“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, part one, two and “back to basics”
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 vital.
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.”
If you want to see some of what we are working on click HERE. Without your support none of our work is possible. Your contributions keep our web portals active, our teams on the road and in the courts. Thank you.
We need your help to build a frontline long before a chopper flies.
I have sent in many Freedom of Information Act requests over the years. The requests I have made are ignored until I push, sent into a bizarre frame of “pass the buck,” and then either ignored again or denied. When I push I’ll get blacked out documents and a litany of excuses.
Often with my FOIAs I have requested information that BLM will use in a fashion that resembles the way your parent would say, right before Christmas as they were trying to get you to brush your teeth, “Santa is keeping a list.” An outright fabrication being perpetuated on someone that was expected “not to know any better” to obtain an objective. If you can think back, or if you have done the same thing to your kids, there is a tone of voice and body posture that goes wth it. If you can keep your frustrations in check and observe? you can figure out exactly where those “childhood myths” of BLM management practices exist. (No degree in range science or extraordinary profiling skills required.)
I filed FOIAs and litigation that had a lot to do with these “myths.” Yet in 2013 the National Academy of Sciences validated all of the reasons I filed those FOIAs and the litigation. This was not the humane handling or First Amendment cases, those were different legal issues and we won, repeatedly, and changed policy. These were foundational flaws in BLM management that would require first a recognition that there needed to be reform and the tools built to create that reform. (You can read a recent OpEd on the NAS review here)
All of you have heard me say at least a thousand times; “You have to look at how it is built, analyze and then determine action. I began at the beginning.
The story of an 8 year old FOIA request, still unanswered. (or dance a little sidestep)
I had been traveling state to state, district to district, roundup to roundup (I lived on the road). I had been reading everything I could get my hands on. What I saw in physical space did not match the “paper game.” I mean “all sides” did not match what they put in written word; actions did not match words.
Management made no logical sense as range after range had hundreds, or thousands, of domestic livestock. Boundary lines made no logical sense to the terrain, fence lines or roads. Water inventories made no sense (did you know we have a couple of HMAs that have no stable year round water source?).
In 2011 I filed a FOIA asking for some information relating to the data the original management plans were based on. I first asked where did BLM archive the original surveys; I was told that was “overly broad and burdensome.” I then narrowed my question to cover just a few districts; again “overly broad.” So I narrowed my request to cover just a handful of HMAs. ( I have talked about this FOIA in early articles)
I was then put in touch with an archivist; essentially a “BLM librarian.” She told me BLM did not have this data archived but she thought it was a “good idea” and would begin to create the archive. That was 2011.
I made the request again in 2012 and 2013; specific to just a few HMAs. I was told the information was being compiled. To date I have not received any answer.
What I expected to find was incomplete information and boundary lines that did not even reflect whatever incomplete field notes there might be. I expected to find “local politics and drinking buddies” between any line that might be written down.
An area I watch and had litigated before, the Owyhee Complex, was scheduled for another winter roundup. I addressed BLM on the EA. (So we will use this specific area as an example)
In one of my classic conversations with a District Manager I asked for some of the data one of the assertions in the EA was based on. He said the data was “not available” in the district office. I answered “then how did you write the EA?” I asked National (DC office) for the data. National sent me back to the District. I FOIA’d. (never answered, it is part of the original request made in 2011. Just so you can follow “how it all works.”)
I did get frustrated with this dance over Owyhee; my conversations with the District Manager, National Office and FOIA offices. I wrote an editorial at the time and used the video below to illustrate. Several people became annoyed but I was told, in private, the video was passed around BLM NV and everyone agreed to the similarities and laughed. (the District Manager at that time was Gene Seidlitz. If you know Gene, do you see it? But it applies to almost every manager or local politician. If you advocate, you know what I mean.)
The roundup began. What I was catching on camera, and the absolute rude behavior of personnel, drove me to file litigation primarily to stop the abusive conduct. But I also threw in the lack of data and the dance being done to avoid answering the questions by the District and through FOIA.
During this time frame I was running a lot of litigation; a lot. We did win for the fourth time against conduct and the portion of the case against a lack of justification at Owyhee continued in the courts. (Other cases were moving forward First Amendment Ninth Circuit, Jackson Mountain, Triple B 2, etc). When we won, we did not just win with the judge saying “you won,” she made very specific notations. I actually allowed myself to see this one as a “win,” even though we had already won several judgements against conduct. (HERE)
The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) review was released and every allegation in the Owyhee case was confirmed. I was right about what I would find if the FOIA was ever answered or if the Owyhee case actually hit what we could call a “Discovery phase.”
