Public Voice

Public Voice

As an advocate for wild horses your understanding of how to use your voice is critical.

“This land is your land, this land is my land,” a great song to sing. But do you know how your voice works in the frame of public lands management?

For decades wild horse advocacy has been minimized, disregarded and, literally, laughed at. In many ways our interest becomes defined by how the human beings that represent that interest express, engage and conduct themselves. Your voice for our public horses is critical, how you use that voice is important.

The Basics

In 1975 at the first capture of wild horses under the 1971 Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act that established federal jurisdiction (stopped mustanging; the free for all killing or sending horses to slaughter) the first litigation was also gathered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The litigation came from two sides; states and counties claiming the federal government had no authority to manage horses and the horses needed to go to slaughter and advocates claiming the horses should not be removed. 

The court ruled that range degradation was evident and the roundup needed to occur to stop the horses from suffering. Yet the court also stated; the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act was constitutional and jurisdiction was affirmed (the state could not take the horses to slaughter), that the federal government had not shown that the degradation was due to wild horses and not overuse by domestic livestock. The court ruled that any additional management or removal operations conducted by the BLM must follow the same protocol as any other action taken on public lands and comply with the analysis requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

This court ruling confirmed that free roaming horses on our public lands required that the federal government be responsible to that jurisdiction. That management of public land requires analysis and public input. 

The Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burros Act was successful in establishing an intention of integration of public horses into public land management. 

Creating the reality of what that management translates into was/is the job of advocacy that came after 1975. 

Since 1975 there has been only one policy change for the benefit of the original intention of the law. In 2015, after years of litigation by WHE, BLM included the beginnings of a humane handling policy into all NEPA documents on wild horse and burro removals. 

The rest of the changes in law have eroded the intention of the Act. The most well known blow to protection of public horses came in 2003. After BLM employees were caught siphoning wild horses off and sending them to slaughter, in a court case that went before Honorable Howard McKibben in Reno, political slight of hand created the “Burns Amendment.” Conrad Burns (R- MT) created an amendment that was snuck into a massive omnibus spending bill and opened the door for legal slaughter of our public horses. The amendment was immediately faced with a bill to repeal it. The bill to repeal that amendment had to first face the Senate Committee of Agriculture, of which Burns was the chair. The bill never made it out of committee. (*note: our current Secretary of the Interior that runs the BLM is Ryan Zinke, also a former Republican Congressman from MT)


The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was signed into law by President Nixon in 1970.  NEPA was the first major environmental law in the United States. NEPA requires Federal Agencies to assess the environmental effects of their proposed actions prior to making decisions. To implement NEPA’s policies, Congress prescribed a procedure, commonly referred to as “the NEPA process” or “the environmental impact assessment process.”

The ultimate goal of the NEPA process is to foster excellent action that protects, restores, and enhances our environment. This is achieved through the utilization of environmental assessments (EAs) and environmental impact statements (EISs), which provide public officials with relevant information and allow a “hard look” at the potential environmental consequences of each proposed project.

NEPA is required for all land use management actions from long term land use planning intentions through to a removal of wild horses or burros off of public land.

This is where the “public comment period” that many advocates see in “click and send form letters” to comment on a wild horse removal. NEPA has multiple layers in public land management. For public horses the roundup is the very last step in land management; it is the removal that is analyzed at that juncture, not management.

It is critical that you understand the NEPA process. The entire NEPA process is now threatened. 

Understanding Government

In 2017 during Congressional Appropriations debates that could send wild horses to slaughter, or literally take a fast bullet in the head, it became apparent that many Americans are not familiar with the basics of how laws are made, enforced, and agendas moved forward in the political frame that creates the reality of our country.

In simplistic terms; Congress makes the law, the President, VP and cabinet enforce the law, the Judicial system interprets the law where it is not clear. We have three branches of government with distinct responsibilities outlined in the Constitution of the US. An example of this working as intended would be if Congress created a law that was not in compliance with our Constitution the President would use his veto power to stop it. If that failed our court system would stop it. Congress is heavily influenced by money from big lobby interests, our forefathers built safe gaps into the structure of government to try to balance that influence and protect the American public.

It is critical that you understand the platforms of those running for election in your states. These are the people that will create and enforce the laws we all must comply with. 

In recent years it has come to light that our elections are being influenced through social media platforms and big money abroad and domestic is being spent to manipulate public opinion. It is critical that you read the platforms each candidate runs on, create an ongoing dialogue with your elected officials and vote.

