictions are not necessarily a problem. He said his office is currently processing a 30-year renewal for the district’s permit with an amendment to extend one section of fence 30 feet to accommodate the new tank.

“We certainly understand that it’s a priority for the community and it’s a priority for us as well,” Hanefeld said, though he was unaware of the problems the district was having with completing its loan.

He said the BLM is in the beginning phases of the process and is going down its checklist. Though he did not foresee any problem, he cautioned that he was not certain whether the sage grouse would be a factor.

Hanefeld said his office hopes to have all the paperwork completed in order for the district to begin construction by the spring of 2016.

Water District Chairman Sturlin was less than optimistic. He said in the latest meeting with a BLM representative the district was asked to provide what kind of equipment would be used and how long the construction of the new tank and removal of the old one would take.

“The curious thing to me was all that information they asked for was in the packet I sent to them originally. I guess to me that basically sent me the message that they did not even read the material I’ve already sent them,” Sturlin said. “So that’s not really encouraging.”

Yet to be addressed are other concerns raised by a BLM agent, who said the new tank was too tall and two smaller tanks should be built, the color needed to be changed, a survey for Indian artifacts would be needed, as well as sage grouse habitat survey and the abandonment of a right of way to a nearby spring.

The district contends the two-tank requirement is cost prohibitive, but it will paint it any color required. It also says those surveys were done years ago and state law requires a back-up water source to its deep water well.

Meanwhile, the project is in limbo.

A version of this column appears this week in the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel, the Lincoln County Record and the Sparks Tribune — and the Elko Daily Free Press.


Editorial: Residents must have more say on what happens in their communities

Protesters oppose wind project near Searchlight two years ago.

A  federal judge has handed the residents of Searchlight a major victory in their fight to challenge a federal land agency’s attempt to ramrod approval of a massive wind farm by ignoring the law, science and the facts.

U.S. District Judge Miranda Du granted the plaintiffs’ request that the Interior Department’s Record of Decision, Final Environmental Impact Statement, and the Biological Opinion be vacated because they failed to adequately address concerns about impacts on bald eagles, golden eagles, desert tortoises and migrating bats.

She refused to grant a permanent injunction, and the government has 60 days to appeal.

Searchlight Wind, now a division of Apex Clean Energy, has been trying for at least seven years to gain government approval to place wind turbines on 9,000 acres of federal land east of Searchlight. The $300 million proposal is to erect 87 industrial-scale wind turbines that would be more than 400 feet tall and generate 200 megawatts of power.

Basin and Range Watch, one of the plaintiffs in the case, pointed out one of the more damning examples of lax oversight by the BLM uncovered by Judge Du. The BLM Environmental Impact Statement on the eagle population relied on the wind farm developer’s survey, which found only three golden eagle nests in the vicinity of the proposed wind turbines. Yet a 2011 survey by the BLM itself found 28 golden eagle nests within 10 miles of the site, but this was not included in the final BLM review.

Du also told the BLM to re-evaluate its conclusions about the impact of the project on desert tortoises, especially the effects of blasting and noises of the turbines during operation.

The original suit accused the Interior Department of acting in “a manner that is arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and contrary to law.” The plaintiffs also include Friends of Searchlight Desert and individuals Judy Bundorf, Ellen Ross and Ronald Van Fleet Sr.

Though Judge Du did not address it in this ruling, the plaintiffs also say studies have found property values near wind farms decline by as much as 60 percent, constituting a regulatory taking of private property rights under the Fifth Amendment. Interior, of course, could find no negative impact on property values due to wind farms.

No buyer has yet contracted for the power the wind farm would produce. Without a contracted buyer it is questionable whether the company will find it practical to continue to sink money into a project that might never get approved due to the environmental hurdles. Also the wind production tax credit expired at the end of 2014 and Congress has yet to extend it.

Plaintiff Bundorf reacted to the ruling by saying, “I’m thrilled that the people who live in and around Searchlight won’t have to deal with the impact of such a huge construction project and the noise and flashing lights 24/7 for 25 or 30 years after the project is built.”

Basin and Range Watch said the ruling “effectively requires Apex Clean Energy and the agencies to go back to the drawing board if Apex chooses to pursue the project.”

“The high desert surrounding Searchlight supports a high diversity of flora and fauna including rich avian fauna and very old Joshua tree forests. The location’s close proximity to the Colorado River allows it to have a large number of terrestrial and avian species deserving of protection” said Kevin Emmerich, co-founder of Basin and Range Watch. “The Searchlight area is a very scenic region that has a great potential to expand its tourism economy. The area should be managed to maintain open space. There are limitless opportunities for birdwatching, hiking, backcountry 4-wheel driving, wildlife viewing, boating, rock hounding and photography. The Bureau of Land Management has a unique opportunity to manage the area for its scenic, cultural, wildlife and recreational values. Rooftop solar and other distributed generation alternatives should be considered as a more environmentally friendly clean energy alternative.”

