Personal essay by Laura Leigh from a sleep deprived and frustrating roundup.
I spent 6 years fighting in the courts for access to document roundups. Many new to the issue hear revisionist history with claims that litigation is what closed observation. No, observation was closed most days entirely or given only to those in the friend and family club of BLM and their contractors. Roundups are open to the public now with the intention of meaningful access.
“She can not ask the horse what happened, unless of course the horse is Mr Ed.” That line was actually written into a Ninth Circuit court ruling. That ruling came down on a Valentine’s Day in 2012.
I have contacted our attorney and we spent a few hours this afternoon to begin a petition back to the Ninth Circuit (I knew this was coming). It is one of the most absurd things I have ever done, unless you count having to litigate for 6 years to get a humane handling policy to stop things like hitting horses with choppers or electric shocking babies. The absurdity of a lot of the ways “management” actualizes at the ground level can blow the circuits of anyone with half a brain.
We continued that fight and went up and down the court system, again. In 2014, while Bunkerville was exploding, I sat with Amy Lueders (former NV State Director) and a handful of BLM attorneys. We crafted an access policy that was to allow direct observation of wild horses at the moment of capture, visible to the naked eye, with the ability to discern distinct individuals and assess condition. Not every trap would afford an optimal view, but every effort would be made to allow meaningful access of some type (drive or loading if both could not be accommodated). We set the case aside (I can revive it if terms are not being met, it is time to revive it).
For over three years I have watched BLM roll over to the wishes of a private contractor that makes a lot of tax payer money to remove a public resource (wild horses) on public lands. The contractor does not like when advocates get pictures. Yes, it is that absurd. As the contractor makes over a million for a roundup like Eagle, they also control how, where, when, what, any member of the public can witness.
They even override BLM on where or how to set a trap! BLM has responsibility to to abide and enforce the law. The Comprehensive Animal Welfare Policy (CAWP) gives BLM authority to do things like force a stubborn contractor to water wild horses in holding in 100 degree heat (Yes, we actually had to go to court to get that addressed as well in one of our court cases. Is BLM really that cowardly? it appears so.) BLM is the responsible party under law.
Today the road is absolute bug dust, flour, deep and soft. The trap is right in the middle of it. After two runs of intense dust (all we could really see anyway) we asked if they were going to do dust control (required by CAWP). They texted back a picture. Do you want to see it is still wet? Are you kidding me!? I can see that whatever you did is more than inadequate. Dust control is not a part of CAWP just to check a box that someone squirted a bit of water on the ground. Dust control is to reduce a health risk. If you can not control dust at a site? pick a different site! This is BLMs responsibility under the law.
If you have a Homeowners Association and you hire a house painter and say you want the house painted forest green and they paint it lime, the Homeowners Association will hold you responsible. It is your responsibility to deal with the contractor to comply with the rules. BLM your house is glow in the dark lime, repaint the house. DUH factor again.
When I left to go contact the lawyer, BLM still had not ordered the contractor to do another dust run or move trap.
Below is the second drive today. The first drive the trailer was in the way. This is a 1000 mm lens and then cropped again to enlarge on computer. If you look closely? the panels are just wavy lines. I have had to do that every single day, except one. The day I didn’t? I still could not see wild horses at capture. I saw wild horses that escaped and someone at the “dangerous” trap taking cell phone videos (above).
I have a video of us driving through the trap at 3 mph. You should see the dust and the laughable “dust control.” I’ll post that later. I need to get more to legal.
Is this a federal operation or an operation on private land with private horses? Watching communications as much as I have (11 years now) I know who is in charge, it’s not BLM. There is not a single spine in that agency (unless you count the recent whistleblowers, one of whom worked in the field office of this roundup operation).
For the last three years I have been very patient. I understand layers of personality and politics. You want to give people a chance to “figure it out” or “work it out.” In the case of access at roundups? BLM is just rewriting history instead. Example: Did you know that there was a lawsuit by someone that got scared at a roundup because a helicopter flew over her head? Can you give me the case number? Nope, because no such case exists. Someone filed a complaint with the FAA during a roundup at Sheldon because a helicopter strafed her car on a highway. Is that really what you are going to tell a federal judge is the reason you can not offer observation, after 6 years of litigation you lost BLM?
14 days, not one single day during that time can I tell you what the condition was of one single wild horse during the moment of capture. 4 different traps and not one (according to the contractor) could offer an acceptable viewing location. I saw dozens at each trap that were safe locations to view trapping. At no time was there a large crowd BLM had to hide. For most of this operation I am the only one waking up day after day at 4:30 and then meeting BLM. Then driving an hour, or two hours, to a trap. Sitting in frigid conditions or changing conditions. Denied meaningful access and then driving back… day after day after day.
Our organization is not there to “get a picture” for fundraising or just “looky lu.” Our organization is the only org in history that has taken BLM to court over abuse. Our litigation was the driving force for the first policy in history to stop abuse at roundups. We go to enforce that policy and work on a data set to improve the policy. We are the only org with a ten year data set. The only data we can currently obtain? Is that they are hiding something, hiding almost everything meaningful.
This is not just the last 14 days at Eagle, this is the last 4 years in a nutshell. We had made progress and then multiple factors interfered. Some of those factors may shock you. We will have more as we begin to take this issue forward, again.
I have been to more days of operation in the last 10 years than any single federal employee or public observer or media member. I am the only one at trap. BLM has the authority to base observation on the people attending (fewer people, more experience, the closer you can get). I know, I helped write the IM during court ordered Mediation. Not only are they violating the First Amendment, they are spitting at the Ninth Circuit court.
Anyone travel for 14 days to anywhere in the US? What does it cost you? Maybe we should all start asking BLM to create an “observer subsidy?” Heck, that is one thing we know they are good at. The new fee for livestock is $1.35 a month for a cow/calf pair. I can not feed my dog for that amount of money for one day.
I have been to every single roundup at Reveille in the last decade. I sent another of our CAWP team over there in case my presence was an issue this time (many of you at home have no idea how petty this gets on ground with BLM and their friends and family club. I will write more on that shortly, awaiting a FOIA). Access games were played there as well and processing stopped at holding every time observers were present. In addition, observation at holding was in an entirely new location from any in the last decade, placing observers lower than the horizon line. Same contractor, same game. I’ve watched it for eleven years…
The case to allow daily meaningful access began at Silver King, just across the highway from Eagle. The case went up and down the court system, twice. I think we have given BLM long enough to try to figure out if they can actually uphold the Constitution.
Helicopter roundup season ends in a few short days and begins again July 1. We will be on file long before then.
From a frustrated advocate.
State: 1325 wild horses (574 Studs, 709 Mares, 5 Foals) captured to date. 16 confirmed deaths.
On Feb 14 BLM captured 37 wild horses. Then moved trap location after 3 runs.
Our heart and soul belong to the fight to protect our wild horses from abuse and to push back the agenda that continues to minimize them in range management and denies them justice.
Help keep us in the fight.
Categories: Wild Horse Education