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Transparency: roundup deaths (Action)

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) defined transparency as:

Transparency involves openness, communication, and accountability and is important in building trust and relationships with the public. Considered essential to effective public participation, a transparent process ensures continuing communication and public access to information and is critical from the earliest through the final stages of the process (NRC, 2008).

Documentation of capture, facilities, and our attempts to gain information referencing range data through sale/adoption, demonstrate a consistent inconsistency on transparency (without reasonable justification) throughout the agency.

Our data also demonstrates BLM manipulates access to information to assist the agency with their efforts to hide information that paints the agency in an unfavorable light. 

One example: BLM claims deaths due to capture are less than 2%. We are in the process of completing a report that indicates rates are closer to 10% and can rise as high as 18%. BLM continues to perpetuate the myth through obfuscation of data and the inability of the public to independently verify.

(scroll to the bottom for action item)

Below: Trap site at Triple B in 2011 where a mare got her head stuck in the panel and BLM onsite watched as contractor used a rope and saddle horse to pull her head into the panel. She was then propped up by the trailer door as she had trouble standing. Another group was brought in by chopper and she was pushed into the trailer and then transported to holding where she was never seen again. 

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When the public thinks of transparency in the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Wild Horse and Burro program, discussions often focus on our increasing (again) inability to document capture during roundups.

The ability of the public to witness and formulate their own assessment of how taxpayer funding is being spent to capture wild horses is inconsistent from district to district (and privately contracted company to company) and year-to-year.

Below: Same trap site at Triple B (as illustrated in slideshow above) taken from observation area in 2019. The actual trap and loading could not be documented. 

There are numerous instances where we will revisit a trap during where we documented capture in the past, where our presence caused no obstruction to safe capture. During a roundup in recent years we will not be allowed back to the same observation area and placed where we have no clear view of a trap and/or distances that can be absurd (as far as 1.7 miles away).

Before 2012 daily access to observe roundups was not consistently available and usually limited to a few days each operation. However, our litigation began to fight to gain daily (meaningful) access in 2010. Gradually access improved and became standard policy (after wins in 2010, 2012 and mediation in 2014).

Below: By 2016 access to document roundups (and even to take unobstructed photos in temporary corrals) was being facilitated. Any restriction was based more on the number of observers (more people, more distance) than any arbitrary or discriminatory practice.

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There are a lot of reasons that access issues at capture operations have, once again, become extremely inconsistent and discriminatory. Much of it actually has to do with the “Path Forward,” and other alliances that began in 2016. Most of you are very familiar with much of the politics and power plays that have dragged back many environmental, animal welfare and access to information concerns.

Over the last 5 years we have gone backwards fast and forward motion is coming way too slow.

Below: Distance to trap and obstructions at temporary holding made documenting the recent Pancake roundup extremely difficult. The majority of wild horses were then shipped to facilities where BLM has awarded private contracts (taxpayer dollars) to individuals that are not open to the public.

During settlement conferences back in 2014, BLM leadership had stated that their intention was to begin to require regular public access days at private facilities and that they would not use “off-limts” facilities for intake of wild horses and burros from capture. Back in 2014 BLM seemed to understand that the ability to do a “welfare check” on newly captive wild horses was important to the public and helped facilitate placements into sanctuary and private homes.

Today, BLM has incorporated “Path Forward” into their “BLM 2020 plan.” Continuing to accelerate removals to the highest numbers since the Act was passed is reliant on facility space. BLM has reassured profit-driven interests that will continue this acceleration dependent only on the number of spaces in holding facilities (Nada Wolff Culver, BLM Deputy Director of Policy and Programs, speaking to Public Lands Council et, al., 2022)

Not only has BLM increased the use of off-limits facilities for intake, but BLM is aiming to increase the number of off-limits facilities to continue the 2020 plan and keep corporate interests happy. (WHE filed legal action against a newly proposed facility in Winnemucca NV. We will have an update on this action for you soon AND an action item you can take.)

Below: Dozens of wild horses captured at Pancake had immediate offers of homes and/or sanctuary. This mare and her new foal had placement before ever being shipped from the temporary corral into the off-limits facility Broken Arrow (Indian Lakes Rd, Fallon, NV).