Du’s ruling may also offer a ray of hope for the state, counties and businesses suing the Interior Department over land use restrictions intended to protect the greater sage grouse. She is hearing that case, too.

We hope there are more rulings in the near future giving residents more say over what happens in their communities instead of being ignored by federal agencies pushing a green energy agenda.

A version of this editorial appears this past week in the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

Du’s ruling: 13-616 Order Granting Vacatur 10-30-15

Newspaper column: Obama’s 21st century policy amounts to Manifest Inertia


Rep. Cresent Hardy conducts a hearing on overregulation at the North Las Vegas City Hall.

During the 19th century Americans fulfilled our Manifest Destiny, settling the land, tilling the soil, building businesses and industries from coast to coast.

But in this 21st century President Obama and his legions of paperwork pushing, regulation writing, intransigent bureaucrats have instead given Americans a doctrine of Manifest Inertia — build nothing, grow nowhere, do nothing.

Just this past week Obama rejected a proposal to build the Keystone XL pipeline to carry Canadian crude oil to refineries in Texas, thus killing the opportunity to create 9,000 construction jobs and 40,000 ancillary jobs. This was despite the fact the State Department actually said that not building the pipeline would increase greenhouse emissions by 28 to 42 percent more than if the pipeline were built, because the oil would still be pumped but shipped in a less clean manner.

Battle Born Nevada is on the front lines of the Manifest Inertia fight, which began long before Obama took command. A dozen years ago or so a high ranking executive with the Interior Department, which controls the vast majority of Nevada land, explained during a newspaper editorial board meeting that the unwritten policy of the agency was “acre-for-acre” — meaning that for every acre of federal land that was sold for private development, an acre of private land somewhere else should be purchased, so the agency holdings would never decline. This was not a policy to preserve the land, but one to preserve federal jobs and the power of the executives.

This past week Obama put this policy in writing. In a presidential memoranda to the various agencies that control federal land, Obama told the agencies they “should establish a net benefit goal or, at a minimum, a no net loss goal for natural resources the agency manages …” To the bureaucrats, “no net loss” doubtlessly is “acre-for-acre” writ in stone.

To illustrate a few of the problems faced by businesses trying to run the gantlet of federal regulations being created by executive branch bureaucrats instead of elected members of Congress, Republican Rep. Cresent Hardy conducted a congressional subcommittee meeting this past week in North Las Vegas to hear testimony from small businesses about their ordeals. The hearing was titled “Regulatory Overload: The Effects of Federal Regulations on Small Firms.”

Hardy — whose district covers the northern portion of Clark County, the southern part of Lyon County and all of White Pine, Nye, Mineral, Esmeralda, and Lincoln counties — heard from officers of financial institutions in Caliente and Alamo, a rural electric executive from Overton and a representative of southern Nevada home builders.

In his introductory remarks, Hardy noted that the federal government is creating 600 pages of new regulations a day, covering every conceivable aspect of the economy and costing billions of dollars in compliance costs.

Both of the financial institution executives said financial regulations, such as Dodd-Frank, threaten their continued viability and, if they are forced to close, customers would have to drive many miles to conduct banking transactions. One has stopped mortgage loans altogether due to regulatory burdens and the other only does a handful a year.

David Jennings, a board member of the Southern Nevada Home Builders Association, testified that the Bureau of Land Management has begun to generate revenue for itself by deeming that the dirt excavated from construction sites constitutes a “mineral.” Since the BLM retains mineral rights, it is charging contractors for moving dirt — filing 84 so-called mineral trespass claims in recent years, Jennings said.

He added this practice is inflating the price of homes and pricing potential buyers out of the market.

Mendis Cooper, testifying on behalf of the Nevada Rural Electric Association, said the regulatory burden is threatening the ability to provide reliable and affordable electricity.

Ten years ago, Cooper related, it took about a year and $500 a mile to obtain permits from the BLM for transmission line rights of way. Today, it takes as long as eight years and $25,000 a mile.

He said costs are escalating for power customers due to compliance with Obama’s Clean Power Plan, protections for sage grouse and other species under the Endangered Species Act, having to route lines around new national monuments, the Environmental Protection Agency’s costly permits and restrictions under the Waters of the U.S. policy and countless other federal rules.

In an interview after the hearing, Hardy said the current practice of rule making by the administration has essentially usurped the role of Congress to write the laws of the land.

That’s how we got Manifest Inertia instead of Manifest Destiny.

A version of this column appears this week in the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel, the Lincoln County Record and the Sparks Tribune — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Newspaper column: Federal bureaucrats ignored state and local input on land use plans

You have the right to remain silent.

