Wild Horse Education

Helicopter Hearing(s), What you need to know that no one is telling you


BLM roundup February 2015

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is required to hold a hearing for use of motorized vehicles in every state in the West, every year. These hearings are not “helicopter hearings” like a courtroom, but an administrative process where new information on the use of motorized vehicles can be brought from the public. It is a time to make comment to procedures on how BLM should use these vehicles (like trailers, inventory flights and removals).

All sides seem to reference this as a “helicopter hearing” presumably because the use of helicopters in wild horse and burro removals is the most controversial use of any motorized vehicle. So that is what we will focus on as well.

Some of the hearings in 2016. There will be multiple meetings in 2017, 2018… on and on.

Utah held theirs at the end of 2015 which covers fiscal year 2016.

Twin Falls Idaho, February http://www.blm.gov/id/st/en/newsroom/2016/february0/blm_sets_hearing_on.html

Colorado, August http://www.thehorse.com/articles/37886/blm-colorado-to-hold-hearing-on-motorized-equipment-use

Nevada, July http://www.blm.gov/nv/st/en/info/newsroom/2016/july/blm_to_hold_public.html

Wyoming, August http://www.thehorse.com/articles/37875/hearing-on-blm-helicopter-motor-vehicle-use-scheduled

We think you can get the idea that this is simply a state by state administrative process, not a place to change national policy.

Remember comments do not represent a voting process, they represent an administrative process to provide new and relevant information. 100,000 signatures on an irrelevant petition or a letter that says “stop the roundups!” does absolutely nothing.

Many of you that follow our work know we like to inform you of history and process. An educated advocacy is more important than ever.


Tour being given to Velma Johnston, Wild Horse Annie, of the first capture of wild horses by the BLM

In 1959 the “Wild Horse Annie Act” was passed. It basically said you can’t run wild horses down with any motorized vehicle or poison water holes. It was a nice simple law and you can read it here https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/47

There was essentially NO enforcement of the 1959 law.

In 1971 the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act was passed. This Act was passed to BEGIN the larger conversation to how we manage wild horses and burros, began federal jurisdiction and stopped “mustanging.” It has been amended multiple times and in our opinion, still fails miserably as a solid legal document.

The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, PL 94-579, provides for the use of helicopters in the gathering of wild horses and burros after public hearings and under humane procedures prescribed by the Secretaries.

A Congressional hearing was held. At that time there was a huge push to resume mustanging (the wholesale harvest of wild horses where they were sent to slaughter for things like fertilizer and chicken feed). This push came after the “claiming period,” essentially a period where mustanging continued by many essentially unregulated. (Authority for BLM law enforcement to actually address violations of illegal capture of wild horses also began at that time).


“Dusty” 1974 Secretary report after reviewing all testimony.

Now the issue that most people are concerned with is “inhumane treatment.” The Act, and underlying provisions, require BLM to manage wild horses and burros humanely.

These hearings are also not about the humane handling policy. A policy is now in place as of November 2015 (IM-151-15), or the Comprehensive Animal Welfare Policy or “CAWP.” (We see some very uniformed orgs calling it “CAWPS”). This comes with a specific protocol that is also not susceptible to petitions or screaming to change it.

Prior to CAWP (November 2015) you could simply say that BLM had an “arbitrary” practice, no policy, on what is humane and that they failed the legal parameter. Roundups were really done based on the opinion of whomever was doing the operation in what is called “discretionary practice.” That is no longer the case. 


Owyhee Complex, Winnemucca District Nevada 2012. One of our multiple wins against conduct.

In 2011 Wild Horse Education (WHE) began to take the agency to court on issues documented at roundups. We are the ONLY org in history to do this. We won the first orders in history and continued to win. We did NOT create petitions to enlarge our mailing list or misrepresent the victories to the public. We told you that each victory did not represent an end, but a step, in getting a policy.

Our first action at Triple B in 2011 won. It also began an internal review by the BLM. We have seen another org claim responsibility and we believe it is because they were given a very hefty grant to do something, they didn’t. (In 2011 we created our recommendations and presented them in multiple forms including a FAX campaign that went out in 2012. Or our comments in 2014 to a helicopter hearing. Both of these documents are no longer valid comments at a helicopter hearing).

If you take the time to read the background for the reason for the review, in the charter for the review, the other org is not mentioned but the federal Judge is.

“In late August, Laura Leigh filed a lawsuit in Reno District Court alleging animal abuse and inhumane animal treatment among other things. On August 31, 2011 Judge McKibben issued a temporary restraining order to prohibit the use of the helicopter as demonstrated on August 11, 2011 (Laura Leigh video), that appears to strike a horse with the skid or flying the helicopter unreasonably close to a horse during the Triple B Complex gather.”

This began the serious conversation of creating CAWP.

WHE won multiple other victories. You can read about them here. We never took a final “victory lap” because we know much work needs to be done and we had to get busy on the next task.

This is what CAWP looks like now: IM2015-151_att1

EDIT: We were asked to include one of our early engagement docs so you can see it.


WHE still has multiple issues with certain parameters of CAWP because the recommendations are based on conjecture and incomplete information. Remember WHE has the largest library of first hand documentation of wild horse capture in the world, larger than the federal government. Our concerns are based on those observations and are not conjecture from watching a video or reading someones theory. One of the greatest objections we have are concepts of foaling season and temperature, i.e.  “ambient temperature is outside the range of 10°F to 95°F for horses or 10°F to 100°F for burros.” Our documentation notes that accidents are much more likely, almost guaranteed, once temperatures reach 86 degrees F. We are working with BLM to look much closer at the “human” element and address issues of human error during higher temperature and making that a factor in CAWP.

However we are now addressing it through the appropriate channels that do not require we litigate. NONE of our wins required a petition or screaming. Our engagement to modify CAWP does not require petitions or screaming.

CAWP is in what is being called “beta testing” for a year and a review and revision process is built in. It has NOTHING to do with these hearings regardless of what well-funded orgs are doing to get social media hype.

This is the “Assessment Tool” being used by BLM to determine the effectiveness of CAWP and will be reviewed. http://www.blm.gov/style/medialib/blm/wo/Information_Resources_Management/policy/im_attachments/2015.Par.93418.File.dat/IM2015-151_att2.pdf

If you want to engage the revision process you can do so by engaging State and National program leads. If you have first hand observation that addresses flaws, can articulate the flaw and suggest revisions, that is intelligent advocacy.

Conger_07022016_D2 - 1

Orphaned filly after her mother broke her neck in an avoidable tragedy at Conger

We see multiple groups that were not present at the Conger roundup in Utah using what happened at Conger as a platform. WHE was there and immediately engaged the State lead on issues.  Amendments to CAWP are being crafted by the State lead.You can read about the tragedy and engagement here: https://wildhorseeducation.org/death-of-the-paint-mare-at-conger/

Our interns are shown what to do if they need to create a document for submission into the process to address changes to the existing policy.

There is SERIOUS work to be done to protect wild horses from threats on and off the range; new land use processes, sage grouse, the push for slaughter, the push for surgical sterilization, lacks of personnel and hard data, public land itself under threat of degradation and sale to the highest bidder, on and on. Screaming about irrelevant things will NOT accomplish any task to keep wild horses and burros on the range managed fairly or safe from slaughter and abuse.

This was written in 2016.



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Categories: Wild Horse Education