“Information is Power” is a 5 part series that delves into the process of gathering accurate information on matters associated with wild horse and burro management by federal agencies.
At the bottom of this page is an action item we urge you to take. We have created a script for you to use in calls, or to copy and paste (revise if you like) into emails.
The landing page for articles in this series can be found HERE.
The pieces in this series focus on “information.” Accurate information is the basis for an effective voice, an effective advocacy. How you gain, and use, information is a vital tool.
These pieces are presented in first person narrative. We have found that when we present articles this is the most effective format for our readers when we address subjects that can get a bit “technical.”
What is FOIA? When, where and why.
“The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) generally provides that any person has the right to request access to federal agency records or information except to the extent the records are protected from disclosure by any of the nine exemptions…. ”
That is how the official explanation of what FOIA is begins.
The intention of FOIA is not to be a search engine for information like using Google or a search bar on a website. It is not intended to be used in lieu of asking a question via email or in person. FOIA is intended to provide an avenue to gain information you can not find anywhere else. (Recently your ability to find information through federal land management agency web portals has been hamstring. We write about that in segment one.)
When does a proposed roundup begin? That is a question you can get an answer to by looking at BLM websites or emailing public relations personnel. This is not “information” you FOIA. (yes, simplistic example, but I think you understand why?)
How many wild horses were captured at Owyhee in 2018 and how many did BLM euthanize during capture and why? You can find that on BLM’s website by looking up the 2018 roundup. (WHE also give a run down in our daily reports at roundups. We all know BLM creates many definitions for euthanasia that are not fatal conditions.)
How many wild horses were captured at Owyhee in 2012 and how many did BLM euthanize and why? That you would have to FOIA because BLM removed those statistics offline.
How many were received in holding from 2018 (or 2012) at the facility and how many died in the first month? That you would have to FOIA because the statistics from older roundups have been pulled offline and those statistics are no longer included in what BLM calls “gather update.”
FOIA is a great tool to gather clues on what FOIA to file next. Some FOIA “investigations” can require multiple requests, documents, before you can put an entire picture together. That is how it should work.
Talking about a FOIA BLM recently answered? could very well mean we are simply talking about information you could have gotten from Google. It has gone from bad, to “that bad.”
Since 2016 there have been very few FOIAs answered that contain substantive information. Our requests have been sidelined, passed back and forth like a hot potato, denied, redacted, approved and then denied.
FOIA has become a place where only info considered “already available” or “non damaging” is being released. When you do receive an answer to a FOIA it can be a disorganized mess. The “disorganized mess” is not new.
Federal agencies are also highly susceptible to denying a request by someone they don’t like, or deem a threat, and fulfilling that exact same request to someone that they do not deem a threat or believe wont understand what they are looking at. This is also “not new.”
Personally, every single FOIA request I have ever made has gone through a crazy cycle where the fee is waived, an individual assigned and then every deadline missed, then I get a denial. I have only, ever, received one answer to a FOIA I have made (I will write more about that). It came back to me as one paragraph noting a roundup contractor and over 80 black pages. The paragraph on the roundup contractor had absolutely nothing to do with the requested information. However for the way my mind works I saw that as bait, the part they were willing to “throw under the bus.” I will delve into this particular FOIA in part 3 and 4.
In 2012 I met a reporter at the Stone Cabin roundup. We talked for a long time. That conversation began a collaboration on a project where BLM would not answer my FOIAs. I said to the reporter “You file it. They will think you wont know what you are looking at.” He filed. He got an answer. I learned something about how I should file certain FOIAs; not with my name on them.
The reporter I met in 2012 began an investigation into the reality of sale authority (where all the protection a wild horse has is the word of the person that buys a truckload, sight unseen, of wild horses for as little as $5.00 each). The reporter was Dave Philipps who went on to publish an expose in ProPublica that tied nearly 1800 wild horses being sold to one kill-buyer that was a family friend of then Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. That’s a lot of money in your pocket after paying about $150. a load, having the tax payer round them up, feed them and then foot the bill for transport to the slaughter shipment lot. For a $150. initial investment per load of about 30 horses, each load brought Tom Davis at least $3000 in profit. Do the math and Davis got a nice gift of about $180,000 from Salazar’s BLM.
