CAWP; What, Why, When and How (part one)


Roundup; no word in the wild horse world captures the public interest like the word “roundup.”

CAWP; LLeigh

When a roundup begins we always receive questions in our inbox that reference the access policy and the humane handling policy (CAWP). The roundup beginning today is located just out of the Carson City/Reno area. The Pine Nut Mountains HMA is one of the unusual areas that has gained a large public interest, visitors, over the last decade due to it’s proximity to populated areas (human) and the relative ease of travel to arrive at your destination. (more here)

A lot of confusion swirls around the wild horse that has roots in many factors; BLM has never done a great job at explaining anything to a “wild horse public” and the public has become way too reliant on utilizing social media to gain information (social media creates impression).

The public interest in America’s wild horses and burros has increased dramatically over the last decade. Many new to the issue are unaware of the rich history wild horses are cloaked in, the legal framework of the public land they live on and even the recent past of advocacy itself.

When a helicopter flies the interest in wild horses soars. Media reps all want the story of “the chopper and the horse.” But the story of wild horses in the United States is so much more than that moment. That moment literally draws a physical line between the wild horse and the formerly wild. Even the paychecks and memos for staff come from different mechanisms; field personnel are paid out out of a state office budget, facilities from the national office.  The legal line between “wild” and “formerly wild” is drawn when a title transfers after adoption or sale. (More info here)

The roundup happens after all of the failures in on range management and leads into the failures of off-range management. It is a demarcation.


This photo taken in 2010, not 2018, and has become part of the confusion social media has perpetuated. This one photo has a story all it’s own. You can click the image to read.

Each segment of management of public resources has distinct parameters, personnel and history. Wild horses are a resource under law and managed in the frame of public land (in contrast to livestock, mining, ATV use, etc that are all “uses” of public lands).

I know, I know. Once a roundup begins all people (media) want me to talk about is the roundup even though I want to talk about “how we got here,” why the roundup is taking place. But I admit, I digress. I’ll try to keep on the topic. 

A bit of history on our fight for a humane policy (the beginning)

By 2009 I was already writing about wild horses and had filed my first litigation. I had already discovered that the issues I was writing about had a lot of  instances where “words don’t match action” from many factions.  So I went to a roundup to see the truth of what that was “all about.”

In “those days” you might see a photo once or twice a year of a highly visible herds capture operation surface. I was curious to see it for myself.

Once a week the BLM allowed observers to go to the trap and my observation date had been moved and shuffled to accommodate big name visitors. I saw wild horses driven by two helicopters that staggered the runs into the trap. Run after run into the trap and onto the trucks. I saw a youngster lagging behind and being repeatedly pushed by the helicopter that, at one point, was less than 5 feet off his rump.

I later saw that foal in a holding facility that was still under construction. There was not even a chute to run wild horses through for any medical treatment. The BLM was cramming truck after truckload of horses, over 2000, into a facility that was still under construction! The foal I had seen run was lying on the ground, no wind breaks and he was dying.

I tried to adopt him to get him appropriate medical treatment. I was denied and given a run around (I was not even told to fill out an application). Two weeks later I was told he was dead.

It took a long time to get what was referenced as a “vet report.” I have worked in veterinary hospitals and did wildlife rehab, this was not a “vet report.” In essence an unidentified young horse, in an unidentified pen, with an approximate capture date, was given “bute” (equivalent of “horsey ibuprofen”) every fifth day as his hooves sloughed (fell) off.

In that moment our fight to gain a policy began as a daily quest. I went from “journalist” to “journalist/advocate.” That is not uncommon in journalism. The most noted examples are war correspondents; context of words become as important as the facts they hold and you want your work to have an effect on the reader in order to change the reality you are witnessing.


Owyhee; foal run to collapse in 2012

Some relevant historical facts:

  • 2008-2012 the BLM was removing nearly 10,000 wild horses from the range each year. In 2013 budgetary constraints began to limit the number of wild horses coming off the range to less than half of what we had seen. In recent years (fiscal 2018-19) those numbers are beginning to rise.
  • Roundups were a daily occurrence from the first day of July until the last day of February. Many holidays like Thanksgiving were spent at a trap site.
  • Many of those days two, or three, roundups were taking place in different locations across the West at the exact same time.
  • There was no policy for how wild horses were to be handled during roundups even though “humane” was a basic premise of law.

How? That became the big question I had to ask. How do you hold an agency accountable to a premise of law? How do you change a practice of the courts that calls an issue “moot” (not a matter for the court) after a roundup ends? How do you demonstrate that there is a difference between an accident and an avoidable circumstance? How do you actually take action on a matter when you have no blueprint, no one ever did it before? How do you catch those distinctions (document and context) clearly enough to make that easy for the courts to understand?

