Wild Horse Education

The Great Wall of Denial (Brick One)

Broken Arrow

Broken Arrow “tour” 10/23/2015 Many of the horses inside this closed door facility are “sale authority,” like the ones that went to Tom Davis and slaughter

As an organization that works to bring issues of wild horse and burro management to light, a recurring theme we constantly face is “credibility.” Credibility of “allegations” have been shown time and time to be proven truthful. The credibility problem belongs to those tasked with management.

At WHE any article we print has become a flashpoint for immediate misinterpretation. We are immediate recipients of unfounded allegations. Our roundup documentation held up in court and won multiple rulings. Our range documentation has also held up under court scrutiny. Our work hold up under the scrutiny of federal judges. Those that pretend they are experts on social media often don’t like it, so they sit and spin those tales.

The latest round of controversy swirls around a story first brought to  the public in 2012. The story of “Tom Davis” and  the over “1700 wild horses gone to slaughter.” The story got us bashed in 2012. It is creating a similar storm as the federal government confirms the story is the truth.

There are multiple areas of mounting frustrations within a clearly broken system. We certainly hope that has everyone nodding their heads in agreement. In order to engage any conversation that leads to actual change, certain realities must be faced. Management of wild horses is a part of a complex system of public lands management. The realities of law, resources and fiscal restraints are real. So is the reality of a lack of trust in management practices.

Multiple court rulings were gained against inappropriate conduct at roundups, while BLM insisted everything was

Multiple court rulings were gained against inappropriate conduct at roundups, while BLM insisted everything was “just fine”

A “Great Wall of Denial” has been the greatest obstacle to addressing any issue.

Advocacy, at the time the “Act” was passed

The 1971 Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act was passed. The number of wild horses on the range was considered “fast disappearing,” not appropriate. (Current management points to that number as an “appropriate” number of animals, absurd). The Act passed because brutal practices were documented (mustanging) and our wild horses were shipped off and ground up for chicken feed, fertilizer and dog food. Americans were outraged. After the Act passed those that profited from the practice were outraged and have been trying to remove and dilute protections for the last 40 years (mustanging continued until 1975 during a “claiming period” no one likes to talk about). The Act itself speaks volumes and took decades to “win.

The necessity for it’s passing in the first place clearly demonstrates that leaving management to ranchers and states is not acceptable to the country as a whole. The push for resumption of these practices is an underlying theme in much of the actions taken today.

1975, The First Roundup and it came with litigation. Litigation was filed as the first official removal of wild horses took place. In essence the BLM was removing wild horses due to range degradation without doing any NEPA (sound way too familiar?). The court ruling in the case said BLM could not remove wild horses just to create more cow chow and needed to follow NEPA, but could proceed because the welfare of the horses themselves was now at risk (sound way too familiar?).

From court documents: “This Court is not saying that the BLM is free to round up wild horses whenever a particular range has an overgrazing problem. Nor is the Court saying that every time the removal of wild horses will have a limited, slightly positive effect on the environment of the range, the BLM can proceed to remove a certain number of those horses. BLM officials admit that more round-ups of wild horses may be necessary in the future. This Court decides only that the Stone Cabin Valley round up currently underway may continue as an interim measure to preserve the range until the EIS required by Judge Flannery is filed in 1977. This Court presumes that future round ups will be undertaken only after the data contained in the 1977 EIS has been evaluated and all other alternative actions have been considered, as required by NEPA. In other words, this opinion should not be read as giving the BLM a blank check to order the removal of wild horses without filing an impact statement whenever it determines that a range is overgrazed.”

The courts determined that the range degradation was due to decades of over grazing by domestic livestock. No broad scale rangeland reform in the grazing program has happened since the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934, nothing. (Sage Grouse issues are now being politically manipulated to benefit, not restrict, livestock). The reality of the todays landscape clearly reflects the agencies abhorrence to changing, and even enforcing, policy that deals with domestic livestock. This is not a “grey” area, it is “black and white.”

Additionally this first removal showed that cooperative efforts with advocates worked. The “adoption” program began at this roundup. This was pre “Burns Amendment,” meaning the federal government retained ownership of the horses and the horses kept their “wild” status and protections under the Act for their lifetime. The program was a “foster” program.

Humane handling was also an issue and instead of fighting advocates on the subject, those issues were addressed to suit the times.

The first removal of wild horses from public land showed that working with advocates was productive. 

To read more about the first roundup go here: http://wildhorseeducation.org/2014/09/15/perspective-1975-first-blm-wild-horse-capture/

Even though the Act to protect wild horses is relatively new, 40 years old, we have repetitive patterns that have been established where the underlying causes have never been rectified. 

Why do advocates have such a hard time gaining productive conversation that views advocacy efforts as credible? The agency itself needs to begin to accept their responsibility in this increasingly frustrating reality that is leading to greater risk of confrontation. A wall of “denial” has been built in recent years and advocates have been increasingly forced into the position of adversary. Only those that “nod and bob” in the game of “drinking buddies” are brought to a table. Only those that threaten get recognized. The federal government must begin to recognize it’s complicity in it’s own demise.

Argenta in summer 2015 Even where we have no wild horses our western rangeland is being pounded to dust, BLM says it is

Argenta in summer 2015. Even where we have no wild horses our western rangeland is being pounded to dust, BLM says it is “just fine.”

