Wild Horse Education

The Game of AML, part one

Owyhee - 1 (4)

Keep making this ONE call. The Senate vote that may cause tens of thousands of wild horses to be shot because we can not stop “playing games” and have an honest conversation will happen next week.

The Appropriate Management Level (AML)* game deserves an entire article of it’s own. This game is played at two levels in this multi level chess game and then carried onto the law making table. Like all the myths it is wrapped in so many levels of bubblewrap that an honest conversation gets lost in the insulation created to perpetuate the insanity.

*The number of wild horses the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) claims the “land can sustain.”

The example of “stupid” that makes your head want to explode: humane handling and access.

Using the examples of humane handling, or access issues, are always simplistic ways for me to illustrate the contradictions between words and actions. The federal government manages our western landscape on a hamster wheel of contradiction.

The line goes; “We are completely transparent and treat wild horses with absolute care, humanely.”

The reality goes: Day after day, year after, I would travel to trap site site and experience the exact opposite in practice. I was chased around the desert and threatened with arrest for trying to see wild horses in a temporary holding facility after capture while I had a court order in my hand where BLM agreed to a federal judge that they “would do everything in their power to accommodate access.” In freezing weather or blistering heat, day after day year after year.

I would fight in court, or on the ground, to see anything meaningful as they told media they were “completely transparent.” When I could see I witnessed babies run to collapse, wild horses run through barbed wire, kicked in the head, hotshots use in routine fashion to speed loading (not under “life and death” situations as they told the press), hot shot use on babies, helicopter even hitting a horse.

Court order after court order had to be won. A million miles, literally, had to be travelled back and forth from range to court to range to court to Congress. Every time I would appear in front of a judge they would ask BLM “what are you doing about this?” After simply denying it did not happen and facing disgust from a federal court judge, Honorable Howard D McKibben, who said “I find your defense a blame the horse affront,” BLM began to work on a policy. That was in 2011 and I had to go back to court again and again.

In 2015 BLM finally included a version of the “Comprehensive Animal Welfare Policy,” or CAWP, into roundup contracts.

In 2014 an agreement was made to make observation at roundups a priority, with specific parameters, and to open the Broken Arrow facility back up to public tours. At this time tensions in Nevada were off the charts with threats against federal workers and environmentalists. I worked hard with former Nevada State Director Amy Lueders to create an access protocol that could remain flexible to keep people safe from other people that might come to disrupt operations, not a policy to exclude meaningful access. Those conversations began in 2013 and lasted almost a year, after a 4.5 year court battle that had been successful up and down the legal system and when stacked stands taller than my mid thigh.

In 2017, after the most amazing storm of twisted nonsense, I was once again waking before dawn and traveling hours to a trap site to be denied access day after day. When I did have access (over 1.5 miles away) a 400mm lens, on a doubler, reveled a barbed wire fence being used as a trap wing.

Then the district manager in that area said (after I had been treated really poorly for months, a complete disregard for professionalism, and was then held with no access for a week), “We have to treat you like this because ranchers don’t feel we listen to them.”

Appropriate Management levels, AML

AML has a three level approach to the perpetuation of the fiction, national, state and field office. Most myths that require this type of insular practice have this same approach. These insular myths are always wrapped in one or more myths. The lower down the food chain you go, the more insulation is required to prop up the top.

National: At the national level we always have a broad brush statement. 2014, “The Bureau of Land Management says that Western rangelands can sustain about 26,000 wild horses. There are now 48,000.” in 2017, “46,000 wild horses and burros in corrals. Another 73,000 of the animals roam freely across the western states.” The numbers really are not important except this one “26,000,” and we will explain later in the article.

State goes like this: “The BLM’s Appropriate Management Level—the population of horses for a thriving natural ecological balance—here is between 101 and 170 horses, but the current population is nearing 500, pretty standard overpopulation rate for Nevada wild horse herds. Statewide, the appropriate management level is 12,800, but the current population is estimated to be more than 34,000.”

When you get to the field level the entire burden gets placed on the shoulders of the wild horse and burro specialist (whbs). This person is either someone that took the job as an entry to a federal pension and is looking to transfer to a “better” position in a year, someone from the local ranching community or someone that actually cares about horses but is so swamped with tasks that in truth, “copy paste” becomes the standard practice and the more “copy paste” the more pages you create, that create the impression of depth, to hide a broken heart. (I have watched many of those hearts either turn cold or drown. They are human and need insulation. The insulation usually comes from creating an “enemy mindset” against those that challenge you and hiding in the bureaucratic  bubblewrap, transferring or quitting).

Now it’s time to look at that 26,000 number, the number the “land can sustain” according to the top level officials, the ones that engage the law makers.

In 1971 the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act (WFRHBA) was passed into law and stated that “wild horses and burros were fast disappearing from the landscape. Law makers, that were not creating an environmental protocol based on science, but a law under pressure from the public in an election year, agreed that wild horses would be managed at the current estimated population level. Not exactly scientific recognition of anything and the “game of numbers” begins.

A little discussed National Academy of Sciences review in 1982 found that BLM’s “population survey methods” were extremely flawed and the number of horses claimed on the range was woefully inaccurate and severely underestimated. The 1980, 1982 and 1991 report are all cited in the 2013 National Academy of Sciences (NAS) review and, one more time, reiterates that the original and subsequent survey methods are severely flawed. In addition the 2013 report cites severe flaws in methodology through 2013.

In addition there was a “claiming period.” Essentially mustanging continued after the act was passed for 4 years. During the claiming period nearly 17,000 wild horses were claimed as “private property” in one year just in Nevada alone. None of those individual animals, are included in any equation that has any validity, in what the “land can sustain.”

The BLM continually referencing that the first survey numbers that found “26,000” as a sustainable number, and that subsequent surveys support that assertion, is as accurate as “we manage them with full transparency and humanely.”

That’s the “AML” game presented to law makers. The one at the field level falls under another heading “the game of healthy horses, healthy rangeland.” That myth is wrapped in the game of friends, family and “keep that gun out of my face.”

Any “AML” of wild horses that asserts a “healthy range” component must contain a valid equation for management of public resource in the bigger picture. That is where myth, fact and insanity collide; “on the land where they now stand.”

Fast article to clear up confusion on the multiple  equine bills including the vote next week in the Senate on Appropriations (budget) for the Department of Interior that may kill tens of thousands of wild horses here: https://wildhorseeducation.org/2017/08/28/budget-vote-qna/

Game of AML, part two (Bubblewrap) 


Our founder 6 years ago at a press conference in Phoenix.

Categories: Wild Horse Education