Debbie Coffey     © 2012 All rights reserved


Confusion at BLM over sage grouse and horses…they can’t tell the difference!

In a Freedom of Information Act response that includes resumes of the crew of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) contractor Sun J Livestock, Inc., whose actions sparked a notorious internal investigation (AKA cover-up), it seems the BLM’s contractor hired a sub-contractor that is grossly under-qualified.

After numerous complaints since October, 2010 about BLM’s round up contractor, Sun J Livestock, Inc., and their sub-contracted helicopter pilot, the BLM started an internal investigation in January, 2011, and issued a report in February, 2011 stating:

“Experience of the Contractor”

The gather contract solicitation requires that all proposals demonstrate a minimum of 1,500 hours of flying experience in similar projects for the proposed primary and secondary helicopter pilots.  To be considered for a contract award, the contractor needs overall experience of humanely capturing a minimum of 3,000 wild horses and/or burros while using helicopter- drive trapping.  The contractor and proposed key personnel needed this overall experience in similar projects during the time from 2007 to the present.  Sun J Livestock met all of the above criteria and qualified to have a contract awarded to it.  Overall, the contractor has gathered over 40,000 wild horses…” (emphasis mine)

BLM’s interpretation (once again) borders on wild fantasy.  First of all, I added up the numbers of wild horses that the people sending in their resumes claimed to have rounded up, and the total came to 24,473.  (Once again, it seems BLM is almost doubling their numbers).  Not only that, if you’ve been to a roundup, you’d know that Jody Holmes, as the BLM’s Wild Horse & Burro Specialist, didn’t go out and there and round up those horses herself.  She watched.

Also, the BLM stated that the contractor needed the experience from 2007 to present (see above), but Jody Holmes left the BLM in 2005. (Once again, it seems the BLM has trouble with numbers.)

Anyhow, back to the part about the BLM requirement about a “minimum of 1,500 hours of flying experience in similar projects for the proposed primary and secondary helicopter pilots,” Josh Hellyer has been Sun J’s pilot flying the helicopter (during incidents that drew complaints), so you’d assume he’d be a “primary” helicopter pilot, but even if he were a secondary pilot, he still didn’t meet the requirements.

Hellyer’s resume lists his ACETA (Aerial Captive, Eradication, and Tagging of Animals) experience as:

“Wyoming Game & Fish Survey:  Elk, Deer, Big Horn, Sheep, Raptors and Sage Grouse  2006-Present                                                                                                                                           Horse Roundup with Rick Harmon 300 head  2009                                                                                  Total Flight Time   ACETA   310 hours”

Does surveying sage grouse [here and here] seem like a similar project to chasing wild horses with a helicopter while rounding them up?

Does surveying raptors seem like a similar project to rounding up wild horses?  Don’t raptors fly in the air?

Last time I looked, wild horses didn’t fly. 

Also, Hellyer’s 310 ACETA flight hours is 1,190 hours shy of the required 1,500 hours of flying experience in “similar projects.”

When Hellyer listed “Horse roundup with Rick Harmon  300 Head” it wasn’t clear if Rick Harmon was the pilot doing the actual flying, and Hellyer was only along for the ride and observing, or if this was Hellyer’s first piloting experience chasing wild horses using a helicopter.  If Hellyer actually did pilot the helicopter, what qualified Hellyer to pilot an aircraft during a roundup THEN?   Did he have zero experience at that time?  Was he allowed to practice on wild horses?  Hellyer didn’t list the area of this roundup, and he didn’t even list a state.

Hellyer’s employment history listed “Flight Instructor” at Silver State Helicopters in Butte, MT from 2005-2006 (one year).  Then he listed “Utility Pilot” at Sky Aviation Corporation from 2006-Present.

Heller didn’t list any schools he ever attended, or any work experience prior to 2005.  If he was in his late 20s or early 30’s at the time he submitted this resume, you’d think the BLM would ask for more information.  Like, where did he learn to fly a helicopter?  Was it at a flight school?  Was it in Iraq?  It looks like this guy just came out of the woodwork suddenly in 2005.

