Wild Horse Education

Code Red (a request and a gift)


Video above from Triple B roundup, 2018

(Editorial; LLeigh and a gift at the bottom of the page for YOU! Prompted by the proposed sage grouse plans released yesterday. Written for the a”normal” wild horse advocate.)

Our readers represent a very diverse base of interests, knowledge, politics. When we talk “wild horses” the subjects in that conversation can vary from adoption/sale to public lands politics.

Wild horses are not just the story of a “roundup” and our fight for humane handling (WHE is the only org in history to litigate and win, repeatedly, on issues surrounding inhumane capture).

Everyone we take out wants to talk to us about that fight. It is still crucial to our work. We track a statistical base compiled from our roundup documentation and now have a team that can do that work too (not a “one man show”).  We continue to work on that issue. But is is vital that this fight go deep into land use planning. Our wild horses, the core issues, exist on the range.

A roundup has a pre and post script; all that happens before the removal and all that will happen to the wild horse itself during and after capture. My request is that you read, the gift is at the bottom of the page. 

The “post script” usually gets the most attention; holding facilities, sales that may lead to slaughter, adoption, prison training programs etc. These are all essentially symptoms of the core issues. the things that cause the roundup in the first place, the “backstory,” get very little attention.

I recently penned two”backstory” pieces inspired by the Silver King operation. Getting the “wild horse public” to understand, and support, the work before a roundup happens has been one of the most difficult tasks I have faced. (One of the pieces; Cow, it happens,can be read by clicking here).

Because our first task involved gaining a humane policy and fighting against abuse it is often assumed all wild horse issues fall only under “animal welfare.” Stopping the abuse (just  a couple of years ago it was worse than you see today) was “life and death” and the first line for us. Our work goes much, much, deeper than that. That deeper work into land uses has hit code red.

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Silver King permittee getting a lot of “improvements” post Silver King roundup; we are trying to fight it and bring your attention to “before the chopper flies.”

In 2014 the “sage grouse” conversation began to emerge. Meeting after meeting I looked around the room and there were no wild horse orgs. Sage grouse was deep land use planning; the place the “wild” wild horse lives, breaths and needs protection. It was critical for me to be there, understand, engage. It was worth the time and effort but it did not make a great social media post in a world run on “impressions and likes.” (Many of our readers will remember articles like this one from 2015; Sage Grouse Rebellion.) I was watched closely by the BLM State Director, John Ruhs. I was under pressure and feared my volunteer agreement, gathering data and fertility control, would be cancelled. I made an appointment to discuss my serious concerns. That appointment never happened. 

In 2017 we saw the “sage grouse 2.0” plans, that cost millions of tax payer dollars, tanked as one of the very first items under this new administration to be destroyed. Not a year into this administration, but out of the gate, the entire plan was scrubbed.

“2.0” was imperfect. It gave more control to states and counties under the guise of “local” input. There is never any recognition in anything in land management that recognizes “states and counties” do not mean “local voice,” the phrase means the voice of the rich and politically powerful. No recognition that regulations are created to control that exact interest to protect the rest of us. But the flaws in 2.0 were well known and, as a wild horse advocate that had paid attention, so flawed that the wild horse aspects would have been easily litigated.

But 2.0 is gone. It was washed away in the massive power grab. (archive: 2.0 is gone, what next?)

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Sage grouse can, and do, thrive in areas where BLM claims wild horses are “overpopulated” simply because they exceed an arbitrary number on a spreadsheet, based on no actual data.

As a wild horse advocate that has been around a long time I had watched a bill die, that would have tightened protections, but was not “perfect.” I had watched that bill die and then disappear back in 2009 and 2010, not because of work by the opposition, but because advocates wanted perfection. That bill was called “Restore Our American Mustangs,” or ROAM. It was actually a beginning to create the work not done after Velma Johnston died and the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act (WFRH&B Act) of 1971 established federal jurisdiction and created an intention. The work after Velma was to define a frame for actual management, not simply establishing federal jurisdiction that ended mustanging (chasing them down for dog food and fertilizer or poisoning waters just to kill them over grazing land). ROAM began to define that intention, it was not perfect. (There was also petty bickering, this one did not like that one, and I have watched that grow over the last decade.)

Yesterday the new plans for sage grouse were released; it’s time to comment again. It’s time to comment on a document that involves deep scrutiny and a line by line, in depth, comment letter. We need to do that while we are also answering more mining, livestock use improvement projects, oil and gas EISs than I have ever seen.

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We still have truly wild places and wild horses that live with sage grouse, deer, elk, mountain lion. But those places are under threat like never before. This herd is getting hit with not one, but potentially three, extraction projects.

