Without informed and active public debate the very principles of Democracy fail.
At Wild Horse Education (WHE) core to our work is the basic principal that informed and complete participation by the public in process is a vital component of any issue, including wild horses. Our work has built two widely cited cases on First Amendment. One case lasted the better part of a decade and went up and down the court system to gain access to Bureau of Land Management (BLM) roundups and tours resumed at a closed facility. That is now known simply as “Leigh v Salazar.” The other was a case against the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to gain access to observe the removal operations at Sheldon where every effort was being made to hide actions from the public.
Today we are experiencing a disturbing lack of disclosure and informed debate. The Department of Interior has suspended all public advisory board activity through September. The suspension includes Resource Advisory Councils (RACS) and boards like the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board. A claim is being made that these boards are being “investigated” to ensure that they are a good use of funding and are following “rules.” http://bit.ly/2r09Ox6
However what these closures actually achieve in practice is the inability of the public to debate and place information into an official record. The government can essentially hinder any attention, public outrage or opposition to their actions.
Massive deregulation, budget cuts and even the discussion about killing wild horses in holding in the budget, are issues sitting on the desks of lawmakers in DC. The information of “official record” in DC is flawed and highly controlled. (you can read about one example here: https://wildhorseeducation.org/2017/05/17/posttruth-a-few-wild-facts-you-should-know-in-these-dangerous-times-part-one/ )
Our work does not dwell behind a desk, it operates primarily in the field. Over the course of the last 5 years that work has placed us in an increasingly precarious place. In 2012 we experienced the emergence of an online organization that, at one point, stated they sent someone to the range to kill one of our volunteers. In 2015 others appeared on the scene that echoed that type of violence was once again under the surface.
The BLM is withholding information, controlling information and manipulating that reality.
We have filed litigation.
Legal Action Filed; Federal Obstruction Against Environmental Advocates
(RENO) This month legal action was filed in federal district court on behalf of Wild Horse Education (WHE) founder Laura Leigh. The action is based on withholding of critical information through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that directly effects appropriate engagement in process, the ability to educate and inform the public and press, the ability to defend accusations against environmental interests and even the ability to keep oneself safe from physical dangers.
In October two FOIA’s were filed. The documents contained in these FOIAs have either been redacted to contain no meaningful information or have to date, provided no information. These requests center around investigations that were supposedly occurring into apparent conduct, that may have violated multiple Codes of Federal Regulations, near Eureka Nevada. The actions included multiple entities pushing for state control of public land, and the exclusion of any voice that opposed their agenda, from 2015-2017. The events included county and state protests against the involvement of advocacy and their interactions with Bureau of Land Management (BLM) employees.
“Everyone has a legal voice in the process of public land management,” said Danielle Holt, an attorney with Atkin, Winner and Sherrod representing Leigh, “When information is withheld that impedes the ability to engage appropriately and creates an environment where an interest is actually afraid to exercise a Constitutional Right, every American should be concerned.”
“I’ve tried every avenue I know of to engage process lawfully to protect wild horses, work to inform the public and create a better environment all around.” said Laura Leigh of WHE, “Over the last year I have literally been reduced to tears more times than I can count because of manipulation, intimidation and blindness that makes me feel the federal government cares nothing about fairness. This environment created by BLM is part fact and part fiction; when they withhold crucial information there is absolutely no way to distinguish between the two. I feel that I was intentionally placed between a rock and a hard place and it scares me.”
You can read the rest of the article on the Desert Independent website: http://www.thedesertinde.com/Articles-2017/Legal-action-filed-Federal-obstruction-against-environmental-advocates–0524.html
Critical to this discussion is that Leigh reached out to the Nevada Tri-RAC on April 4, 2017 for help in this matter. Board activity has been shut down. Leigh Letter to TriRAC
Several other environmental groups are experiencing a similar “silencing.” Exclusive groups have been formed where it appears BLM will share information, monitoring and conversations, but opposing voices are experiencing the exact opposite. In many instances information is being shared with entities such as counties, permittees and states that is not even being disclosed under Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with others.
In the litigation we have filed that information includes statements and protests against our involvement and directly the involvement of our founder Laura Leigh. She has not even been provided with information where she can counter or offer any opposition to any accusation, real or imagined.
Public debate is shut down. Opportunity to face an accuser is shut down.
The principals of Democracy are failing and the public is barely even aware of it. Under the massive “media fatigue” of the daily crisis, our treasures of public land and the very lives of our wild horses are at stake. Large media outlets are struggling to keep up. Public land issues can barely break through.
Links of interest below.
Links of Interest
Full article at Desert Independent http://www.thedesertinde.com/Articles-2017/Legal-action-filed-Federal-obstruction-against-environmental-advocates–0524.html
Laura Leigh Letter to BLM Resource Advisory Council https://www.blm.gov/sites/blm.gov/files/documents/files/2017-TriRAC_Leigh-Comment.pdf
Tension Between NV Ranchers and Federal Officials Dangerously High http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-nevada-ranchers-blm-20160114-story.html
BLM suspends Resource Advisory Council Meetings http://www.denverpost.com/2017/05/04/resource-advisory-council-meetings-blm/
Standoff Obstructs Pioneering Effort For Wild Horses https://wildhorseeducation.org/2015/02/22/standoff-obstructs-pioneering-effort-for-wild-horses/
Fish Creek, The Controversy https://wildhorseeducation.org/2015/06/07/fish-creek-the-controversy/
BLM Coddles Hostile and Law Breaking Ranchers http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/01/08/blm-leadership-coddles-hostile-and-law-breaking-nevada-ranchers/