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#PostTruth, a few “wild” facts you should know in these dangerous times (part one, Congress)

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Wild Horses of Fish Creek Nevada, in Eureka county

Wild Horse Education (WHE) volunteers have spent years engaging in multiple levels of advocacy; litigation, field monitoring, roundups and even attempts at collaboration. At every level we have watched critical facts omitted from conversations ranging from the simplistic to the complex. We have watched fictions perpetuated as fact simply because “someone said so” forwarding an underlying agenda that also ran the gamut from ridiculously childish and irrelevant, to critically important, in any conversation surrounding resource protection or pretense of professionalism.

Many of these fictions are easier than ever to perpetuate due to the use of the tools of social media. At it’s birth social media was a way to gain mass attention fast to a breaking story. As public relation firms learned how to manipulate the tool it was used to manipulate the public. Often they used tactics to present out of context soundbites, in visuals like memes, as the public was trained to “stop reading.” We have written about the issues with media before. https://wildhorseeducation.org/2016/03/14/todays-media-and-wild-horses-entertainment-or-information/

Over the course of the last several weeks we have begun addressing multiple fictions that live in the realm of “who has the biggest PR machine” with members of the media and many that sit in Congress. We are making progress.

Before we begin to address many of the specifics of what we have done we need to present context and use a simplistic illustration. This series of articles, that we begin today, should be read in the sequence presented. Yes, it will require your attention to gain any depth of understanding of the world our wild horses exist in and why they currently face so much real danger. The basis of the danger lies in the black hole created, massive amounts of #AltTruth.

Let’s Begin:

The most critical #AltReality wild horses face is that they are discussed as if they exist in some weird universe that is not connected to public land management as a whole. Discussing “wild horse issues” is usually relegated to a one line “they are overpopulated” (without any discussion of the basis besides an arbitrary number with no context), and then the discussion rapidly takes you from roundup, into holding and the crisis of the budget, adoptions and “rescue” or sanctuary. Those are symptomatic discussions and have nothing to do with managing a population of wild horses. Wild horses live on public land. Discussions surrounding wild horses must address them as a minor factor (they are a fractional part of the management whole) in a failed system of actual resource protection.

Wild horses are a resource under law, not a use like mining or livestock. The discussions rarely consider the facts surrounding resource protection. When we discuss wild horses it’s like wading through a dump zone of propaganda, all sides.

ONE IMPORTANT EXAMPLE

In June of 2016, as many in the “public land takeover” movement were very active, two hearings you should be aware of took place in Congress. One was an official hearing and the other one was not because the majority would not agree (partisan drama). The one that was not a “full hearing” was about public land issues, the one that was “official” record under “full hearing” was wild horses. The two are below for you to compare. PLEASE watch each one (at least in a scrolling fashion, we know it is frustrating to watch these when you have limited time).

This is an informal session “Countering Extremism On America’s Public Land.”  If you have time you should watch the whole thing. However relevant to this discussion watch one statement made by JJ MacNab, starting at 51:20. Please watch through to 56:27 to hear comments as to “why” this was not an official hearing. At the same time remember WHE is on multiple ranges throughout the west and some of what WHE has experienced in “internet land,” including one of our license plates being posted online in 2015. Because this is not an official hearing the statements are statements and there is no rebuttal on offer. In any official discussion where any decisions arise rebuttal is a procedural part of law. So to be fair, there is no rebuttal.

This second video is an official hearing for Congress. The testimony given is governed under the same rules as a court of law. These statements become what is called “Congressional record” and discussions relating to any bills, laws and decisions can utilize this information on record, as part of that crucial process. So if perjury is committed it carries a charge called “Obstruction of Congress.” Perjury is an intentional lie.

As a wild horse advocacy organization that spends considerable time in field, at the table and in litigation watching this hearing was particularly difficult for us. We know it is for you as well. However much of our difficulty has to do with personal knowledge of all of the people sitting at the table and, frankly, at the head of the room. We know the politics of personal agenda all too well.

This is another video that lasts almost 2 hours. Once more we suggest you watch the entire thing. However if you only want to engage these videos for the purpose of this article scroll to the testimony of Callie Hendrikson, formerly on the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board representing the Farm Bureau at timecode 17:40. Do keep in mind that only one single representative of the advocacy community gave testimony, someone that does not have current ground experience west wide. There should have been more than one representative “for the horse.” However those giving testimony had to be approved by individuals such as Tom McClintock, the chairman of the subcommittee, and Rob Bishop of Utah.

Callie states that “they” are utilizing science, in official Congressional testimony  not a comment, based on “State in Transition” modeling to point to a “wild horses are destroying the range” conclusion. Please scroll to the section noted in the paragraph above the video).

In testimony she then utilizes an example of this “science,” at a place she states clearly is in Elko. The photo is also marked as Elko county in Nevada as a “grazing enclosure.” In reality it is an “exclosure”, meaning the area fenced in has no domestic livestock. The testimony given states that wild horses are responsible, as a claim is made other species are removed, and that we must remove horses to stop other areas from crossing the threshold she illustrates. We will have more on “junk science” soon.

Here is the problem, the area is not in Elko it’s in Eureka hundreds of miles away. The area is in Fish Creek. The area does not illustrate the transition she speaks of, it is an area that has a long history of intermittent trespass livestock grazing and is almost directly across from a water trough heavily used by livestock. Her illustration of her “science” is wrapped in a long history of the “alt truth” perpetuated by BLM inaction and social media.

hearingThe area is in the county of another person that gave testimony, JJ Goicoechea. JJ has been to the area and as a member of the Eureka County Commission was a party to litigation that shut down the largest fertility control program in the nation at Fish Creek. JJ does not correct Callie. We do not know who provided that photo to Callie.

Mistakes get made. Everyone can make an error. This was also not the only “mistake” in testimony. However if we are going to have discussion that leads to management decisions on mistakes, we get more mistakes not management practices that resemble anything called “multiple use” or fair practice. We all must work to maintain integrity and admit a “mistake” or amend an error. This should not be a childish argument that centers around “lie or mistake,” or gets caught in a federal official fearful of setting a record straight. The record should simply be set straight and we all move on.

Since 2010 one thing WHE has searched for, in every nook and cranny, is something called “an honest conversation.” What we have found is that it should be listed on an endangered list in the American West.

In the simple course of rectifying any honest mistake made in testimony the federal government should act like the “parent in the room,” particularly when it comes to Congressional record. Did that happen? Simply, no.

Steve Ellis, then acting Deputy Director of the BLM, gave testimony as well that day. He could have amended his testimony if the field office personnel of BLM sent him information.

Yes, we asked. The response we received was either that it didn’t matter or that there would be consequences for poking a “contentious” area and many BLM employees try very hard to not bring that kind of attention to themselves.

We tried other avenues as well that involve a whole different level of politics to get through in the competitive world of advocacy.

We were told to send it to Bishop. We declined for what should be obvious reasons.

We had also been warned about continuing to monitor and visit Fish Creek. In August of 2015 we accompanied a group of young adults to Fish Creek (note from Leigh: WHE actually had the students at that exact location so I could explain range impacts to them. BLM had an adverse reaction to my taking students in there that was akin to “are you insane? That area is dangerous and you should not be in there at all!” There was supposedly an investigation into activities at Fish Creek. I was constantly being told about one danger or another and in 2015, I became rather concerned. I will write more about all of that soon).

We want to end this with a note about movement of BLM under this new administration.

BLM is simply a regulatory agency. They are supposed to simply carry out the mandates of Congress, abide by and enforce the Codes of Federal Regulations.

However anyone familiar with how things move in practice know that intimidation, manipulation and the “buddy system” of family and friends greatly influences how these mandates are carried out in practice. A BLM office often behaves like a very odd “social club”.

We also ask you to go back and look at the first video posted one more time. Keep all of this in context as you imagine how the physical experience of being an advocate, or a BLM employee, really is experienced… in real life, not the charade of social media.

In 2015 John Ruhs came into Nevada as the State Director. In 2017 John Ruhs was promoted to acting Deputy Director of BLM, the position formerly occupied by Steve Ellis. The agency’s deputy director, the highest career official, keeps BLM’s 10,000 employees in sync with its policymaking headquarters. He picks BLM’s state-level directors and recruits career leaders to Washington, D.C. (We have more about what that means soon).

We have been very busy the last few weeks engaged at the Congressional level. We will share some of what we have already shared with members of Congress with you over the coming weeks. Getting that information off our desk and into those hands, was critical. We have completed that task.

Multiple use is not impossible, but it must not be made on mistakes that create more mistakes. It must not be based on manipulation of contention to suit personal agenda.

In order to achieve any integrity we all must reject “AltTruth.”

Why are we writing about all of this now? Because we have tried for the last few years to help advocacy connect the wild horse to the reality of the range. Some of the truths are hard to understand. Some of the truths are good for the horse and some not so much. However in order to create a better reality for the horse it must begin with reality. Watch a few episodes of “Game of Thrones” or an old episode of any soap opera and you will practice the mental muscles you need to follow along the BLM trail.

The decision process, and those making those decisions, will have far reaching implications. The outcome of the current “conversations” will determine consequence for years to come. Some of those consequences wild horses, and our public land, may not recover from.

The interest we represent, wild horses, is often used as a scapegoat. Advocacy and wild horses exist in the same reality and both will be the first to be cut from the big picture. The risk is real.

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PLEASE help us be a voice for our wild ones.

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