BLM has refused to assist. BLM has refused to allow a welfare check. BLM has refused to facilitate their placement and is delaying until identification will be impossible.

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Roundup fatality rates are higher than the manipulated statistics BLM presents to the public and lawmakers. During capture BLM will insist that what they call “roundup related deaths” are limited to wild horses that literally drop dead due to broken bones during capture. If a wild horse has a heart attack, they call it pre-existing. If a wild horse had a break that had healed, or was doing fine with one eye living wild, or a foal that should not have been run and tendons collapse, BLM considers those deaths “non-roundup related.”

BLM does not consider deaths that occur after wild horses arrive at short-term holding as part of roundup injury/fatality statistics. If a wild horse suffers an injury at a roundup that is not immediately fatal, but dies from it after transport, BLM does not consider the death as related to the roundup. Winter roundups are notorious for causing respiratory illness that can run rampant and kill dozens of wild horses in the weeks after capture (Horses are obligate nasal breathers. The need for more oxygen, increased body temperature during exertion and cold temperatures equal a recipe for disaster. Talk to your vet about extreme prolonged exertion in temperatures under 35 degrees.)

BLM used to post facility reports as part of their “roundup updates” when litigation on First Amendment issues was active. Today, you can not track deaths in facilities post roundup or even see wild horses to check on them yourself in most instances (more than half the wild horses captured in the fall/winter schedule went into off-limits facilities).

Below: Video done during the Antelope roundup back in 2011. Technology has changed a lot on the last decade. However, the video includes screenshots of BLM “gather update pages” that included facility reports. You can see that roundup related deaths continue long after the chopper lands.

The only avenue open to obtain statistics on facility deaths involve filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. If you get a response to your FOIA at all, often the response will not contain the information you asked for and you need to refile. Sometimes you get back redacted (blacked out) pages. Gaining information can often take a very long time and/or litigation. (WHE has FOIA requests that have not been answered and are still active 5 years later.)

BLM does not consider a foal (no matter gestation) aborted after capture as a “death” and they do not even track the statistic. If a young foal dies prior to being catalogued, it is not counted. To find death statistic you need to ask for “render receipts” to get an accurate number, not “death reports.”

Below: Mare captured (that was being held for release) lost her foal and then died. Neither her death, nor the death of her foal, were considered roundup related. BLM should not be running heavily pregnant mares and hides the consequences.  The picture is from before the roundup. 

The manipulation of the statistics involving deaths and injuries associated with capture is one simple example of the way the BLM manipulates and hides the facts. This type of statistical manipulation is systemic throughout the program from range through capture and the reality of the adoption/sale program.

WHE is working on a report to submit to Congress, the Government Accounting Office and in preparation for the upcoming National Academy of Sciences review.

You can take 2 Actions today that can help stop the madness and gain transparency.

Action 1:

YOU CAN contact your representatives in Congress and ask that they co-sponsor HR 6635.

This bill would halt helicopter roundups pending a report from the Government Accounting Office (GAO) that looks for humane alternatives and discloses the full effects of the use of aircraft in the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program. 

The bill has gained 5 cosponsors. You can see the full text of the Wild Horse and Burro Protection Act of 2022, introduced by Dina Titus (D-NV), HERE. 

This fast click and send will go directly to your representative CLICK HERE.

Action 2:

2023 Appropriations

Click HERE to Take our fast action item. 

Contact Your Two Senators and One Representative 

Call the Capitol Hill Switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask to be connected to your Representative. You can say:

“I’m a constituent, and I’m calling to ask that you please do all you can to influence the crafting of the 2023 Department of Interior, Bureau of Land Management, Spending bill to help begin actual reform of the Wild Horse and Burro Program. 

  • Designate $5 million for water source creation and repair in HMAs.
  • Defund removal plans where the BLM has skirted the NEPA process and failed to create a management plan for the herd, an HMAP.
  • Designate specific funds to provide for an open online portal where the public can access range monitoring, roundup veterinary reports, shipping manifests and death statistics.
  • Defund creation of new “off-limits” to the public facilities.
  • Defund the Adoption Incentive Program pending a review.
  • Continue to deny funding for “sales without limits.”

Help keep us in the fight. 

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Categories: Lead, Wild Horse Education