A helicopter drive draws in the media and the public. However, that moment in time is simply that, one moment in a severely broken system.
This week we will bring you a series of articles about roundups; how, why, who and what we can do to create change.
Part 2: CAWP (below)
Part 3: Paperwork (remove, not manage), coming soon.
Roundups begin long before the chopper flies.
When all the funding is in place, and all the paperwork completed, a roundup can begin. Some roundups are placed on the schedule after being funded through paperwork completed years before. Just because you see an EA approved, does not mean that area makes the schedule immediately. (We will cover the paperwork in another article.)
When a roundup begins our work shifts purely to issues surrounding the care and handling of wild horses and burros. Our CAWP team members head out with their cameras and checklists, ready to engage.
Brief History of CAWP
One of the parameters of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act that is very clear; agencies are to manage wild horses humanely. With any law agencies create policies to comply with the law. In the case of wild horses and burros agencies simply failed to create any actual policy to protect against abuse.
WHE took our documentation to court again and again (WHE has the longest running data base of wild horse roundups in the world; we began ours before BLM did). Those cases were the driving force behind BLM crafting the first policy since the Act to protect wild horses and burros was signed.
In the fall of 2015, after 5 years of our relentless litigation, the agency included the Comprehensive Animal Welfare Policy (CAWP) into all roundup EAs. They said it would expand into holding facilities and on range management. The policy was to be reviewed each year and changes made. At that time, the agency recognized this was a beginning.
There was a single year where the daily barrage of intense abuse at roundups began to slow. The beginning of an “off-range” policy was drafted. The review was due.
Instead, the agency began to all but ignore the existence of the policy in fall of 2016. This came at the same time as corporate advocacy orgs joined into an agreement with the livestock industry; essentially push the population down and begin massive fertility control treatments. The politics of afoot made it easy for BLM to ignore improvements in CAWP.
On the way out the door (former) BLM Deputy Director William Perry Pendley, after his tenure as acting chief was ruled illegal, lobbed a press release that stated he was going to review and expand CAWP. Exactly the statement made in 2015, which all of those that shared that Deputy Director chair (Pendley, Brian Steed and John Ruhs) ignored as they worked with the group led by Chris Stewart (R-UT) that later became known as “the Path Forward.” (It should be noted that Brian Steed went right from working as Chris Stewarts Chief of Staff, where he took an active roll in crafting that lobby document, into the “acting director” chair of the BLM. While there, he incorporated the Path Forward into the 2019 BLM report to Congress on the program. Pendley simply rolled over that document into the 2020 report.)
Abuse and slaughter were key factors that led the campaign that eventually resulted in the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. The campaigners of the day, most noted is “Wild Horse Annie,” knew there was more work to be done. The Act was simply a major milestone in the journey.
The fight to gain the creation of CAWP is simply another milestone that builds on the Act itself.
What is CAWP?
CAWP stands for “Comprehensive Animal Welfare Policy.” It is the first actual policy that attempts to set a standard of care and handling for wild horses and burros as mandated by law.
CAWP (originally IM 2015-151) is a standard that BLM developed with (paid through grant) UC Davis. Since the creation of the original policy, the same policy is simply renewed each year.
You can click the image to see one of the documents we had crafted as a “beginning” in our final push to gain a policy in 2014.
Since Law Requires Humane Handling, Why Is There No Place The Public Can Provide Input?
Public input can be provided in many forms. Onsite at roundups we can address issues that arise, in the moment, through interaction with staff (sometimes we need your help like we did last summer to get water open to wild horses during a helicopter roundup). Even before there was a policy, we had to engage all available avenues to resolve an issue prior to walking it into court.
The public at large is supposed to have an opportunity to address the issues of “motorized vehicle use” through annual hearings. This hearing should, at least, allow you to provide input on how BLM uses motorized vehicles like choppers and ATVs. One of those hearings is set for California BLM today.
However, even though the hearings are required by law, the agency never crafted a policy that determines how they are supposed to use the input during those hearings. They simply file the comments, and check the box that states they held the hearing, and state they are in compliance with existing law.
Existing law, after amendments, leaves much to the discretion of the current Secretary of Interior and agency personnel. This leaves many removal decisions open to various forms of litigation.
One place existing law is very clear is that wild horses and burros are to be managed humanely. We won every case we brought into a courtroom using existing law.
Accountability to the law, and common decency, is where the issues of abuse at roundups lies today. It seems absurd that we still need to address this issue through the (expensive) court system.
What can you do?
We have created a postcard you can print (double-sided) and mail to Secretary of the Interior Debra Haaland. If enough postcards land on her desk, perhaps the Wild Horse and Burro Program will get some attention (besides simply throwing money into the partnerships many lobby groups were after)?
The program needs serious reform. That reform extends into the CAWP policy. The Wild Horse and Burro program is getting lost once more. The agency is also preparing to revise sage grouse planning that continues to scapegoat wild horses (we will have more for you on that soon).
The printable postcard has a simple message and a bit of space left for you to add additional thoughts and your contact info. (you can click here to download postcard pdf)
What we are doing
Our outreach team has been busy the last few years laying a foundation for the next marathon of legal action against abuse. Litigation is time consuming and expensive. The success of an action is based on many factors. WHE is the only org in history to ever litigate abuse roundups and we won every case. (note: It is a misnomer, in a public relations campaign by some big money orgs that do not take BLM to court over abuse, that a policy can not be litigated. If a policy fails to create compliance with a law, policies are litigated all the time to show the deficit.)
Just like every “public lands issue” the fight to gain protections is highly influenced by politics and backdoor deals. The fight for all of our public lands, and the creatures that call it home, continue. The fight against abuse of wild horses and burros, on and off the range, continues.
You can also help us as we fight for actual management of wild horses and burros in the “big picture.”
Removals present one moment in time in the life of a wild horse or burro that changes everything. A moment they jump from the range program into the system of holding.
Creating reform that can minimize, or stop, a roundup begins long before a chopper flies. As advocates our work must also begin long before a herd hits the schedule and we must engage to stop abuse of individuals.
Help keep us in the fight.