Wild Horse Education

Pragmatic Advocacy, an intern walks to the frontline of freedom


The sound of a helicopter over the horizon makes your heart beat a bit faster. You begin to scan the landscape for movement as you try to remember to breathe. THERE! coming through the pinyons a band of 9! You scan through your camera lens; a stallion and six mares with two young foals. The chopper closes to put on the pressure as they enter the jute wings of the trap and you see one of the foals is missing! Do you follow the band with your camera or scan for the foal? The horses are coming in fast so you follow the band in to make sure there are no collisions with equipment. They hit the trap and the stud first collides with the panels and then spins and tries to leap out! He makes a valiant attempt for freedom but collapses! Is he ok? He rises, unsteady and then moves off with the rest of his band. The foal!?! Where is that foal?!

The roundup. The moment between freedom and captivity. The moment every journalist and the public become captivated by. That dramatic moment when controversy hangs in the air louder than the sound of a thousand helicopter blades.

As we began our fight for wild horses and burros we sat at this “ground zero” more than any other org and government personnel, because there was no policy that outlines exactly what humane care and handling should be. WHE has the largest library (by far) of wild horse captures over the last decade than any entity. WHE used that library to fight and win multiple court battles (the only org to do that) to push a humane handling policy.

We have a policy now that is in beta test and revision. Those court cases no longer bring a spotlight to capture (it was the wins in court that repeatedly put this into the pages of the news, not screaming. We know because news media contacted us for images on a regular basis even as they quoted other orgs not at the roundup).

That “frontline” toward gaining a handling policy has shifted. The policy now has a direct line of communication toward revision without the need to litigate.

But what you need to realize is that the roundup is a juncture in how the program itself works. The wild horse and burro program is essentially two distinct programs; range management and facility management. Employees even get their paychecks from two different sources. Budgets for operations comes from two different sources. On range is taken from a state budget and holding comes from national. Roundups are approved state by state and budgeted as “range” management. Once the horse ships from the range it is the national budget (we have written about this before).

So essentially a roundup is the end point in one program and the beginning of another. 

So as a pragmatic advocate you see the distinction. You recognize that as an advocate the issues on one side of freedom are addressed through one process, the issues on the other side (the loss) of freedom are another process. The process comes with a completely different set of “rules.”

If you are advocating for freedom you do not take those grievances to the management machine of holding facilities, that’s not helping anything. If you are advocating for conditions in holding you do not take it to those managing the range. In most cases you will find the people in each distinct aspect of the program absolutely clueless to the distinctions on the other side of freedom.

So if you think of “frontline” of advocacy for freedom, the roundup is the end of process, not the “front line.”


We know this is a “long read” but it is the only way to create any depth of understanding if you chose to be an advocate. Advocating can be complex through engagement or simply through supporting those that are active. Having in depth information can help you chose the path to advocacy that suits you.

Experience is the greatest teacher. We take people to the range, facilities and roundups. We talk abut process and politics. Very few take the next step, engaging to learn about process. Part of the real frontline of the pragmatic advocate for “freedom.”

We wish that the following essay could be conveyed to you with a sexy music video and dramatic photos. A roundup happens long after the frame is built for any management.

We have added some illustrations to the following essay that we hope can convey what this front line feels like. It hurts just as bad as watching a mare hit her head on a panel and break her neck, maybe more because it speaks of the reality of tens of thousands. Learning this part of process is where the “deep depression” sets in because you can begin to see how the system fails, how advocacy fails and how few tools there actually are to effect real change.



My EA comment: Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot

Beth Quigley Lauxen, WHE Intern

I’m going to lead mustang advocates through a journey I took this week, determined to write comments for the BLM’s Wyoming Checkerboard Environmental Assessment (EA). I was trying to think of anything I could do to take a load off of Laura Leigh during this insanely busy time of year, and I was certain that after listening to Laura and following Wild Horse Education over the last 5+ years, reading what I thought was a good deal of what she has written, I could pull the appropriate documents and write a concise and accurate comment that would be at least close to what she would want to say, (at least in the first draft form).

How hard could it be? I had worked through this kind legal process at the support level, years ago, when I was working for the USFWS Migratory Bird Management. I would have to do some extra reading, and spend some time composing, but hey, it was only August 23rd and the EA comments weren’t due until September 9th, so it looked doable on the surface. I asked Laura if she would want me to try to work through that, if it would help, and her response was “Sure, if you want to, however…” Suddenly, I had a bit of performance anxiety, sensing that her answer was, a “little bit loaded,” but hey, if I get stuck, I’ll just ask….right?

So I dove in. I got the EA link (see document list at end of article), and started reading. Wow, it’s over 75 pages long; guess I’ll skim it and pick out the highlights to start with, I thought. So, I scrolled through the sections Intro, Background Info and Purpose and Need, and Relationship to Regs, Plans, or other EA’s sections. I kept seeing references to Section 4 of the 1971 Wild Horse Act (link at end of article) and to something called the Consent Decree, used in justifying actions they considered using. I will google that later, I told myself, but right now I just want to find the sections that say what they plan to do, get my comment written and off to Laura Leigh for her approval. I thought I could always read the historical stuff later. I decided to scroll straight to Section 2.1-2.3 Proposed Action and Alternatives Considered in Detail. There were only 3 choices they seriously considered (below, verbatim).

2.1 Alt 1: No Action – No Removal – All wild horses on private lands within the Checkerboard lands within the Salt Wells Creek, Adobe Town and Great Divide Basin HMAs would not be removed in accordance with the Consent Decree.
Under the No Action Alternative, a gather to remove wild horses within the project area would not occur. There would be no active management to control the size of the wild horse populations at this time. However, existing management including monitoring would continue.
The No Action Alternative would not comply with section 4 of the WHA, FLPMA, nor would it comply with or be in conformance with the Consent Decree. The No Action Alternative is included as a baseline for comparison with the action alternatives, as required under NEPA.

Ok, I thought, that’s easy. I choose plan 2.1, no removals. Duh! But wait, the Rock Springs Grazing Association (RSGA) must have stymied that choice, and BLM states it is included in this section only as a baseline? WTF! I’ll figure out why later I thought. I’ve got to hurry and get a comment written after all.


2.2 Alt 2: Proposed Action – Removal of all wild horses from Checkerboard lands within Great Divide Basin, Salt Wells Creek and Adobe Town HMAs
Alternative 2 is to remove all wild horses on the Checkerboard lands within the Salt Wells Creek, Adobe Town and Great Divide Basin HMAs. All of the animals gathered would be removed from the HMAs. Wild horses removed would be shipped to BLM holding facilities in Rock Springs, Wyoming, Cañon City, Colorado, and/or any other BLM holding facility where they would be prepared for adoption and/or sale to qualified individuals and/or long-term holding. Gather operations are anticipated to take between three to five weeks for completion.
During the 2016 census the BLM discovered approximately 47 wild horses within Checkerboard land, but outside any of the associated HMAs. Although outside the HMA boundaries, these wild horses are associated with these HMAs and will also be removed from Checkerboard lands under this alternative.

2.3 Alt 3: – Remove all wild horses from Checkerboard and return to solid line public lands of HMAs.
Alternative 3 is to gather all wild horses on the Checkerboard lands within the Salt Wells Creek Adobe Town and Great Divide Basin HMAs. Of the animals gathered, all of the wild horses would be transported and released upon solid block BLM lands within the respective HMA. Gather and removal operations are anticipated to take between three to five weeks for completion. Relocating all of the wild horses from Checkerboard lands to solid block Federal lands would force the entire wild horse population to temporarily reside on approximately 29% of the Salt Wells Creek HMA, 92% of the Adobe Town HMA and 52% of the Divide Basin HMA. The percentage of Checkerboard and Federal solid block lands are depicted in Table 3 (total acreage of private and Federal land within each HMA is depicted in Table 1).

So, I decided would write in support of 2.3, remove all wild horses from Checkerboard and release to “solid line” HMA’ outside the Checkerboard. Problem is, I can’t imagine the grazing association will go for that one either. But reading over again, I realized, BLM has already chosen Option 2, which they actually call – the Proposed Action: Removal of all wild horses from Checkerboard lands within Great Divide Basin, Salt Wells Creek and Adobe Town HMAs.

4a14bf5815b01304aeae350122b48253Holy Sh**!! THEY ARE ZEROING OUT THE ENTIRE CHECKERBOARD! Essentially, for the horses, it is “do not pass go, do not collect anything,” go straight to holding for processing for adoption, situation!
Now I’m depressed. Seriously, depressed….

I’m writing home to Laura, this is insane! I wrote:
“Laura what are the chances that the horses rounded up off the checkerboard being released to the solid line lands as they mention as a possible action; zero to none? Is that something that comments should be addressed towards? Or am I missing other more important issues. Can you give me the most important things that should be addressed, just some bullet points maybe? I’m have to admit that I get into serious brain fog just reading these documents, because it starts to feel so hopeless. That doesn’t help anything. I just have no clue how you do this every day, day in and day out. It’s hard on the soul. Don’t get me wrong, I still want to do it and learn the right way to do it. I’m just stuck.”

Laura replied:
“Zero to none… that’s about the odds.”
“My main suggestion would be that a cooperative be formed to further the use of fertility control via remote darting. Slowing growth would help determine the best ways to distribute a population so as not to interfere with uses on private property. As fertility control is implemented strategies to keep wild horses distributed in public parcels could be determined (through waters, drift fencing, etc).”

images-3And with her saying that, I understood, for the time, the only reasonable things to suggest, would likely fall on deaf ears at this point, because the decision was already made, and decided in a court of law and a long history of agreements engaged in by the grazing association.

My immediate reaction? Holy Sh**! All hope is gone. And I still don’t have bullet points and now it’s August 24th. It’s 2 am and I’m going to bed and pull the covers over my head, and never come out.

My reaction the next day:
What am I missing in all this? I feel like there is a huge lesson for me in all this frustration. So I dove in one last time. Now, I wanted to do two things; GO BACKWARDS through the process and read all the Scoping documents, and later, follow that back further to where the comments on the Scoping document were published and where BLM responded to them. Laura doesn’t give up she keeps looking to see what went wrong so she can try to get ahead of it in other places. I’m not giving up either!

So next I opened the Scoping Documents (link at end of article). Aha, this is where I SHOULD have started working, I decided, and THIS caught my eye:

“The public is encouraged to participate throughout the EA Process. However, in order for your comments to be the most useful, scoping comments are due by April 22, 2016. …Public comments are most helpful if they are specific, regulations state that comments on a proposed action “shall be as specific as possible and may address either the adequacy of the statement or the merits of the alternatives discussed or both. The most valuable comments are those that cite specific actions or impacts in the document and offer informed analysis of what is presented.”

I remembered then seeing that the EA had a section on Scoping too, so I went back and actually read it.

“Scoping for the originally proposed Great Divide Basin Gather was sent out with a comment period from December, 6, 2013 to January 10, 2014. Over 13,000 Comment Letters were received. Many comments, including comments from the RSGA, identified concerns with BLM’s proposed action to remove wild horses to the low AML for the HMA, as this was believed to be inconsistent with the 2013 Consent Decree provision for removing all wild horses from private lands in the checkerboard. Additionally, many comments expressed concern for the general management of wild horses.”


WHAT?!? The scoping process ended January 10, 2014? Comments closed April 22, 2016?!?
They already received 13,000 comments? Holy sh**, I’m too late!? I’m too late for scoping, at least!

I wrote to Laura saying:
“Something’s got to give! I tried to get a start on the comments, but after looking at the published comments….I am probably doing this for the experience only, as it seems to me that it is far too late for any comment to be seriously considered, especially after not commenting at the scoping phase.” (When Laura responds, “Now you’re getting it, but  hang on, it gets worse.” I need to tell you that your stomach flips over because you are clinging to your last shreds of hope).

But as a last ditch effort, I took a longer look at the Public Comments, and how BLM responded to them. For instance:
Comment 5:
Request to consolidate public lands with land exchanges in the checkerboard area.
BLM Response:
Please refer to Sections 1.1 and 1.2 of the EA, which address a request from private landowner’s (thru the RSGA) to remove wild horses. Additionally, please refer to Section 2 of the EA for a description of all alternatives, including those considered but not analyzed in detail. Further, Exchanging Public Lands….. Does not meet the purpose and need of the proposed action to remove wild horses from private lands (checkerboard) in accordance with Section 4 of the WHA and the 2013 Consent Decree, and is therefore outside of the scope of this EA.”

THIS RESPONSE was the SAME answer to ALL sane comments suggesting alternatives, period, and end of discussion.

There were many other reasonable options, that weren’t being listed as final choices, in a following section called 2.4 Alternatives Considered but Eliminated from Detailed Analysis, and also in the public’s comments, so why were seemingly good ideas discarded offhand?

They were discarded for the SAME single reason; “they did not meet the purpose and need of the proposed action to remove wild horses from private lands (checkerboard) in accordance with Section 4 of the WHA and the 2013 Consent Decree, and is therefore outside of the scope of this EA.”

WTF!!! Why was that?!? I wrote an email to Laura, saying:

“When the answer to every legitimate question or comment, is that the comment in question ‘does not meet the purpose and need of the proposed action to remove wild horses from private lands (in the Checkerboard) in accordance with the 2013 Consent Decree, and are therefore outside of the scope of this analysis for this removal,’ doesn’t every other protection for the wild horses and burros go out the window?

I decided to look more thoroughly at Section 4 of the Wild Horse Act and to make sure I understood that, and I also found the 2013 Consent Decree to see WHY those two things, specifically, were indeed the “end of discussions.” Of course what I found was that Section 4 of the WHA is the Burn’s Amendment which has so seriously threatened our wild ones especially those in holding, and which has allowed unprecedented interpretation of the original law, essentially removing many of the protections originally intended for our wild ones in the WHA of 1971. But what about that pesky 2013 Consent Decree that keeps being mentioned, over and over?


What I found put me in a mental tailspin; how did I NOT KNOW THIS??

“Specifically, the 2013 Consent Decree outlines the very actions the RSGA demanded that BLM accept, through a court ordered arbitration. Essentially, BLM accepted this route to avoid being charged with Contempt of Court, for not removing the horses to RSGA’s satisfaction, over a period of many years and different agreements:
· Zero out (entirely eliminate) wild horses from the Salt Wells and Great Divide Basin Herd Management Areas (HMAs);
· Sterilize wild horses in the White Mountain HMA, thus destroying the federally-protected wild free-roaming behaviors of the mustangs that are a popular tourist attraction
· Cut by more than half the number of wild ha6a0bef51f15be63d1c3fc93a4da4d75orses in the famed Adobe Town Herd Management Area.”


This is now existing precedent! I can only imagine how horribly it is going to be used against our remaining wild horses in other areas. And at this point, making a comment on a completed EA after the 2013 Consent Decree and Scoping were already completed, now seemed futile.

Everything I learned during this process put me in a mental tailspin; how did I NOT KNOW ALL THIS ALREADY?? What have I been doing for upwards of FIVE YEARS that actually helps our wild horses? I thought of myself as a wild horse advocate, but today I sure don’t feel like I deserve that title any more. This girl has a lot of work to do. How many other advocates have no idea about this process, where it starts and stops, at what stages of process can our voices actually be heard, and what all is needed to be meaningfully involved in these processes to create change for our wild horses and burros? I haven’t even begun to cover all that truly is involved in the Scoping and EA processes.

We need to get up to speed, FAST, but Laura told us Monday in her post on Wild Horse Education, that we are now in SALVAGE MODE. We need to let that soak in, and then step up to the plate to BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE.


Final Note from WHE:

If you want to take the WY Checkerboard down another “worm hole” read this 2013 article: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/03/how-the-department-of-the-interior-sold-out-americas-wild-horses/274159/

YES, there was a “legal win” in this area. BUT that legal win was only for a declaratory statement from a Judge that paperwork was flawed, after horses were removed already. It is NOT legal action with a purpose, but a press release.

We just saw a roundup in Utah under similar agreement with SITLA. Do you know what happened there and if that legal action fundraiser created anything? Do you know that there are these agreements popping up in multiple places?

…. 100,000 comments saying the same thing on an EA do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to save horses or change process. The “process,” by the time we get to an EA, is to point out a flaw, not a vote. That is NOT advocacy! It is building a mailing list to raise money. STOP IT!

If you have been involved in scoping and/or have a piece of information not analyzed or addressed, make your comment (but it does not make your comment stronger to have it said 50,000 times). If the comment is not addressed you can engage in the Appeal process or file federal litigation. If you have proof of collusion, conspiracy or any of the other words we see flying around that does not go into a comment letter, but into a courtroom.

Policy and protocol for on range practices begin long before an EA.

Did you know most AML’s (the numbers of horses “allowed” on the range in a area) were set in the last ten to fifteen years? If you know someone in advocacy  a long time ask them if they addressed or appealed a single AML. Ask for proof.

Pragmatic advocacy is not going to make us popular… we don’t give a sh**.

Coming Soon… What is the reality of the range and can you find that out fixing your makeup at Starbucks? 

Advocacy Intervention, What is an Advocate? Sets the stage for this series of articles on Pragmatic advocacy and tries to bring you into the trench, so you understand why there is no more time for anything else. https://wildhorseeducation.org/2016/08/29/advocacy-intervention-what-is-an-advocate/

Main website: http://WildHorseEducation.org


Categories: Wild Horse Education