Today, what is the real problem faced by wild horses? is that “progress was and is not possible?” Or is it that there are those willing to sell progress off for a seat in politics? Have wild horses been dragged back a decade? It might feel that way. But the experience, the knowledge and the caselaw built lays a foundation for a renewed battle. The battle lines are drawn. This time the obstacles are clearly exposed.
In a nutshell: Our litigation opened roundups to daily access, reopened closed facilities to the public, was the driving force behind exposing abuse and creating a policy (we are the only org to take these cases to court in history), stopped unjustified removals, changed policy. Our on ground work helped expose over 1800 wild horses going to one killbuyer, corrupt official and trespass (illegal) livestock operators. WHE has done so much in the last decade that can not be fit on one page.
Below is a personal, rapid reflection.
A few memories of the last decade; LLeigh
What a crazy decade! After being rear ended by a drunk, a serious concussion and fractured cheekbone, I signed papers. As I was wheeled into a CT scan to check for a brain bleed, the paperwork was not for the hospital, but for another lawsuit against the federal government.
I was being hindered from attending a removal of wild horses in Nevada. An operation that represented an unprecedented move, on the hottest days of summer and at that same time babies were being born. Coming from the world of journalism (my background) this was an important event (if true, I had already uncovered massive fictions in the BLM program) and paramount for public disclosure.
The next day I was back in court in my cleanest “Fruit of the Loom” t-shirt covered by a friends jacket. BLM produced a brand new document, crafted earlier that day, escalating the “emergency” and claiming 75% of the horses would die if the judge delayed the operation and allowed the case to be heard on all it’s merits. (If you know anything about how legal cases are heard, you just rolled your eyes at that dirty move.)
The judge, not wanting the death of all those horses on his hands, allowed the operation to move forward, but granted my right to meaningful observation.
With a court order in my hand to allow observation, a concussion and no sleep, I arrived at 4 am at the BLM office. After several hours of feeling like I had a roll in an “Abbott and Costello film,” instead of observation we were chased around the desert and threatened with arrest!
At that roundup? I was offered red carpet access, just me: I could go wherever I wanted at the trap (with an escort) but I could not bring any other person with me. “We are not worried about you getting in the way, you are a professional, but the others will get in the way.”
There was one moment of agonizing over the offer, I desperately wanted to witness. But the law is too ingrained in my DNA and I turned it down and continued the fight. The First Amendment is for all, not a bargaining chip.
I kept going anyway, even if I had to sit behind a mountain in freezing weather over and over. When I could see something? What I saw was obscene: babies electric shocked in the face, wild horses held in pens at over 100 degrees with no water and even a helicopter hit an exhausted wild horse.
I began to toggle litigation to build precent to take other litigation forward. What I had found was that in the 40 years since the Act there was only one case taken far enough to actual utilize as a tool, most dropped cases as BLM claimed issues were “moot” after choppers landed. In truth they repeat over and over and we needed to break that blockade.
Fist Amendment, Abuse, First Amendment, Lack of Justification, Abuse…. toggle back and forth and move each one forward as the next one won. Case after case, after case after case…. a wave of change began.
Yes, memory calls up each hearing, claim, and judgement. The first win in history against abuse, a case I was told by really expensive lawyers could never be won. Little “rag-tag” WHE won. (You can see a mini-resume here. If you start reading from bottom to top, you can follow along this memory trail. Yes, I need to update it. No staff and still a lot to do.)
All those cases changed policy, increased public interest and open doors. However, being “rag-tag” does not get you an invitation to the champagne socials that began to populate advocacy. I was homeless and “how do I sell it?” was not the first thought I had as the next battle loomed right in front of us. I did not use the little bit of money we made to buy social media, we used it on the next filing fee or tank of gas. I have to admit, it was a glorious time of forward motion.
By 2015 we had won daily access, facilities reopened, the first humane handling policy since the act was passed, shut down more than 6 roundups just by presenting field data without going to court.
So much has happened. Too much to put in a simple article that is already too long: Sheldon, McDermitt, Triple B, Owyhee, politics, lawsuits, over a million road miles and over 1500 days sitting at roundups.
We had also worked on creating the largest data/fertility control program in the nation. one that would fix flaws in range management not just cover them up.
But something even uglier than a roundup was happening; the age of the social media troll, the internet spin teams and bought and “click bait” journalism. The cases I won? another org sent press releases they won them and took big grants. Our photos were ripped off and “GoFundMe” accounts created for issues and people not involved. The “off my meds” trolls gained larger voices because they spent all their time online bashing, trashing and lying. In the world before the internet you would have crossed a bust street to avoid any contact with these people. Online they hid behind stollen profile pictures.
At one point in time I was supposedly a wanted felon (the place I boarded a horse got a letter saying the IRS was coming to seize the horse, not from the IRS, from an internet bully), a publishing heiress, sitting in a hotel with room service and not going to roundups and, apparently, I faked cancer.
I remember going back to a $30 a night motel in Reno after winning the first case in history against abuse at a roundup. I flipped in the TV for company as I hit the keyboard to get out a press release. The TV news was telling me my case was won by a multi-million dollar corporation (ASPCA) and another org that got seed money from a champagne social. Online? I was being trashed as a fraud. I had bills to pay, another case to fund and one tank of gas. I cried myself to sleep after news outlets informed me that there was “nothing they could do” to change broadcasted pieces and would place a correction on the pages in 48 hours.
None of that stopped us. We continued the work, moving it forward. We caught illegal trespass livestock, exposed corruption, built real world tools to fix flaws and ensure science based preservation of wild horses. We got our lives threatened for that.
Yet, in 2015 an alliance was formed with the big corporate orgs, cattlemen and the champagne social club. The very people threatening our lives were invited to the advocate poker game. Play poker they did …. and they tossed away the fight and the wild horses to win a hand.
So today, what is the real problem faced by wild horses? is that progress was and is not possible? Or is it that there are those willing to sell progress off in politics?
Our work? we have held onto it. The last three years have been a fight to simply “stand our ground.” But stand we have. (you can see the 2019 in review here).
As 2020 lies less than 24 hours away, there are far too many events to convey in a simple story, meme or letter to impart you with the reality of this Deranged War. But this foul, corrupt, decade of greed has led to a pivotal point in the history of wild horses.
Congress has approved $21 million to run the corporate agenda that begins, and ends, with a baseline of politics. It fixes not one flaw, but runs a brutal and unjustified machine into the largest years of roundups in US history, surgical and chemical sterilization, massive subsides and contracts to those at the dirty table.
None of this is justified. Fixing the flaws, as was planned at Fish Creek, actually costs the tax payer less. It created a program that ensured a fair voice, a long term strategy and enforced multiple codes of federal regulations now ignored (like illegal use pf grazing land by livestock).
No one at that table wanted that to happen. In 2019 the Fish Creek protocol, that took years to build, vanished. It vanished as the county ran the roundup, we were again threatened with arrest and the champagne social club of advocacy given better access (even riding in a BLM vehicle at one point).
I guess the best way to describe the last decade is “full circle?” However, in that circle not one of those claiming to represent your interests, the interest of the wild horse, would have given up red carpet access a decade ago…. they sold the wild horses to get exactly that today.
Fight back? of course. The fight is not over. With your help we did build another tool; a condition to that additional funding. It might not seem like much (or complicated to understand) but it is a real place to begin again.
We have proven that we can create the momentum, tools and changes to build more progress and move it forward…. step by step.
Together, we can do it again. Let us begin.
Happy New Year, new decade and renewed fight.
video from a talk in 2019
All donors to our year end fundraising effort will have their donations matched (up to $2,000). You will also receive a link to our two ebooks when they publish on New Years Day. (more info)
Categories: Wild Horse Education