A lot of things happened as this case moved forward; I was ordered into Mediation on the Ninth Circuit “access case,” tensions in the West began to rise and I was diagnosed with cancer (just to “set the mood”). In that mediation room with DoJ attorneys, BLM State Lead and BLM NV Director we discussed a lot of things. Daily access became protocol, Broken Arrow (Indian Lakes) was reopened and we agreed to continue conversations about the NAS.
Those discussions led to a number of events that went through the most bizarre journey I have been on in wild horse advocacy. This journey would complicate and take me into “subplots” and on a crazy roller coaster that could not have been imagined into the depths of corrupt, inept and the intimidators/intimidated. More in part 4; another FOIA, another court case).
(footnote for those of you really following the RICO board: I really do believe that former State Director Amy Lueders was trying to follow the law. I also believe it is why she was booted to New Mexico and why she was one of the people under the current administrations “reorganization” to get the “move out into oblivion to complete your career or quit now” memos. Amy Lueders, Ruth Welch and Bud Cribley, who also gave me a early gem on the wild horse program back in 2009, all got the “move it” memo from Zinke.)
One of the “opportunities” that came from an honest attempt at transparency and problem solving was that I did see some of the records that todays management plans are all built on, what I had FOIA’d. I held the originals in my hands. I was right. The entire frame of an HMA is built on what was convenient or aligned with a local bud (that was often the permittee).
If BLM had answered my simple FOIA back in 2011 the evidence was clear: the program is not fact based. We could have begun to address the deficit, non adversarial. Memos could have been issued and the considerable funding that has been thrown around on experiments etc could have been directed to the field level, into personnel and temporary volunteer agreements. When we had about 40,000 in holding, and about that on range, we could have begun to fix the flawed framework. The flawed frame is where all the other symptoms come from; holding costs, roundup costs and the insane debates over killing and sterilizing wild horses.
Why are we not focused on the core issues? The answer is not “one-sided.” (more in part 4 and 5)
Instead this information is part of a 400 page report that cost over a million tax payer dollars. The NAS report sits and collects dust. But the simplistic concepts are in the report. The NAS report is not complicated, it’s just long like this article has gotten. However BLM highly controlled 13 points, not one more, that the NAS could cover. Surrounding the lack of facts to base anything on with what appears to be “important” concepts blurs the most important point… BLM Wild Horse and Burro Management is a convenient, lazy, fictional, expensive exercise in “friends and family.”
I have refiled the FOIA noting that I filed the first request in 2011. I doubt it will be answered. If I get an answer, I’ll certainly let you know not only what they release, but what we are doing with that information to rectify the actual “problem.”
Withholding information obviously serves a purpose for an agency that is really not about problem solving, but is a political tool (both high and low).
My experience with that particular FOIA is why I told Dave Philipps to file the FOIA on the shipping manifests when I met him in 2012 at Stone Cabin. I had asked for that info and was, not outright, denied. My request was beginning the same route as the one I wrote about above. (More in part TWO)
Dave got the info. It showed nearly 1800 wild horses going to one kill-buyer, in one year. If that trail was followed further and shipping manifest tracked year after year?
But politics and social media kicked in. Back biting, trash talking and venom spewed from the depths of decades old traditions, all sides of the fence (more in part 4 and 5). This can be the greatest impediment to creating an informed advocacy.
The obstacles to creating effective advocacy are many. But at the core is accurate information, analyzing that information, creating an action and then following it through. I like to use humane handling as the example as it is simple to understand. No one in history ever did what WHE did. We kept on track regardless of how bad the distractions became (the social media attacks were brutal) and we won. We changed policy. A policy that still needs the same kind of engagement we implemented to get that policy. But that type of work does take support.
We need your support now. Yes, FOIA has become a game. But FOIA has a foundational premise to provide for transparency. We can not move further from that goal, we need to move closer.
Please take action! (More in part ONE about the rule changes)
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 making contact please confirm by using the form below. Over 2000 of you have already confirmed that you called, emailed or FAXed at least one representative.
Part four will focus on options for unanswered Freedom of Information Act requests; getting through the drama storm.
The fight begins on the range. We need your help to build a frontline long before a chopper flies.
Categories: Wild Horse Education