No, you have the obligation to remain silent, because if you don’t you’ll be slapped with the very thing you’ve worked against for four years at the cost of millions of dollars and countless man-hours — listing of the greater sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) — and then be sent to bed without your supper.

Talk about being treated like the proverbial red-headed stepchild.

This essentially is what the U.S. Attorney for Nevada has said in reply to a federal lawsuit that seeks an injunction to stop draconian land use restrictions, which almost entirely ignore state and local input, despite repeated promises of cooperation, coordination and adherence to strict scientific standards.

U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden’s reply to the suit filed by Attorney General Adam Laxalt could be paraphrased thusly: Shut up, sit down, move to the back of the bus, or we’ll list the damn bird anyway.

Greater sage grouse (BLM photo)

“Finally, the government’s interest and the public interest weigh strongly against an injunction,” states Bogden’s reply. “Numerous stakeholders, including state and local governments, participated in a four-year process to create a landscape-level framework for protecting Sage-Grouse and avoiding the need to list the species under the ESA. That process was based on the best available science and on extensive good faith negotiations with interested parties. An injunction would diminish the protections for Sage-Grouse, undermine the collaborative effort that went into the Plan Amendments, and could have implications for FWS’ (Fish and Wildlife Service) recent decision not to list the species. Accordingly, the motion for a preliminary injunction should be denied.”

The part about participation is true — sort of like the condemned man participating in the firing squad — but the claims of best available science, good faith negotiations and collaborative effort are entirely bogus.

Bogden repeatedly tells the court the injunction should be denied because the claims are not “ripe.” Though the plans have been drafted and appeals have been denied, the plans have not yet been fully implemented.

Translation: No one may sue the federal bureaucracy until it has actually carried out its threat to put you out of business, making it impossible to afford to hire a stable of attorneys to fight the bottomless taxpayer well of cash for the next two or three generations.

Witness the saga of the Hage family ranchers who have been fighting in federal court since 1991 over water and grazing rights for their ranch near Tonopah. A judge awarded them $4 million but a federal appellate court in 2012 remanded the case to a lower court, saying it was not “ripe,” because the family had failed to “exhaust administrative remedies.”

With utter disregard for economic realities, Bogden also argues that the plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate “imminent irreparable injury,” providing merely speculation.

It is merely speculation that Elko County anticipates an annual loss of approximately $31 million of agricultural productivity.

It is merely speculation that the Ninety-Six Ranch owners say “restrictions threaten the survival of the ranching operation and devalue the ranch’s land and resources because, a reduction in or cancellation of its grazing permits will threaten the viability of its business and significantly reduce the saleable value of the Ranch.”

It is merely speculation that the “termination of Paragon’s (Paragon Precious Metals) rights under the General Mining Law to explore its only project creates such substantial, imminent, and irreparable harm that it will likely destroy Paragon’s business.”

It is merely speculation that for Quantum Minerals the “sudden termination of Quantum’s rights under the General Mining Law to explore its only project will destroy Quantum’s business.”

It is merely speculation that changes in land use plans will jeopardize Western Exploration’s $32 million investment.

Nothing to be concerned about. When those things happen the federal land agency bureaucrats will still have their jobs and pensions, and that’s not speculation.

The claim the federal government has been collaborative in reaching its decisions is a joke. Laxalt’s lawsuit uses a variant of the word “ignore” 22 times.

Before Laxalt filed suit, appeals by Gov. Brian Sandoval to both the head of the state BLM and the national BLM were summarily snubbed with cursory explanation.

A hearing on the request for an injunction is scheduled for Nov. 12 in Reno in front of U.S. District Judge Miranda Du.

This whole case is illustrative of the real problem with having 85 percent of Nevada land under the tight-fisted control of power-drunk Washington bureaucrats.

A version of this column appears this week in the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel, the Lincoln County Record and the Sparks Tribune — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

The suit: Nevada v Dept of Interior Am Complaint

U.S. attorney’s reply to suit.

Branding at the Ninety-Six Ranch:

Tesla numbers still don’t add up for huge tax break

Apparently, what Tesla Motors lacks in profit, it makes up for in volume.

The company’s stock increased 10 percent Wednesday following a lackluster third quarter report. It sold fewer cars than anticipated this past quarter, but projects more this next quarter, so the price went up. Tesla logged a loss of 58 cents a share.

Investor’s must be like the Nevada Legislature. Never mind actual performance, it is the blue sky promises that count.

That’s why the governor and the Legislature cut a deal with Tesla for its new battery manufacturing facility to operate tax-free for a decade if it invests $3.5 billion. The deal eventually amounts to tax exemptions and credits totaling $1.3 billion. The state also agreed to spend $100 million to build a highway linking the site to U.S. Highway 50 in Lyon County. It has been estimated that the deal equals $385,000 per job.