That investigation began through observation of facilities and the way individuals communicate; words, body language and adding common sense. Deduction, Inductive, Abductive reasoning, a bit of intuition and critical thinking, but I digress. This investigation was done, validated, primarily through FOIA. Then illustrated by the admission of the kill-buyer. (see video interview of Philipps by Democracy Now! here)
Although Dave’s book “Wild Horse Country” has many flaws (you can read the review here), he describes one of our conversations about FOIA. He tells you that I could not get the answers and that I suggested he file the FOIA. He got the FOIA and then had no idea what to do when he hit a snag. He says “she had the answer in 17 seconds.”
Maybe that is why someone like Dave got an answer to the FOIA for a simple shipping manifest for sales and I couldn’t? (that is not how the government is supposed to determine who they release information to).
After the Sierra Club put EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt on the hook through FOIA, Pruitt starting further impeding FOIA offices. Pruitt put Elizabeth (Beth) Beacham White, the former treasurer of Pruitt’s political action committee, in charge of the FOIA’s for EPA. White is currently the Director, Office of the Executive Secretariat (OEX) US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). If you have more interest in this you can read a great article in Politico HERE. Googling Beth is pretty interesting too, you do not need to do a FOIA to find some great breadcrumbs.
Oversight of government agencies is formalized (as example) through the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), Government Accounting Office (GAO) and Congress (more on this when we hit segment 4 and 5). But the greatest tool we have in the US is the Free Press; the First Amendment.
FOIA is designed to assist a free press committed to it’s fundamental purpose of holding the government accountable. In recent years the public has gotten lazy and, in many instances, “click bait” is what the press has relied on to “pay the bills.” This has created devastating consequence where the public might think they are reading a “deep and breaking story” that has no more basis than what anyone with interest could find, craft and publish using Google.
As both an advocate and a journalist todays reality is more than frustrating to me. Many of you have heard me vent, rage and plead that people use more discernment. But in a wold where Kim Kardashians butt implants can out pace a story on the loss of press freedoms, environmental quality, health care and education; I may be in the minority?
I am working on comments for the proposed changes to FOIA. I am also working with a coalition focused on stopping these changes. (You can read more in part one) If needed, if we can not stop these changes through other avenues, I will publish comments so you can participate.
However our simple request for you to begin calling your Representatives is already making waves. I beg you to keep calling, emailing, FAXing…. take the action below.
At this time please reach out to your Congressmen and Senators. That might seem a bit “out of the box” as the comment period has not closed. The proposed changes should not be allowed until the investigation into “Zinke’s DOI” is completed. Access to information is vital at this time.
- Please stop the Department of Interior from making changes to 43 CFR Part 2, the Freedom of Information Act.
- The DOI must be stopped from any attempts to undermine the publics ability to gain information and participate in government as an informed citizen.
- The free press should not be hamstrung by vague new restrictions.
- If the DOI wants to decrease FOIA requests they find “burdensome,” they simply need to become more transparent.
- Require the DOI to restore all records, reports and documents that had appeared on all web portals prior to November 2016. Most information has been removed, including all records and reports referencing the BLM Wild Horse and Burro program. BLM must add all new comparative records and reports on wild horse captures, facilities, range and monitoring information, from the 2016 to the present.
- If the DOI wants to diminish the publics need to request information via FOIA they should not be allowed to restrict those requests. Instead the DOI should be forced to become more transparent.
- Stop the DOI from amending 43 CFR Part 2, the Freedom of Information Act.
You can find your representatives at the links below. You can either call or send an email. Please contact both your representative in the House and Senate. https://www.govtrack.us/congress/members
After you make your call you can add your name to support our efforts to stop the changes and force the DOI to become more transparent. We ask that you only sign onto the list below after you make the call or write your email.
Part three will focus on challenges when you are denied critical information under the Freedom of Information Act; why it happens and what you can do. The link will be added to the landing page noted at the beginning of this page.
The fight begins on the range. We need your help to build a frontline long before a chopper flies.
Categories: Wild Horse Education