Report From Renownd Wildlife Ecologist Craig Downer

Letter to BLM by Craig DownerThe Cloud Foundation and The Equine Welfare Alliance

Wild Horse and Burro Division
Bureau of Land Management
Reno, NV
Freedom by Craig Downer
Dear Sirs:

I am concerned about the fate of Calico complex wild horses now in captivity north of Fallon as well as those that remain living in the wild in the five HMA’s from which the former where captured.  I recently flew over southern and central portions of Black Rock East, Black Rock West, Calico Mountain, and Granite Range HMA’s in a light plane. In this very open area I was only able to observe only 31 wild horses in several bands, while  during this same flight I observed 350 cattle.  There was a reasonable spring green-up of the landscape and the open treeless character of the terrain permitted a high degree of horse detection.

My concern is this: there appears to be a real dearth of wild horses remaining in the complex after the last helicopter roundups.  In light of this, I am requesting that the Calico horses now in captivity not be moved to holding and adoption centers until after the aerial population inventory you are planning for the complex is completed.  I understand this is to take place right away.  If, in fact, there are far fewer wild horses remaining in the complex  than earlier estimated, I would urge you to release a fair number of the wild horses of equal sex ratios in order to bring the herd up to a more adequate level.

Looking forward to your response,


Craig C. Downer

Craig’s Documented Observations


Date of Flight: Monday, May 3, 2010

Date of Report: Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Pilot: Mr. Shane Gorman (Reno, NV) of Lighthawk organization. Flight arranged through Sharon Stone of Lighthawk. Plane is lightweight acrobatic Citabrio, similar to Piper Cub. 2 passenger.  Superior wing.

Passenger and observer/photographer(digital stills) and author of this report: Craig C. Downer, wildlife ecologist

Leave Truckee (Calif.) airport ca. 8:40 AM.  Airport located off Hwy 267, SE of I-80 hwy and near town of Truckee, mid elevation Sierra Nevada mtns.

Weather: Sunny, cool, clear.  Fly to Winnemucca, central northern Nevada to fuel up.

Land at Winnemucca (Nevada) airport at 10 AM. Fuel up and take off heading NW toward Black Rock Range (BRR) and BRR East Wild Horse Herd Management Area (whhma), spotting for wild horses, cattle and noting range condition and other factors.  A strong head wind is encountered blowing from the West

11:15 AM.  50 Black Angus cattle observed SE portion of BRR East.  No wild horses in sight.  Coming over ridge GPS Coordinates are: 41 deg 33 min N; 118 deg 31 min W.

11:22 AM.  Ca. 100 Hereford cattle seen. No wild horses observed.  GPS Coordinates: 41 deg 33 min N; 118 deg. 42 min W.  One small band of 7 wild horses finally sighted.  Band includes bays and sorrels.  Flying south another small band of 4 wild horses is spotted to the NW.  GPS Coordinates 41 deg 30 min N; 118 deg 48 min W.  Several herds of cattle observed, estimated at ca. 80, feeding on spring green up of range.  Area has hardly any wild horses.  They have been lost to the recent BLM-contracted roundups conducted by Cattoor Livestock Roundup company out of Nephi, Utah.

11:43 AM.  Flying just to south of Paiute Meadows Ranch and south of Elephant Mountain, SE of Little Big Mtn. and Big Mtn.  Freedom, famous stallion who escaped capture corrals at Paiute Meadows on Jan. 2, 2010, and his band were from this area.  The helicopter drove them in from the northern part of Elephant Mtn.  Freedom escaped toward Big Mtn. (Photo above.)  Lamentably no wild horses are observed during our flight over this vast and spectacular area.  Portions of BRR West whhma observed.  We decide to turn back toward the SW due to increased turbulence and dark clouds with some sculpted clouds to the north.

11:56 AM.  Two wild horse bands spotted, one with 8 wild horses, the other with 7 wild horses.  GPS Coordinates 41 deg 04 min N; 119 deg 13 min W toward S end of Calico Hills, Calico Mtn whhma.  Another band of 5 wild horses spotted to N.  GPS Coordinates: 41 deg 03 min N; 119 deg 15 min W.  South of Division Peak.

12:09 PM.  GPS Coordinates 40 deg 55 min N; 119 deg 31 min W.  N. Granite Range and Granite Range whhma.  No wild horses observed.  Formerly several wild horse bands frequented here.  Proceeding west.  Smoke Creek Desert to south.  Large dust plumes arising from desert indicates strong gusts.  Head wind remains strong.  Very sparse vegetation with a few stunted Juniper trees, sparsely distributed.  Spring green up noted.
12:13 PM.  Use binoculars to carefully inspect W side Granite range from north.  No wild horses observed.  Digital photos.  Many cattle grazing here, est. 120, in diverse locations.  These tend to cluster around water sources.

12:16 PM.  Pass over reservoir.  No wild horses, nor wild horse trails.  No dung depots.
Overall conclusion: Portions of Calico Mtn whhma Complex inspected from the air are nearly devoid of wild horses whereas before there was a fair number of wild horses in these areas, evenly distributed in a mosaic formed of wild horse band home ranges.

12:19 PM.  One band of 7 wild horses spotted by reservoir and another band of 5 wild horses observed far off.  GPS Coordinates: 40 deg 49 min N; 119 deg 43 min W.  This is in the Buffalo Hills whhma (not part of Calico Mtn whhma Complex).  Snow capped Lassen Peak (and active volcano) visible to NNW.

12:21 PM.  One band of 4 wild horses spotted. GPS Coordinates: 40 deg 47 min N; 119 deg 47 min W.

12:22 PM.  Flying above a ranch.  GPS Coordinates: 40 deg 45 min N; 119 deg 50 min W.  52 cattle congregated around a reservoir.  Due to turbulence, we’ll head to Susanville (Calif.) airport to SW.   Strong headwind, increasing gusts buffet plane.

12:28 PM.  Due south of Warner Mtns.  Many cattle observed (not counted). Very sparse vegetation, due in part to volcanic activity from Lassen as well as intense and extensive livestock overgrazing of the public lands here.  Wave clouds to north indicate turbulence and high velocity winds.

1:00 PM.  Mr. Gorman lands Citabrio at Susanville airport on dirt runway that allows going directly into the strong headwind that is 25 knots and gusting to 35 knots, dangerous for a light plane. Two passes necessary before landing made.  Several men have to aid in securing airplane in hangar as high winds would have flipped it. I remained in plane for weight.

2 PM.  Return to Truckee via Reno in a rental car.



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