A Seeking Alpha analyst reports that Tesla lost nearly $20,000 per vehicle in Q3, up from about $11,000 a car a year ago. The company’s negative free cash flow was $51,344 per car sold.

Tesla hopes its gigafactory will be able to cut the price of batteries for its cars from $500 per kWh to $250. The company’s Model S is equipped with an 85 kWh battery pack. That could save $21,000 and make the cars break even? That’s a business model to envy — break even.

A competitor intends to build batteries for $100 per kWh.

Tesla battery plant near Sparks (Reuters photo)

There goes another great newspaper tradition — dueling editorial pages

You’ve got to appreciate the fine, old tradition of dueling newspaper editorial pages.

Tit for tat. Thrust and parry. Scratching, gouging, rolling in the mud and the blood and the beer.

Too bad that tradition has died and what passes for dueling newspaper editorials in this town includes one unarmed, stumbling, somewhat demented combatant that isn’t even a newspaper any more.

A week ago the Las Vegas Review-Journal published a little toss-off of an editorial pointing out that the Ivanpah solar thermal power plant off I-15 just south of Primm is not quite as “clean” as originally advertised.

It turns out the green energy produced at the Ivanpah solar power facility — “funded by $1.6 billion in federal loan guarantees and $600 million in tax credit” — isn’t so green after all.

The editorial notes that the three towers that are the focal point of thousands of mirrors must burn natural gas to augment the power of the sun when a cloud passes by and to kick start the turbines in the mornings. “Last year, the plant burned enough to emit 46,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide. Which officially makes a facility … a polluter,” the editorial states. “A dirty secret about ‘clean’ energy is that it requires fossil fuel backup that’s substantially cheaper to produce — and doesn’t require taxpayer handouts to be built. So why make taxpayers subsidize a technology that can’t meet demand for power on its own and doesn’t have the environmental benefits promised — to say nothing of the thousands of birds the Ivanpah plant incinerates every year?”

A week later the “competing” Las Vegas Sun counters with an editorial pooh-poohing the “conservative” newspaper without naming the R-J. But the editorial appears only online and not in the print section that appears inside the morning paper under an ill-advised and long-past-its use-by-date joint operating agreement. What is the point of a print version of a paper that doesn’t print anything?

The lede on the Sun calumny is: “Among the roles of newspapers is to publish editorials that generate healthy, constructive community conversations and to influence public opinion on certain issues of the day. Sound conclusions should be based on facts and logic.”

The editorial then illustrates its point by blithely declaring: “California energy officials say the operators of Ivanpah stay within their licensing agreement to use 5 percent or less natural gas and 95 percent or more solar energy to produce electricity. So it’s still a net-clean-energy operation — by far.”

The Sun editorialist proffered that the R-J “is so totally devoid of logic and intellectual honesty, it is laughable.”

Not so fast fight fans. You see the R-J attributes the facts in its editorial to an article in the Riverside newspaper. Apparently the Sun editorialist overlooked the fact that a longer version of the same story appeared a couple of days later in the Orange County newspaper.

That story reports that in 2010 the California Energy Commission indeed required, as a condition of licensing, heat from burning natural gas at the plant be no more than 5 percent of the heat captured from the sun.

“But in March 2014, after three months of commercial operation, plant operators found they needed to use more natural gas, and they asked the commission for a change in the rules. In August 2014, the commission voted to scrap the 5 percent rule and increased the plant’s annual gas volume limit by 38 percent,” the Orange County paper reports. Additionally, in the past year the plant generated only 59 percent — with sun and gas — of its listed capacity of 940,000 megawatt-hours of electricity.

In fact, the Ivanpah plant produces so much carbon it comes under California’s cap-and-trade program, because its annual carbon dioxide output exceeds 25,000 metric tons. Under the program a plant must cut carbon emissions or buy credits from those who do.

The Sun editorial concludes with this self-eviscerating obloquy: “For a newspaper to stubbornly and blindly adhere to its ideology and clutch to a denial of reality is deeply troubling and doing a disservice to its readers.”

Amen, amen. Sound conclusions should be based on facts and logic. Now where have I heard that before?

Ivanpah thermal solar plant south of Primm. (OCR photo)

Since the R-J has no one to trade jabs with, apparently they’ve taken to doing that internally with dueling columnists. A week ago Glenn Cook took the side of Attorney General Adam Laxalt in his tiff with Gov. Brian Sandoval over whether to sue the Interior Department over land use restrictions to protect greater sage grouse, while Steve Sebelius sided with Sandoval.

This week Cook explains why it is no big deal that early applicants for education savings accounts are more affluent, while Sebelius sees some major failure in the same stats.

Pick your fights where you can find them.