Coming Up Against the “Great Wall of Denial”

Our work in advocacy often has us facing a hard choice, partner or adversary?

From the very beginning of our work we have always tried conversation first. However those conversations often lead us straight into the “Great Wall of Denial.” Problems exist. The vast majority of the issues have existed for a very long time. When we repeatedly bring a grievance we are generally met with two responses; “baby steps” need to be made to progress or simply denial that the issue exists. Obviously both of those conversations do not lead to timely change. When issues of safety are at the core, public or horse, that situation is simply not acceptable.

“Bricks in the Wall”

“We do not ship horses to slaughter.” (scroll down)

“The Program is transparent.”

“We handle horses humanely.”

“We all must follow the rules.”

“We manage the range for the health of the range and balanced multiple use.”

“We base our decisions on sound management practices.”

“We operate with public safety as a priority.”

“We do all we can to get horses adopted.”

Each and every statement made above has been shown to be a falsehood. Yet at the beginning of any conversation to create the changes needed to manage wild horses and burros appropriately those statements become dogma for federal employees. Public affairs people, often brand spanking new to the program, parrot these statements. Officials that sit behind desks, that rarely (if ever) are actually on the range, become offended at any suggestion that the program is  flawed and they have a responsibility to fix it. Politics are irrelevant to an obligation of law.

Those advocating for sensible management get labeled as “extremists” for simply stating truths. Advocates desperately trying to create change, while our landscapes are battered and our wild horses short changed, are made to feel “inferior.” Advocates are made to feel like they must establish “trust” in any conversation.

Advocates have never broken that trust, the federal government has. It should not be up to advocates to “prove” anything, we already have. It is the federal government that has breached trust. It is the federal government that has failed. At a time when the federal government is under a literal attack from those that want federal land wrested out of their control, you would think those sitting behind the desks would “get a clue.” It is time to stop building “the wall,” it is time to tear it down and make real change.

This week we will address each “Brick in the Wall,” one at a time, in a series of articles that will link back to this page.

The Blue Roan in this picture from Broken Arrow is one tag number away from a horse sent to Tom Davis, from Broken Arrow

The Blue Roan in this picture from Broken Arrow is one tag number away from a horse sent to Tom Davis, from Broken Arrow

The First Brick, “We do not ship horses to slaughter.”

All over the news this week is the story of Tom Davis and the nearly 1800 wild horses shipped to slaughter.

In 2012 the story broke. Dave Philipps wrote a piece for ProPublica. That piece tied BLM directly to kill buyer Tom Davis. Davis has a long history with Chavez, that ships horses to Mexico (even being named in a dedication on a book written by Chavez). In addition Davis shipped cattle for the family of the former Secretary of Interior, Ken Salazar. The journalist was even threatened with a “punch in the face” by the former Secretary. (WHE helped with the investigation).

Last week the OIG released a report. The report simply confirmed everything in the original article as fact. It took the federal government 3 years to admit it and only did so after a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act request) was filed. ProPublica (the original source) does not print anything that their legal department can not defend.

The BLM was obviously the first to know and got out their press releases fast. Essentially they claim “changes were made.” However those changes mean nothing. The original investigation showed that those sales were actually solicited by a BLM employee (Sally Spencer). The new policy would simply allow Spencer the ability to approve those sales today.

Of course there is no penalty for those that sold horses to slaughter and then had the tax payer even pick up the bill for the transport. This violates Appropriations from Congress. The transport bill, the salary of the employee and the bonus the employee received (yes, the employee got a bonus for getting rid of so many horses), all of that violates law. Appropriations creates law.

It is an outrage.

Sally Spencer signed the death warrant on nearly 1800 wild horses. She claims there was no reason to be suspicious. Baloney.

Tom Davis was NOT the only slaughter investigation to hit the news in the last 5 years.

People often forget the way history gets built by those intent on building the wall.

After the initial story hit in 2012 BLM needed to “clean up it’s image.” 60 horses, not nearly 1800, triggered indictments. Yes, two “hicks” bought 60 horses they said were going to “rodeo.” This was not that odd of a sale for BLM to make. However in the fall of 2012, right after the Davis story broke, it triggered the indictments of Robert Capson and Denis Kunz for fraudulently obtaining horses from BLM.

Now aint that just what Davis admits to? He even says he had the deal with Chavez in order before he got the horses. OIG’s failure to look into the connection to the former Secretary is outrageous. That Davis will not face the same charges as Kunz and Capson did is obscene.

It makes the next logical question: Just how corrupt is the BLM? That question does not make you an extremist, it makes you logical.

We were involved in the investigation. We took incredible heat from those in the shadow of “the wall.” We are yet again taking heat. We are being portrayed as extremists because we said BLM shipped horses to a kill buyer, still do (but not in such large numbers, we assume due to the scrutiny they know they are under). BLM has simply just admitted it happened, but offers no consequence to those responsible.

We are not extremists. We are speaking the truth.

We breached no trust, the federal government has. The wall of denial stands firm as a barrier to public trust. It stands firm as a barrier to change. It is NOT the responsibility of advocacy to to build that trust, it is YOUR responsibility BLM.

There is another investigation likely to go the way of the “Davis/Salazar” affair that we will feature in the next installment: Range Management, a layer of… bricks. 


WHE carries active legal actions to keep wild horses free and hold BLM accountable to rangeland health. WHE document range conditions, facilities and roundups.

We need your help.


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