On Hellyer’s resume, it states he was AMD/FS (Aviation Management Directorate/Forest Service) Carded in 2007  for: Reconnaissance & Surveillance, Mountain Flying, External Load (Sling), Fire Suppression, Retardant, Water Dropping, Aerial Ignition (Torch/PSD), Long Line Vertical Reference, Snow Operations (Deep Snow), ACETA (Darting, HV) & S.T.E.P Exit. 

I could swear the dates on Hellyer’s AMD/FS card look like April, 2009 (not 2007). Josh Hellyer’s Helicopter Pilot Qualification card is dated 4/23/2010.

Sun J submitted 2 other pilot resumes to the BLM:

Bobby J. Hawkins

(a general manager at Sky Aviation), who had 5,000 ACETA flight hours, but only rounded up 1,000 wild horses (750 in Wyoming from 1993-2004 and 250 in Montana from 1990-2003), (note that these horse roundups were before the 2007-present date that the BLM required).  BLM must’ve compared wild horses to the bison Hawkins rounded up.  (At least bison have 4 legs.)  Hawkins also listed Eradication of coyote & wolf in Montana (1992-2007) and Wyoming (1978-present).

John D. Martin

, had 2,500 ACETA flight hours, but only rounded up 200 wild horses (Theodore Roosevelt National Park in 2009).

Let’s look at the experience of ex-BLM employee Jody Holmes, who is co-owner of Sun J Livestock, Inc.

In the summer of 2000, Jody Holmes was a Rangeland Technician STEP (Student Temporary Employment Program) in Lakeview BLM District in Oregon and the next summer she worked as a Wild Horse & Burro Intern in the Ely BLM District in Nevada.

In the winter of 2001, Jody was a Wild Horse & Burro Specialist SCEP (Student Career Experience Program) in Ely, NV, and graduated from Oregon State University in 2002.  From June 2002 – October 2005 (less than 3 ½ years) she was a Wild Horse & Burro Specialist in Ely, NV, where among other things, she “dispatched wild horses as necessary” and “bait trapped nuisance horses.”  (Does “dispatched” mean killed, or did she mail them somewhere?)

From October 2005 – present, Jody has been an owner/operator of the John Holmes Ranch (her husband is John D. Holmes) a cow/calf operation and raises American quarter horses.

Sun J Livestock was registered as a business in Utah on 9/1/2010, and now, in only a little over 2 years, (Sept. 2010 – Nov. 2012), Jody Holmes’ company, Sun J Livestock, Inc., has raked in $5,580,633 from the BLM.   [**Resource links for this data listed below **]

John D. Holmes

Besides being Jody’s hubby, worked for Cattoor Livestock 1982-1995, while he was also the owner/operator of Holmes and Sons Construction.  From 1995-2003 he was owner/operator of Holmes Gravel.  From 1997-2000 John was a wrangler for C & H Livestock (Cook & Heaverne), and from 2001-2005 and 2008-2009 he was a wrangler for KG Livestock.  John was owner/operator of John Holmes Trucking 2002 – 2005, which included hauling wild horses to long term holding and hauling horses for KG livestock at roundups.  1982-Present John is the owner of John Holmes Ranch, where he raises, trains and sells American Quarter Horses.

The other Sun J resumes included Norman “Buzz” Holmes (who worked for C & H Livestock and KG Livestock), Matt Matkin (worked for KG Livestock), Braden Anderton (graduated from high school and worked for KG Livestock in 2009), Spencer Oldham (worked for KG Livestock), and last, but by no means least, the man who sure looks like the man photographed pinching a wild horse’s face in a gate after capture, Travis Pendleton (2001-Present, Pendleton Farrier and Horse Training Service, and 2003-2008, KG Livestock). 

While this BLM contractor falls short of BLM’s requirements yet manages to rake in over $5 ½ million in only about 2 years, the bigger problem is that the BLM is either incredibly inept and lacks common sense, or the BLM just doesn’t ask enough questions or care, just like on the sale questionnaires filled out by Tom Davis, who bought over 1,700 wild horses to supposedly be used in movies or mow the lawn (graze) in oil fields.



The BLM’s report of its investigation: