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Editorial: Personal look back, Leigh

One year ago today I again sat in a Federal Courtroom in Reno Nevada.This time I was bringing the issue of Humane Care (or lack thereof) before Federal Judge Howard J. McKibben.

The case was brought into Court as efforts to address issues during operations broke down. Not only did communication between government and public break down, but there was considerable distress demonstrated by those involved in the operation itself. The failure of humans to address the hands on care of our American Heritage species, the Wild Horse, created an environment where we could have done a heck of a lot better.

One year ago today the first Temporary Restraining Order to inappropriate conduct was won on behalf of our wild ones.

The ruling was also significant in the way arguments were presented by both sides. In particular the horse in the videos below this editorial. The Judge could view the videos and read the declarations. I will never, ever forget sitting there and hearing Judge McKibben say that he saw the declaration presented by BLM as a “blame the horse affront.” The Judge gave the distinct impression that if the agency had taken responsibility for the actions, and was actually addressing them, that he would not have ruled in my favor. But the insistence that “nothing was wrong” created a necessity to rule in my favor.

As the Complaint itself remained active the agency then created a review team. BLM released their review of Triple B (read analysis here) that included an admission to conduct that included:

“These incidents seemed in part due to a combination of poorly designed loading set up at the trap site, as well as unprofessional conduct by handlers at the trap site. Horses were observed being struck in the face, and often confused due to aggressive loading procedures and excessive pressure by multiple handlers. Several videos reveal that a few horses were repeatedly shocked with an electrical animal prod, sometimes in the face, and in one case, the use of this electrical prod led to a horse becoming stuck in a panel at the loading site. Some videos reveal horses being struck in more than one instance with the trailer gate to induce loading, and in one instance a horse appears to have been kicked in the head by a Sun J employee. In one video it appears that a horse was dragged into a trailer by a rope around its neck.”

That was a year ago.

Since then the case has been amended twice.

The first attempt to push beyond a single roundup in January of 2012 was not granted. Yet the Court recognized the validity of the issue, the documentation and the standing of the Plaintiff to continue to address. Although at that time his authority under law could not address my request, it was validated.

An Injunction was granted on that same case to extend the parameters beyond the end of the roundup on June 22, 2012. This attempt was granted based on new case law that was built in the Ninth Circuit ruling that was gained in the First Amendment suit. Our attorney and I had built new case law to use as basis for this request.

Another amendment to that case held BLM to their own rules with another win at Jackson Mountain, on June 20, 2012. In this instance every effort to address issues (at the invitation of BLM) was met with obstinate adherence to the “same old, same old.” As the area of “emergency” that justified running foals during the agencies own prohibited “foaling season” had passed, a lawsuit ensued. We won what we asked for even though the parameters were not as clearly defined as we wanted.

Both core cases are active. The next phase in the judicial system for both efforts is trial. Not a hearing like a TRO or Injunctive relief claim requires, but a full on trial with depositions and discovery motions. This is new territory. We need your help and support. Not only for the cases but to continue to get out and document range conditions so we can address things like the NDoA recommendations during drought and monitor roundups, facilities and continue other investigations.

I am always looking for conversation and solutions that avoid litigation. I am always hopeful and willing to engage. I am trying to remain positive.

But for me this is not “where it all started.”

I was an anti-slaughter advocate for years. I have owned horses on and off all of my life and some of my best childhood memories involve mucking and that wonderful sense on comfort from the greatest scent on earth, horse breath.

I also began a blog after the Calico roundup in 2009/2010 after the foal “Hope” died when his feet literally began to fall off. I have not had time to keep up with that blog and I apologize.

My pictures and video (and writing) had been used in news broadcasts and print including KLAS-TV, CNN, Horseback, True Cowboy. I had appeared in the BBC/ITV documentary with Martin Clunes.

Yet this particular chapter, the relentless marathon of documentation, document preparation and archiving and writing and talking and… began in June of 2010. (Yes I had a lawsuit in 2009 based on standing that a children’s book on Sheldon, that has still not been published as I do not believe I can give any age appropriate real life information to. That suit was dropped in 2010 as Sheldon became part of the Calico Complex and the structure of the case itself was unlikely to win. However that process in 2009 and beyond gleaned internal documents such as the 2008 AIM BLM assessment that had recommendations included that to date the agency has not adopted).

Months after the car accident, 2010 (Gardner)

As a passenger in another advocates vehicle (Elyse Gardner), on the way to an auction, we were rear ended by a drunk driver. My face hit the passenger window and I received a severe concussion that gave me concussion syndrome, broken glasses and a bruise I still carry.

We never made the auction.

Within days of the accident, even while in the hospital, documents were prepared for the Tuscarora case (Owyhee case). On one occasion I was signing documents as a CT scan was being done and Elyse had to slip out of her hospital gown and sneak out of the hospital to FAX it. She got back as my CT scan ended, it was now her turn for exam and the hospital staff was none the wiser.

In two days the hearing on Owyhee took place where BLM crafted an emergency document the day of Court. To this day there are accusations from BLM officials (and even Boyd Spratling of the WH&B Advisory Board) that I killed horses at Owyhee because I somehow caused the water intoxication after shutting down the operation for 5 days.

I am going to address this once and for all here. I Did NOT shut down operations for five days, Bob Abbey did. When I filed a Complaint, that focused on Foaling season in the Owyhee desert, Abbey shut down Owyhee. The suit was granted a TRO for 24 hours, after the TRO motion itself was filed, a TRO is NOT granted when a Complaint is filed.

At no time prior to the filing of the suit was any “emergency” used in any document or justification. The day of the hearing BLM presented a document dated that day, without appropriate disclosure, that 3/4 of the horses would die in three days if the Judge granted the motion. The Judge granted the portion of the Motion that dealt with First Amendment issues but denied that the roundup be halted long enough to hear the argument that July was foaling season in Owyhee.

Yet keep this in mind about Owyhee: 1. The agency failed to clearly define that the emergency was a small quadrant of the HMA 2. That at no time did they move the trap off of private property and horses were driven into an area they claimed was in drought (over 10 miles) 3. Allowed no observation of a single animal from Owyhee 3. Failed to notify the public that they had shot animals prior to the start of operations as they were moving them into the area until the bodies were found.

After Court, with TRO in hand and a promise that the agency would accommodate observation, I drove all night to Owyhee. There we met a run around worthy of Abbot and Costello as well as an armed roadblock in the desert.

A few notes on the video: Boyd Spratling claims to have been there on day one even though Ken Miller (District Manager) says no one has been out. Also you can really see the bruising from the accident and I was so darn tired…

When we do get out there (Rock Creek, not Owyhee, this is what is seen). In order to accomplish what they say they are doing on the day of observation horses would have been driven more than ten miles through three fence lines.

So much has happened. Many things have changed yet so much remains the same.

I have worked with almost every organization at one time or another and have shared what I have freely with all. Since the beginning I have written and taken photographs for Horseback. I have written for several publications. I have worked with EWA and assisted with crafting the 2009 Moratorium call as EWA’s subject matter expert, I worked with Cloud Foundation after I launched Herd Watch (that has morphed into WHE) in 2010, but my focus was elsewhere and they had their hands full with the horses they pulled out of Clouds herd at that time. I worked with GRH and I saw that our methods were very different and I left. Yet during that time I also worked with AWHPC, HSUS continued with TCF and SAM. I founded WHE. For a time I worked with WHFF (and continued WHE) but I was spread way too thin and was working too hard and WHE was suffering as a result. Perhaps it created confusion but the nature of wild horse advocacy is not a solitary union like the cattleman’s association. This issue is layered with symptoms that need addressing (like adoption, public outreach, lobby efforts, sanctuary and range work). As public organizations made up primarily with part-time volunteers and a handful of paid employees the advocacy holds it’s own. Yet like any group we are individuals and as such have individual personality and needs.

Taken August 29, 2010 at Twin Peaks

So I now (out of necessity) continue to share the information I gather but focus on one organization as this work has become very focused on observational reporting, documentation preparation and litigation where required. It has become a huge task for such a small organization.

Relationships with BLM have changed. The Rangers in the video of Owyhee that were part of the roadblock I now actually look forward to seeing on the range and we joke and “hang out.” Many District managers see me differently and I have even been invited and participated in an after action Review of “gather” operations.

Yet broken promises liter the trail.

The issues surrounding our American wild horses and burros are as complicated as ever. LTH is full and removals are officially being restricted yet are apparently beginning to accelerate in another contradiction. Boundary lines appear only to be reevaluated to increase the profits of private entities, not to fix mistakes for the horses benefit. AML continues to be a bottom line farce as genetic viability of the uniqueness of every herd is disregarded. Access and humane care are still in question.

There are people that now engage in attempts to discredit my work (and my person) as if they are engaged in a full time job. Assertions are being made that are absolutely invalid. These individuals claim that access was “just peachy” before my litigation began. This litigation brought public access to the range on a daily basis. Prior to litigation BLM closed public land and allowed one or two “public viewing” options at operations lasting weeks. Only those that would put out favorable reports were allowed. AP

Youngsters available for adoption on the range at Stone Cabin 2012

reporters were in the Courtroom for the Jackson case and reported a “win” that these groups will tell you is a loss. They will also tell you that the Ninth Circuit victory that actually created new law, was a loss. Accusations are made (as boundaries into my personal life are crossed) that discuss things ranging from my health, hair and coffee drinking. Assertions are made that because I have not spent 30 years on this issue that I am not credible (I personally believe that raises a more serious question into the abilities of those making that accusation, not mine. And that statement discredits not just myself but all the voices that have joined this cause in the last 5 years).

This particular marathon, since that day in 2010, has led me to witness so many things. The roundups are only part of this experience (Sept. 2010-Sept. 2011 put over 100,000 miles on the road). The interactions with people, the range, the facilities, the meetings have all left imprints on my soul.

I do not know what is around the next curve on this road but I pray there is concrete improvement in accountability, humane care and the conversation of truly managing these amazing animals on the range as intended by law. I hope you keep believing and we finish this leg of this marathon without too many injuries and a significant victory to build the next one on.

Please support the work if you can. 

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