The following sections are added for more information on your voice in public process


The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) outlines a process for analysis of any action taken by land managers. These actions include vast mining projects, livestock allotments, off road racetracks, wild horse roundups and any other project proposed. These actions must legally tier to analysis documents and Land Use Plans that are also regulated under NEPA.

This is where any documentation, research, need or impact to a public interest has a voice in how public resources are managed. 

If analysis or protocol is violated these actions are subject to litigate for enforcement. 

NEPA under attack

In the current Congress alone, over 100 pieces of legislation have been introduced seeking to undermine, weaken, or waive NEPA. The Department of the Interior has been holding closed-door meetings with state, county, and local government representatives  discussing ways to loosen environmental protections, environmental reviews, and cutting the public out of the decision-making process. (great resource to track threats:

Just how bad are the threats to NEPA and your voice in the process?

On June 20, 2018 the entire frame of procedural process was proposed for revision, with only 30 days for public input. Input would only be accepted online. 

Wild Horse Education joined in an effort by 352 public interest groups to extend the comment period. A comment letter has been prepared and will be submitted in a unified effort to demonstrate that we will not accept the undermining of public protections by well funded industry influencing a political regime; we will all join together and push back. 

As the threats to the NEPA process mount fast tracking of multiple projects are occurring on public lands. Many of these projects propose massive habitat loss and habitat quality impairment for wild horses. As organizations devoted to public land interests, like Wild Horse Education, scramble to engage NEPA on as many of these projects as we can, the entire process is in jeopardy. Engaging this process is a requirement to litigate it should it proceed with undue damage to a public interest. 

The most important thing you can do for wild horses is to recognize that they are part of the system of public lands. You currently have a voice that can be utilized in process, not just an online petition that enlarges a fundraising mailing list and is not the appropriate venue for a NEPA participant. However your voice in process may be taken away before you even recognize you have one and how to use it correctly.

Your vote in elections matters. The people that sit in those chairs create the law. Know your legislators. 

A very simple example of how it all should work: Humane Handling

The Act to protect wild horses and burros on public land was authored and passed in both Houses of Congress (law created) and signed by the President (law affirmed) in 1971. These are the elected officials voted into office and engaged by the public. They created some of the laws that the public expressed concern over; the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Endangered Species Act (ESA), clean air and water, as well as protections for wild horses. 

One of the things the law called for was that wild horses to be treated humanely. One of the reasons the law was put into place was the documentation of pioneers like Velma Johnston (Wild Horse Annie) and Hope Ryden (journalist) showed the brutal practice of mustanging to the public. The reality of a free roaming horse on federal land needed federal protections. 

Our documentation showed they were not following that core mandate. BLM had no protocol or policy to implement the law. So we took them to court (a lot). We won (law interpreted by the judiciary). Our ability to demonstrate that, not only was the conduct we relentless documented still occurring, but that BLM had no policy to show they were even making any effort to stop preventable, inappropriate, conduct. 

After multiple court rulings in our favor, the BLM created a policy to begin the steps of compliance with the law. The new protocol allowed on-site individuals with experience and knowledge of the mechanics of roundups and the protocol of the new Comprehensive Animal Welfare Policy (CAWP) to submit reports and engage personnel in revisions to create a safer standard. If the issue was critical, urgent, and true, court was an easy option now that the foundation was laid (courts interpreted the law). CAWP went into beta test with internal review and opportunity to send revision suggestions (based on first hand monitoring). A revised policy is expected fall of 2018. 

The protocols to utilize the multiple branches of government, as well as the protocols of process, still exist; accurate documentation, engage the policy, enforce the law (court). It is now simple to put the wild horse first. The policy needs enforcement and revisions, but the frame exists now. 

At no time were the number of social media likes, a petition or harassing phone calls part of the appropriate process to stop wild horses from being hurt. Filing litigation stopped roundups in their tracks before more horses got hurt.  The responsibility of an advocate in process is to understand process and set the example of appropriate engagement. (WHE thanks you so much for your support in our groundbreaking efforts to focus on the horse first and foremost in these matters). 

This is an extremely simplistic example but it is used here as most people understand the confusion and outrage created when wild horses are hurt. That confusion creates another layer of frustration, in an already frustrated and passionate public interest, that leads to a reactive advocacy, not an active and effective one. An organization that makes any claim to “lead” advocacy must also lead responsibly.

The laws in our country are distinct; knowing the law, the distinctions in law and engagement is critical.

Remember there are very complicated issues in public land management. Losing your voice in the process, before you even understand it, is currently underway.