America, Can’t we do better?

Antelope Complex roundup (copyright Laura Leigh 2011, all rights reserved)


Today a heated controversy swirls around the management of wild horses and burros in the United States. Issues ranging from creation of “eco-resorts,” birth control, sales that leave animals vulnerable to the slaughter trade and inhumane treatment generate increasing interest to the American public.

In the last week proposed removals, eco-sanctuary and other projects have been placed in queue for public comment. The National Academy of Science continues it’s review of the Bureau of Land management (BLM) and is open to public input. The Nevada Department of Agriculture created a recommendation to the Secretary of the Interior requesting a removal of horses, not livestock, during drought situations and the public can respond with comment. Issues involving humane care have still not been addressed and are a subject of public concern where the public feels frustration as their comments go unaddressed.

Often the public is perplexed about how to engage this process.

In 1971, during an election year, President Nixon signed the Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act into law.

§ 1331. Congressional findings and declaration of policy:

Congress finds and declares that wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West; that they contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people; and that these horses and burros are fast disappearing from the American scene. It is the policy of Congress that wild free-roaming horses and burros shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment, or death; and to accomplish this they are to be considered in the area where presently found, as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands.

The implementation of the law was placed into the hands of the  BLM, with Forest Service (USFS) tasked with cooperative management. Yet this left pockets of horses without Federal “protection.”

The agency most people think of when they hear “wild horses” is the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), yet several other jurisdictions manage populations of wild horses and burros. Fish and Wildlife (USFWS) manages horses and burros; such as the Sheldon Refuge that they intend to remove entirely from the range. Forest Service (USFS) supposedly manages in conjunction with BLM yet controversy still exists such as the current issues surrounding the Salt River horses of Arizona. Virginia Range horses in the state of Nevada go almost immediately to auction, as there is no real infrastructure for adoption. The state of Texas actively shot burros last year.

These issue generate an outpour of emotion and desire to engage the process. Yet the public is often at a loss of where to begin as the entities that “manage” do not “educate” the public to appropriate process. Often the public is put off and seen as “overly emotional” and disregarded.

This attitude is seen clearly after two pro-slaughter members were appointed to the BLM’s National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board. The Advisory Board was created to represent an “interested” public participation panel to create recommendations to the agency on management of wild horses on public land. Yet this board is made up of a multitude of individuals, that may well represent a conflict of interest, in participation on these recommendations such as Boyd Spratling that also serves on the Nevada Department of Agriculture representing state livestock interests.

In an AP article by Scott Sonner on the above mentioned appointments BLM responded to public concern with this:

“Their apocalypse-now, sky-is-falling rhetoric is flagrantly dishonest and is clearly aimed at preventing the BLM from gathering horses from overpopulated herds on the range,” BLM spokesman Tom Gorey said in an interview with The Associated Press. “The BLM is not `managing for extinction.’ There is no conspiracy to put down healthy horses that are in off-the-range holding facilities.”

The agency tasked with managing more wild horses and burros than any other (BLM) does have a new webpage for wild horses. Yet nowhere on that page is there a listing of active documents for comment. Nowhere on that page is there any information as to the structure of how these documents impact management practices. The webpage does however have a link to CAWP, or “Comprehensive Animal Welfare Program,” as the agency still has no standard of care in place and is involved in active litigation on this very issue and under a Federal Court Injunction to pilot conduct.

Is it any wonder the public lacks trust and feels frustration in it’s attempts to engage the process?

Recently we have seen an exception. The BLM actively engaged the public during a “scoping period on eco-sanctuary.” Meetings were scheduled, prior to alternatives for the project being crafted. Information was given to the public and questions were addressed. This type of outreach on an area of management that effects wild herds is an exception, not a rule.

If the agencies tasked with management took more time to address educating the public to each jurisdictions practices, and how the public can appropriately engage, wouldn’t we be closer to creating a conversation that actually engages the concerns of an informed public? If the agencies want informed public participation wouldn’t transparency of actions and information actually be paramount? The more complex a situation the greater the need to clearly outline the structures for participation and provide all information. Wouldn’t that save time and reduce the frustration that fuels public outrage?

When the agency tasked with managing more horses than any other fails to implement a standard of humane care, when the need for one is more than evident, is it any wonder the public has grave concern over every action that agency takes? This is an area of concern that is shared by almost everyone involved no matter how they feel about wild horses occupying public land, why has no care standard been created?

In the United States of America, in the year 2012, can’t we do better than this? Can’t we begin to recognize the need for clear information and communicate issues and facts toward pro-active problem solving? Can’t we do better in how we treat a symbol of American heritage and freedom?

This editorial was written as I pour through emails filled with questions involving jurisdictional issues and frustration expressed by the public. The public is seriously uniformed by the agencies tasked with management of horses and burros as to protocol, process and how to engage the system.

Original link to editorial here: http://www.examiner.com/article/wild-horses-america-can-t-we-do-better

This video is from the Antelope Complex roundup of 2011. This is when the “eco-sanctuary” had asked to simply keep these animals home. So much has changed yet so much is the same.


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