Over the last several years we have tried to educate, engage, fight back for the “wild” wild horse. Without the “wild place” the “wild horse” does not exist. At that juncture the conversation turns to the roundup (handling) and adoption and sale (slaughter or death in a facility).

The microcosm of each roundup can demonstrate that clearly; a lack of equitable resources like forage ad water, a lack of data, lack of habitat preservation and then the chopper flies. After the capture wild horses are trucked off and become “just a number” in an inventory spread sheet. I watch babies die, adults injured, illness. I watch wild horses disappear and become subject to the type of sale we helped Dave Philipps uncover to family friend of former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Tom Davis. (1700 wild horses).

(Keep in mind that the entire conversation of “sage grouse” came after over a million tax payer dollars were poured in the National Academy of Sciences Review of 2013. At one point that review stated it could not tell what was data and what was made up by a land manager to simply justify a decision. A bit of context HERE)

The new sage grouse plans create more big funding and even greater control to those that hate any and all federal regulation.

Regulations are what create range preservation. A lack of regulation creates clearer paths for reaping profit off public lands by the “2%,” not preservation of “local interests.” The 2%’ers of public lands are killing your wild places and the control they have over federal agencies has never been more facilitated than under this current administration. (you can read a BBC article here: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-46471447)

The concepts in 2.0 created some frame of protection for the sage grouse and it’s habitat.  Yes, it was politics and it created a massive handout to the politicly powerful. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS had proposed listing the Greater Sage Grouse on the Endangered Species List) decision not to list the greater sage grouse happened because of the assumption that the public land management plans would be implemented and would reverse the decline of the grouse. It did not happen. It did not happen in part because many environmentalists wanted “perfect” and did not fight back against the tanking of 2.0. Progress is never perfect. 

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It hurts as each year I sit and watch wild horses taken from the range and I know some are not gonna make it. This orphan from Owyhee broke a heart I did not think could be broken more than it was already.

Now we need to fight what is coming and fight back hard. It’s bad.

WHE will post an outline for you to use in your comments; multiple distinct plans in each western states that all do the same things. We will include “where to send your comments.” However we have other EIS’s, EA’s and legal briefs to get on file. This has been a very intense year.

The new plans are an extra gift to extraction, oil and gas and livestock.

At this juncture it feels like the only way to get ahead of any of this is if the sage grouse gets listed on the ESA and everything shuts down and structures get rebuilt. The steam rolling over the last couple of years and these new plans? I do not see our landscape recovering from what will happen, is happening, as I type this.

Progress is never perfect; it’s progress, not perfection. Same thing happened when WHE fought nonstop for a humane handling policy in court and finally won one in 2015. It was progress and we were bashed because it was not perfection. It was progress. What I saw each and every day? you have to be at a roundup a week or more before you see anything that comes close. Progress is still needed, but we have progress.

The fastest way for progress to disappear is to ignore that it happened. 

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Owyhee roundup 2018

The point you change all of it is long before the chopper flies.

We have litigation against a gold mine threatening your voice in process and pristine habitat that includes sage grouse, mule deer, wild horses. WHE is the only org, wild horses or environmental. that has taken on this task. Environmental groups are swamped and having to prioritize resources, so are we.

At Sliver King we are involved with WildLands Defense in pushing back against the multiple projects for the livestock permittee that will harm habitat for wild horses, multiple other species, and the lack of analysis. 

We are mounting a challenge against oil and gas, more mines and more livestock.  But it all begins with ground data, deep comments on the EAs and EISs and involves countless hours. All of this is the frame that must be built first before you can even have a chance at being “David v Goliath” as you pull back a rock in a slingshot and aim it at billion dollar industry and politics. 

The end of year funding can make or break this effort. We did win the impossible, we won access to roundups and a humane policy; progress not perfection. We need actual progress on the range in 2019 or it is “game over” for the wild, wild horses. After that it will all be about what happens after they are removed, because the habitat truly will be unsuitable. We are more than grateful to those of you that support this effort.

Without the “wild” there is no wild horse. That story is a “code red.” We are doing our best to get that urgent truth understood. 


A gift for you!

At the Triple B roundup in 2018 we spent 30 days at the operation. We did a magazine that used that one operation to try to explain the “before and after,” using the roundup as the focal point. It is critical that the public understand all the layers of advocacy. It is “code red” time.

You can now access the Triple B magazine by simply clicking the cover below.

All contributions made to WHE will receive our 2018 year in review magazine; only available by the password and codes we will send to donors.

We need to make 2019 a year of progress. We must make 2019 a year of progress at the core, on the range. With your help, we can.


click here to go to Triple B digital magazine


Categories: Wild Horse Education