Many of our readers have seen me use the battle for a humane policy as a preface to many other aspects of the wild horse program that need change. I do it because it is an easy illustration of how you build a “frame for change.” You ask yourself many of the same types of questions and you relentlessly look for the answers. You don’t take “It’s impossible” for an answer, ever.

I read every legal case, law book, I could get my hands on. I read every policy manual to learn the language. I went day after day to the roundups and witnessed tens of thousands of wild horses captured.

We litigated cases very expensive attorneys refused to take saying “it’s impossible to win.” We won. We won over and over and over.


As our litigation drew ruling after ruling against conduct at BLM roundups we began to take our efforts into Congress and deeper into the framework of the agency. This document is from 2014 and represents some of that work.  You can click to read pdf.

By 2015 we changed the mootness “doctrine” strategy BLM attorneys used to stop wild horse cases from going further than the end of a roundup. We won against inappropriate conduct (like horses being hit with a helicopter, foals run to exhaustion and then electric shocked in the face). We had also won a daily access policy and had gotten the Broken Arrow (Indian Lakes) facility back open to tours. The access case and the cases against inhumane treatment were a “hand-in-hand” effort to achieve policy change. It was an “impossible legal strategy” that worked.

In 2015 a version of a Comprehensive Animal Welfare Policy (CAWP), and access policy, were included in all Environmental Assessments (EAs) and into roundup contracts. (Roundup contracts are renewed with each fiscal year. There is no expiration on the law to handle wild horses humanely. The internet has circulated a copy of a CAWP form that will always have a date coinciding with the fiscal year, just like every other item inserted into a contract. Be careful listening to the attack crews online, they make stuff up. One way to find the truth of any matter is to simply ask.)

What I used to see day after day after long day occurs with much less frequency. We now have a policy.  (more on the history of the legal fight)

What is policy?

A policy or protocol is an outline or mechanism designed by the BLM to give guidance to staff and contractors on how to implement law into practice.

If a policy is inadequate and fails to create a framework that adheres to the law it can be litigated. Litigation is about law, not desires or wishes.  (It is another internet rumor that inhumane treatment can not be litigated anymore. But just like we had to be, or we may be in the future, you have to file really fast to actually stop those types of actions. You have to also, credibly, be able to show a distinction between accident and avoidable circumstance containing negligence or intent. )

CAWP policy

We did not get everything we were asking for. CAWP needs work. (current language of CAWP https://www.blm.gov/sites/blm.gov/files/uploads/IM2015-151_att1.pdf)

CAWP does have an internal metric tool to determine (by BLM standards) if it is effective, where to make changes. They are supposed to be reviewing that data.

Advocacy also has the ability to create it’s own records and engage a process to revise CAWP. WHE trains our volunteers to not just “take pics and edit a video,” but how to add to our decade old data base that we use to engage to continue to build a better policy.

(note that unfortunately needs to be added: arguing at a trap with BLM wont help the horses)

However, we can still litigate again if it becomes a necessity. Litigation, if needed today is not like the steps we had to take in the past. WHE built a solid frame that creates a blueprint to win what was once “impossible.”

Remember roundups happen after management on range ends. If the goal is reducing roundups you need to go after those root factors in the same way we went after the root factors to gain a policy. Then you need to continue to address those factors to create progress. Progress is progress, not an end to the work of any advocate.

(An example where we “need more progress” on “humane care” is what BLM calls “foaling season.” That data is actually arbitrary and inconsistent region by region. Our Jackson Mountain litigation stopped helicopters running babies in June. The court restricted them to their defined “July-February” use of helicopters. That needs to be tightened. Foaling season runs Feb-August, in earnest, in most parts of the West. BLM needs actual data to start supporting any definition of “foaling season,” not decades old assertion.)

Progress is needed on the range habitat loss is the single greatest threat to any equation that can actually preserve wild horses. But that is another article, this one covers the fight for CAWP.

Part TWO will answer more of the questions about CAWP that we are receiving. We will answer as many questions as we can in a “Question and Answer” format. Part Two HERE.

You can add your question about CAWP in the form below. (The form has been removed due to the sheer volume of questions. We are in process of writing “part two” and will link it here when complete. We have enough questions, that if answered, would fill a three volume trilogy akin to “The Lord of the Rings.” We are working on answering your questions.)

We still need your support to fight for transparency in government. A hearing has been requested in the House to the changes regarding the changes to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and a request for a hearing into “staffing issues” is pending.

You can take action HERE on the beginning of a renewed push for investigations. There is more coming soon.


Your support for our vital work is appreciated. Our work is only limited by resources. We thank all of you. Together we can create change.



Categories: Lead, Wild Horse Education