#WildHorses Owyhee, the Orphan Pen (the faces that haunt)

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This little one in the “orphan pen” has very little chance of making it out alive. The foal has scours and this little body is showing the wear of the fire, the run of capture, the separation and the lack of mothers milk. Beat up and lost, this baby will become a statistic with the odds of private placement stacked against this little soul.

Personal Editorial; Laura Leigh

Yesterday I went to Palomino Valley Center north of Reno to try to get some good pictures of wild horses and their tag numbers. Facilities will not search for a horse in a facility for a potential adopter without a tag number.

On this visit, talking to staff, even with a tag number they may not facilitate adopter requests. They have their marching orders; move ’em in, move ’em out. Make room for the ones coming in over the next couple of months from Silver King, Pine Nuts and Fish Creek.

The wild ones from Eagle, Nellis and Owyhee will have just weeks before they are sent into the almost untraceable pipeline of holding facilities.

If you find this unacceptable or want to adopt? Light up the BLM switchboard at 1-866-468-7826

Finding your representative and voicing your concerns is a good idea too.

BLM policy states that they will do everything possible to find a wild horse or burro private placement through adoption or sale. It seems like these days the sale program (that transfers title immediately and leaves a wild horse vulnerable to immediate shipment to kill buyers) is the mainline attempt at placing horses. Those “truck them around the country events are mostly sales, not adoptions. Our wild ones are on the fast track to sale authority.

Remember BLM changed policy and now you can literally pick up a semi load, 24 horses, simply by signing a piece of paper and knowing there is no enforcement or follow up. How do you think BLM all of a sudden has room for so many horses? Any other conclusion is simply illogical. 

Every roundup brings faces that will haunt me for the rest of my life. 

Below, few of the faces of the “orphan pen.”

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Each and every roundup, ten years of this and tens of thousands of faces, I watch as attention leaves a herd after the helicopter lands. I struggle years before the helicopter flies to gain support to address land use planning and the “friends and family” club of BLM. We do what we can, with all we have. But under the assault of social media “team speak” from those that never lived this experience, the depth of what our wild ones are caught in barely rises to the surface.

In the next couple of weeks we will be hit with huge “GoFundMe” type mailers for bail money on a few from herds with “photo club” followings. Those horses will be bid up in so called rescue, and sell for thousands of dollars (often more money than is raised to fight for the entire herd). We will see massive funding efforts to save older horses from certain death at Devil’s Garden as Forest Service swept aside the effort of dealing with advocacy (incremental removals and fertility control) and instead does a large roundup, a few sales, and then ships the rest off to certain death at the slaughterhouse.

Every life matters. But we know so many that only have public attention when a chopper flies. Those are the ones that haunt us. Those that become “just a number” and then disappear. The ones subject to the sales to slaughter, the one step removed from the public eye. Those that we debate killing each year in the budget debates of the federal government.

Every single year so many of the horses WHE focus on slip away. WHE focus on these herds intentionally because if we did not? All you would ever see about them is an occasional roundup photo, a fundraiser so the money could be used to finance other projects by big orgs and nothing more.

At least we are here to continue to tell the story, raise awareness and chip away at the stumbling blocks that lead to continuation of management that prioritizes personal and professional reasoning (illegal, btw) that creates these “casualties of the public land war.” It breaks our heart every year…

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At Owyhee the 2012 paperwork is extremely flawed. With litigation active, and the National Academy of Sciences Review of 2013 affirming every legal assertion, BLM admitted the flaws and said they would work on mechanisms to fix it. These mechanisms were to involve a cooperative effort.

The political game that “sage grouse protection funds” have become fueled the removal at Owyhee in 2018. A fire raged, man made and fed due to grassloads of 200-1000 times the norm, burning nearly 440,000 acres and killing hundreds of wild horses, wildlife and cows. Instead of creating a plan for recovery of the wild horses and context to satisfly the NAS before taking any steps that could not be undone, BLM just made all other stakeholders happy and removed over 1000 more wild horses to add to the nearly 2000 removed in 2016.

We were told to keep working on Fish Creek as the mechanisms were created to address these large deficits like at Owyhee, back in 2014. We did.

That entire process blew up in a storm of crazy, corrupt and inept. As the date for the Fish Creek roundup draws closer this season we will walk you down that path. A path to a roundup that never should have happened and an example of the extreme tax payer waste that makes it’s way down the ladder into states and districts; the land of petty kingdoms and petty kings.

It is heartbreaking, frustrating and expensive. It often feels like “hostage negotiations.” (We will  outline time and expenses of both BLM and our organization over 6 years and the ultimate costs paid by the horses).

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Look at the facial trauma on that baby in the orphan pen as “move ’em in, move ’em out” runs todays BLM.

The older horses from these captures (Eagle, Nellis and Owyhee) do not stand a chance of any efforts for adoptions. Saving these older horses is all about land management; the stuff that is complicated, deep and does not create easy memes to gain attention or funding.

The wild horse is the only animal in our nation legally defined by the land it stands on; yet the integral nature of the horse and land is vacant from management practices. We still manage “old cowboy and politics.”

A fire and sage grouse funding were used to fuel this roundup. There was no triage for foals, fire survivors or adoption outreach. WHE reached out during the fire to help and were ignored. We do know that at least one large national org with a crisis response team also reached out, was ignored.

After the roundup BLM can not even get statistics right on the webpage. We believe 25 horses were killed during this operation. Your tax dollars at work.

These older horses that federal land managers have failed on so many levels are being shipped out as fast as possible.

Will they be on a new policy “24 semi truck” and headed to Mexico in three weeks? We do not know.

Will those horses now sit in the political cross hairs as each year we will debate killing them, after being removed from the best grazing land in the state of Nevada and victims of politics and a buddy system with no accountability?

Spin, spin, spin… Over the last few weeks I have watched all sides grab events from years ago as if they happened yesterday. Each side pointing fingers at the other for doing it, yet failing to hold themselves accountable.

In many ways it does feel like we have gone back in time ten years. This backward slide was never necessary or in any way lawful. This slide was facilitated by small minds and political gains.

Where will we be a year from now?

A lot depends on politics. It is a very sad truth. Mid November we could see this agenda of Zinkes playground hit full steam or we could begin to dismantle it (a few indictments and a few job losses would be fitting).

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This little one wont make it unless there is intervention.

Wild Horse Education is working on a media campaign the likes of which advocacy has not seen before. We are working on several legal projects and continuing to attempt to educate legislators.

There are people paying attention.

There are tens of thousands of faces that haunt me each night. I wont stop fighting… and I will never forget.



Our work can not continue without your support. Thank you!

Categories: Roundups