Wrapping up July: Newsletter
July is always a hectic month in wild horse and burro advocacy. As budget (and other) bills are debated in Congress, the summer roundup season gets underway. On the backside this is also often “new proposed projects and appeal” season in federal agencies; the time when large scale energy/mining scoping is happening and roundup (and other) Environmental Assessments (EA) are approved and then, appealed (an Appeal is a process that occurs in a land use court of law).
In other words: every layer of advocacy for the wild is very active.
Video below: the second day of the Buffalo Hills roundup.
WHE in Roundups:
Buffalo Hills kicked off roundup season with headlines and brought the ongoing issues of humane handling and the agency dragging their feet to improve and enforce the policy it (finally) formalized in 2015. After years of our litigation (that included litigation even after BLM claimed it had a policy) the agency formalized the Comprehensive Animal Welfare Policy (CAWP and included it in contracts and underlying NEPA (paperwork). It took until 2021 for them to even hire someone to lead the program. The 6 years of assessments between 2015 and 2021, the agency admits, will not be reviewed. You can see the agency self-assessments since 2021 HERE.
The issue of roundups beginning July 1, under the agency overly-broad designation of foaling season, continues to be an issue for the public. Many wild horse and burro watchers know July is still foaling season on the range and babies born in June are still very young. (More on pregnant mares and new foals HERE)
The Piceance roundup continued to keep foaling season at the forefront. This roundup is one of the high-profile herds and has drawn a lot of attention as the Governor of Colorado has gotten involved. The removal is taking place in an area of intensive oil and gas development. Piceance targets 1050 for capture, about 200 for release after fertility control. BLM manages the 190,000-acre Piceance East Douglas Herd Management Area (HMA) for an Appropriate Management Level (AML) of between 135-235 wild horses.
The Triple B roundup began a bit slower than usual and has moved toward the status quo pace of operations. Of the 1900 targeted for removal, BLM has captured 515 and 13 have lost their lives (the agency considers only 2 deaths roundup related: a broken neck and one listed as a “pre-existing” fracture). The total acreage for the complex (Triple B, Maverick Medicine and Antelope Valley Herd Management Areas HMAs) is over 2 million acres. The target is low AML of 531.
It should be noted that BLM is using a 2017 EA that combines the Antelope and Triple B complex; an area larger that the states of Rhode Island and Connecticut combined. Under this “ten-year Gather EA” BLM has already captured about 7500 wild horses, this operation will bring the total near 9500. It is rumored that the Antelope Complex is in waiting for a fall 2022 operation that will bring the total, in 5 years, to well over 10,000. These two complexes are areas of heavy industrial expansion.
A note on CAWP: The BLM internal CAWP team has already published their reviews of the ongoing Piceance and Triple B roundups. It seems the team spent a day at holding, a day at trap, and then gives an assessment? Triple B is on schedule through Sept. 4. When Triple B started at a slower pace our CAWP team member asked BLM if their CAWP team was there. At first she was denied an answer and then was told they were there. She asked to speak with them; her request denied.
Note: Apparently the BLM internal assessment team was not at Buffalo Hills, where we saw multiple issues with barbed wire, the foal tied to the ATV, a horse dragged by the neck, a horse down in the pen with a broken neck and BLM approved more horses to come in… but they would have only been there for 2 days anyway.
We will do an in-depth report on CAWP, and the repeated failures of the agency, as time allows.
On the legal front
WHE and our partner at the CANA Foundation tried to address these inadequate ten-year Gather-EAs with leadership. The lack of actual science-based management and data-sets are constantly shortchanging wild horses and burros and pushing them “out and down” to reach political agreements that began in the 70s and 80s. Our attempts at conversation were met with silence; it seems BLM limits conversation to “preferred partnerships.” So we filed litigation. You can read more HERE.
In the Appeal Court we had a win with our partner WildLands Defense. Another convoluted giveaway of public lands resources to livestock was rescinded by an Administrative law judge of the Office of Hearings and Appeals. This is actually a big deal; the agency rolled back its plans to dig new wells and allow livestock grazing near Steens Mountain for the first time in 57 years. You can read more HERE.
At this time WHE is engaged in 2 active federal district court cases and 7 active appeals. We try to keep our litigation page updated, but it is on a “as time allows” schedule.
We expect there to be no consolidated Appropriations bill passed in both House and Senate again this year before the October deadline. We expect there will be Continuing Resolutions that fund a few months at a time while a divided nation continues the debate. You can see our suggested changes (ones that might be possible) to language in the bill that was submitted by large corporate lobby groups HERE.
HR 6635 (a bill to STOP helicopter roundups, investigate and hold the agency to non-helicopter application of fertility control as the investigation is done) has 10 co-sponsors.(You can see cosponsors and text of the bill HERE)
SAFE, HR 3355 (the bill that prohibits the transporting, receiving, possessing, purchasing, selling, or donation by a person of an equine that the person has reason to believe will be slaughtered for human consumption) has 218 cosponsors; it has not gone to a floor vote. You can see cosponsors and track the bill HERE.
As usual, there are a lot of rumors and misconceptions that get bigger on social media. A key thing for all of you new to advocacy to keep in mind: wild horses and burros are a public lands issue; all public lands issues have multiple layers that must be addressed in that part of the process. In other words, there is no one layer that takes care of everything.
A few notes:
Comments on EAs are not a popularity contest; the number doesn’t matter. What matters is that you comment specifically to the issue in the proposed decision, check to see if they addressed and changed the plan before approving, filing an appeal if they did not. You can then take the issue to fed court if you cannot get resolution in appeal.
CAWP is the humane policy crafted to comply with law, not the access or management policies (we see confusion on social media). Management is covered under the NEPA process (the one most of you know as the “comment period”) and access is covered in an internal policy (Memorandum) written in settlement from our litigation back in 2013 (before that, there was no daily access). Many advocates/BLM seem to forget the ruling on acces, but the courts and the press don’t (the ruling was used as the “gold standard” of “Leigh v Salazar” in an order to keep journalists out during protests).
Many layers that all need to be address site-specific in the right lane.
Keep reading, learning, improving and repeating… We can make progress. Together we can.
Our teams are hard at work.
Help keep us in the fight.