Wild Horse Education

Public Rising (WHE chat with #HaltTheHelicopters)

There is an increasing frustration in wild horse and burro advocacy. Public trust in federal land management agencies is at an all-time low. Many advocates are still reeling from the “Path Forward” agreement by big multi-million dollar corporate entities that left them feeling betrayed by “big money advocate orgs.”

Wild horses and burros are a public lands issue. By nature that makes much the issue procedurally complex and multi-layered. It gets easy to get lost in the layers when you have complex daily lives.

What the public is clear about is that they are not being heard. The public wants wild horses and burros to cared for on and off the range. For fifty years they have been denied a real voice in management as they watch our public lands given over to profiteers that destroy our public ranges as they put money into their own pockets. The public sees scheme after scheme to empty pens (to keep a roundup machine going) that land wild horses landing in kill auctions.

This has led a group of photographers to spur the public and simply ask that they take weekly action and pick up a phone.

Last week WHE simply joined in the first “National Call the Secretary Day.” We are working on our litigation and condensing field reports as we push for reform in on range management. But we share in your frustration and understand the outrage. WHE also keeps a running action page that is updated frequently so you can make calls, send fast click and send letters and even a postcard to fight abuse. However, we wanted to support this organic movement to remind officials it is the PUBLIC they answer to, not the biggest bank account.

If you use social media you may have seen some of their graphics. You can join them by using the hashatg #HaltThe Helicopters when you talk about wild horses and burros in your daily social media activity. 

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We asked the Wild Horse and Burro Action Group a few questions:

Who organized this “call-in” campaign?

The Wild Horse and Burro Photographer’s Action Group is a grass roots initiative.  In early March, photographer Kim Newman created a core team of five wild horse and burro photographers (Kim Newman, Mary Hone, PJ Kaszas, Caroline Christie and Sandy Sharkey)  to use the power of photography to raise awareness and elicit positive change for the future of wild horses and burros.  The plan was to mail personal 8 by 10 photos of wild horses and burros along with stories and letters to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, President Joe Biden and other elected and appointed officials-  with a request to put all roundups on hold until a science-based nonpartisan review of the Wild Horse and Burro Program could be facilitated.  The team created a ‘kit’, and reached out to wild horse and burro photographers spanning North America and beyond-  and as a result, over 100 photographers participated in this mail-in campaign.  None of the photographers received a response from any of the elected and appointed officials.
The lack of response did not deter the Wild Horse and Burro Photographer’s Action Group.  In fact, the group pressed on, designating May 18th as ‘Call Secretary Deb Haaland Day’.   A shareable graphic was created and with our network now expanded to over 300 photographers, the team asked everyone to call Sec. Deb Haaland, post her phone number and spread the word via their social media.  Using the hashtag #SaveOurWildHorses, the Twitter storm targeting Sec. Haaland was a big success.  Her office went straight to voicemail as there were too many phone calls to handle.  

What was the initial goal? 

The initial goal was to reach the decision makers in Washington in a very determined but organic way.  Our goal is to use our photography and our voices to request that the BLM puts a pause on the roundups.  The Joe Biden administration came on the scene announcing that they would adhere to scientific data to form policy.  The nonpartisan scientific wild horse and burro report created by the National Academy of Sciences in 2013 has shed light on the fact that the BLM did not use science to create the fictional ‘Appropriate Management Level’s’ for wild horses and burros.  Yet the BLM stands by their imaginative  AML’s to justify the roundups of thousands of wild horses and burros .  Our team is requesting that the BLM halts the helicopters until an updated nonpartisan scientific review is facilitated for the Wild Horse and Burro Program. 

We see you have expanded the idea, why?

We have momentum.  Following the mail-in campaign and the ‘Call Sec. Deb Haaland Day’, more and more wild horse and burro advocates are jumping on board and they are energized to help in any way they can.   And with over 10,000 wild horses and burros slated for capture, the clock is ticking.  Therefore a timely new call-in campaign is now underway, designed to target the three biggest decision makers regarding the future of wild horses and burros.  Each Tuesday will be the return of ‘Contact Secretary Deb Haaland Day’ and ask her to #HaltTheHelicopters.  Each Wednesday will be ‘Contact the BLM Day’, and ask them to #HaltTheHelicopters.  And each Thursday will be ‘Contact the Forest Service Day’, again using the hashtag #HaltTheHelicopters, and tagging Secretary Tom Vilsack, head of the USDA and the US Forest Service.  This summer, The US Forest Service has targeted aggressive removals of wild horses in Ochoco Oregon and Heber Arizona.   

What do you hope to accomplish by expanding to a weekly call?

Decision makers have been sticking their heads in the sand on this issue.  With the press of the ‘send’ button, the BLM believes that wild horse advocates will accept the well worn ‘form letter’ that rehashes the same arguments they’ve been making for years in defense of their mismanagement of the Wild Horse and Burro program.   We could wallpaper every barn in North America with BLM form letters.  With the weekly calls to action every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, we hope to open up the conversation and be HEARD.  The silence from Washington is deafening.  No more form letters.  Real people making real phone calls, and real people answering the phone.  Until they do, we don’t plan to give up. 

There are many layers to managing wild horses and burros in the U.S. What bothers you the most about how things are done today?

Public lands belong to everyone.   So, by extension, wild horses and burros belong to everyone.  The majority of Americans want wild horses and burros to remain wild and free.  The Free Roaming Wild Horse and Burro Protection Act was enacted in 1971 because Americans wanted these living legends to be protected and honored as an important part of history.  The integrity of the Act has been ignored by the BLM.  In fact, the agency tasked with keeping wild horses and burros protected generally closes the door to any input from those who protest the mismanagement, the roundups, and the stockpiling of wild horses and burros.  The BLM’s policies regarding wild horses and burros are very much influenced by the revenue-generating livestock and extractive industries, with skilled lobbyists and deep pockets.  It’s time for the wishes of the public to be heard.  It’s a classic case of David vs Goliath.  With helicopters set to terrorize and separate wild horse families yet again, the BLM is still running the Wild Horse and Burro Program as if we are living in the 1970’s, when attitudes towards wild horses were unconscionably heavy handed.  Under the current BLM’s cruel mismanagement, wild horses and burros continue to be offloaded into the slaughter pipeline. 

The year is 2021, we know better, and we need to do better.  Wild horses and burros symbolize the inner free spirit that exists in all of us.  You can’t put a price tag on that. 

At WHE one of the things we encourage in our own volunteers is turning frustration and despair into action. The nature of any public lands issue is that you must be in it for the long haul; someone will always want what the wild horses and burros need to survive. 

There is always something you can do. If you have little time, you can take fast action or make one call. You can organize your community as these photographers did with their social media followings and we applaud them.

When you make calls always try to understand what is in the power of the person you call to change, narrow what you are asking for down to a couple of points and be as polite as possible. Even if you have no response, do it again and again.

Our public lands belong to the American public. Our wild horses and burros are a public resource. Big corporate lobbies have a lot of money. But wild horses and burros have a lot of voices. Keep using yours.


Learn More:

Fast guide to Appropriations 

Let’s Talk (BLM Report and the NAS)


Help keep us in the fight.   

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Categories: Wild Horse Education