Wild Horse Education

“As the Roundup Turns” (Soap Opera Update from Antelope 8/4)

Since July 9, 31 wild horses have died onsite at the Antelope Complex roundup. Unknown numbers have died and suffered after transport from the range hundreds of miles away to Palomino Valley Center (PVC) and the off-limits to the public facility Broken Arrow (aka Indian Lakes in Fallon, NV).

A note worth reading from our founder:

I used the title above to get your attention. Now that I have it, please read all the way through. 

Not since 2013, has any single roundup garnered this much media attention. Why? Probably because of the death of a single stallion named “Sunshine”  who suffered a catastrophic compound fracture in view of public observers.

Horses suffer these kinds of injuries during BLM roundups and usually the death is a sentence in an update: “3) Palomino (Stud); Humanely Euthanized (Acute-Sudden); Fractured Leg due to compound break in the left rear leg.” But the death of Sunshine was not simply an easy to dismiss line in a BLM online daily report, the world saw what those words mean.

Federal Judge Michael A Simon wrote in 3:20-cv-1035-SI restricting Portland Police from arresting journalists:

“An open government has been a hallmark of our democracy since our nation’s founding,” U.S. District Judge Michael Simon wrote citing precedent from the Ninth Circuit case Leigh v. Salazar. “When wrongdoing is underway, officials have great incentive to blindfold the watchful eyes of the fourth estate. The free press is the guardian of the public’s interests and the independent judiciary is the guardian of the free press.”

To that hallmark, he added: “This lawsuit tests whether these principles are merely hollow words.”

The case he cites was part of a long fight simply to gain access to observe and report on wild horse and burro roundups. You have a right to see, hear and otherwise witness the truth of events. We have the right to work (very hard) to bring those moments to you and a right (still) to form an opinion.

One of the things we are trying to, have been trying to, illustrate for you is that we are back to the days of a decade ago. After a brief period of progress on access, humane handling and actions that would begin to define on-range management, a slide backwards happened rapidly under political deal making that began in 2016, was incorporated into BLM planning in 2018 and fully funded by 2020.

We have been watching it on the range. But it seems that for media and the public to truly grasp the magnitude of the slide, it takes a roundup like the one we are witnessing right now.

Many of you are calling for “big media” coverage. This roundup has had big media coverage. When AP picked up the story it went worldwide. When the CNN Networks followed suit, the coverage continued to expand.

However, there are some differences from media coverage in 2013, including coverage by advocacy orgs. In 2009, our founder (me, a journalist and media major) began daily reporting from roundups. Many others would participate on and off throughout the year. Goals onsite were pretty much the same back then: report all of the impacts to the horse or burro the best you can. Our goal has remained constant; the exact goals represented in the landmark case cited by Judge Simon.

Take a peek at a piece published 12 years ago, shot by Clare Majors of the NY Times. Clare kept her camera rolling almost all the time as she tried to figure out what was going on, even when she sat her camera on a rock and kept it on. This piece is published to very quickly jump back in time for the public and to remind BLM of a time when they created discriminatory access and parameters of access depending on the media present. Heck, at this event I had to head into the trees to talk to reporters because every time they tried to talk to me, BLM interrupted or tried to get them away from me. I have never been allowed trap access no matter what (newspaper) credentials I carried. Today, BLM cannot create discriminatory access.

It is not always like this onsite anymore, advocate reporters shoulder-to-shoulder. It has not been this way since the political wrangling began.

Many organizations have tried to engage in gaining an agreement to do one thing or another with BLM and faced the “speech” restriction. Say you adopt an orphan, your agreement can legally say that you cannot talk about it. You are not allowed to speak negatively in public or the agreement is cancelled. However, many of you may be unaware that government employees also face those same types of restrictions and why a group like Public Employees For Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is needed for “whistleblower protection.”

At WHE our responsibility is to the wild ones and you. For us, things are simpler. We are under no restrictive agreement with BLM. We are first and foremost an organization that reports to and informs the public. Even when we give you a breakdown of a plan BLM proposes for a roundup we tell you why the process exists, what the process means and often condense comments that our readers suggest into a format that would be acceptable to submit. We do not just give you a pitch, say sign here and “save the horses.” We try to give you information to formulate an opinion before signing any letter we suggest.

When things get tense, access gets restricted. It is simply what happens in any situation where human beings are involved and they play a “loyalty” card or intimidate. It happens at roundups, too.

BLM is not happy about the news coverage and they are not happy about the lawsuit we filed

Can you imagine how hard our team is working under the type of pressure a person can feel surrounded by those that really do not want you there?

Garrison v. Louisiana, 379 U.S. 64, 74–75 (1964) (“[S]peech concerning public affairs is more than self-expression; it is the essence of self-government.”) (A case involving restrictions on media reporting what government says and restrictions on what an employee can say.)

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which includes Nevada, has held that there is a First Amendment right to record matters of public interest in public places, which “includes the right to record law enforcement officers engaged in the exercise of their official duties in public places.” Askins v. Dep’t of Homeland Sec., 899 F.3d 1035, 1044 (9th Cir. 2018); see also Fordyce v. City of Seattle, 55 F.3d 436 (9th Cir. 1995).

BLM seems really mad that we included the audio of an onsite explanation of a mare that was roped yesterday in a dub over the event they were explaining.

As explained at the beginning of this article, seeing what happened to Sunshine is very different than the words that were approved by BLM staff published in the official daily update online. It is also very different for the public to hear BLM say it onsite during a question and answer tour of trap. The way it was said onsite is an important piece of information for the public to have in answer to a member of the media (asserted publicly). If it is a fact that other observer is not a member of a reporting organization (as we are), we have not been notified of any change to what they have stated publicly. In fact, they frequently add what we have asked BLM, or stated, to their online reports simply stating “observer said” without identifying us.

We published a response during an open question and answer session our representative participated in during a tour of trap by BLM and their agents. It should also be noted that the event surrounding that mare would NOT be included in any report published by BLM online. If no one was there reporting, you would not even know it happened.

We did not publish private conversation or protected speech. In fact, in many instances where we are actively video-tapping capture and people are talking, we try to drop off the unrelated audio because it distracts from the event.

If BLM will answer inquires for one person reporting and repeatedly tells another engaged in the conversation to “FOIA it” when they ask a question, both media representatives participating in the event have a right to publish the government’s response. This holds true everywhere, but particularly true in the State of Nevada. 

NOTE: As stated yesterday, we are NOT the ones taking pictures of members of the public (when they do not even know their picture is being taken) and posting them on websites and social media… BLM is.

“The press was to serve the governed, not the governors.” —U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black in New York Times Co. v. United States (1971)

We will update you soon from this tense and escalating roundup operation. 

Of note: Onsite dust control remains a real problem.

BLM put down 2 horses yesterday, a grey mare they said has a tumor and an old stallion for swayback. 

Of the 56 wild horses captured, 7 were foals. This represents about 12% of the horses captured. BLM consistently captures less than 14% foals each day. That would mean 1 of 3 things: It is still foaling season and a lot of mares are still pregnant, they are leaving foals on the range, or the asserted foaling rate (20-25%) used to determine population growth and size is wrong. 

Due to heat, distance to observation zone and the lack of dust control to fine alkaline soil, it is hard to give details as 2 choppers chase wild horses back and forth all day that result in the events like a horse that slams into the panels. But in the video below, you can see events and the challenges to documenting those events.


Trap moves back to the north of Spruce Mountain today.

Thank you for keeping us in this fight!

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Categories: Wild Horse Education