America's wild horses and burros have continued to be an issue of intense interest to the American public. The year 2013 was no exception. Issues of range management, slaughter, abuse during roundups and in facilities continued to surface.
The year began with legal actions filed against the BLM roundup at the Owyhee Complex. The suit alleges that wild horses are being illegally removed from the range.
In addition the suit illustrated horses run into barbed wire, babies run to exhaustion and intensive use of an electric cattle prod. On January 10th the court issued strong language against the abuse. Several motions were filed in this case over the course of the year and the suit is expected to go to hearing.
Early in 2013 the Department of Interior (DOI), that umbrellas several agencies including the BLM, saw former Secretary Ken Salazar step down. In 2012 an investigation by Dave Philipps (for ProPublica) uncovered 1700 wild horses sold by the BLM to a single kill buyer that has apparent ties to Salazar. During a press conference Salazar actually threatened journalist Philipps with a "punch in the face" for publicly asking him about the sales of wild horses.
Salazar's replacement Sally Jewell, former REI executive, immediately began to shuffle questions on the program over to the expected National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report. The study had been commissioned nearly two years prior at an estimated cost of 1.5 million dollars. The report was issued in June and gave the program a failing grade pointing to a "lack of data" that supports and decision making. Since the report was issued no reforms in failing policy have surfaced.
The BLM's contentious relationship with the press continued as legal actions carried by the advocacy group Wild Horse Education against press restrictions battled in and out of the courtroom all year. The litigation was joined through Amicus briefs by fifteen news organizations including: The Reporters Committee for a Free Press, NPR, Seattle Times and others. In December the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals placed this case into mandatory mediation for 60 days with a report to be filed with the court if no agreements can be reached in this case that has spanned over three years in the legal system.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) wild horse and burro program was under scrutiny as the government shutdown momentarily halted roundups. Networks such as NBC, the Travel Channel and NPR ran major stories on wild horses. Actions by the BLM received hundreds of thousands of comments from a dissatisfied public.
As 2013 drew to a close serious public land management issues are rising that may very well make a bleak picture even more fragile. Sage Grouse management plans are being formulated that could likely impact wild horses and burros in an extremely negative fashion as private livestock interests push to protect government subsidized public land grazing. The Grazing Improvement Act (if passed) will allow livestock producers to skirt environmental review for decades. And the Nevada Association of Counties (NACO) organizes legal action supported by the Cattleman's Association against wild horses.
Horse slaughter is standing on the edge of coming back to American soil. Regardless of the simple fact that horse meat is not a safe food source slaughter plants are pushing to process American horses. Many advocates for wild horses have feared for years that a failure to change policy and the continual stockpiling of American horses in government facilities (more than twice the number of wild horses sit in facilities than exist wild on the range) is a sign that wild horses are in direct line for slaughter. Many appointed members of the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board are openly in support of horse slaughter.
2014 promises to be an important year for the survival of wild horses and burros on America's public land. The Chinese call 2014 the "year of the horse." It may very well be that the fate of America's symbol of Freedom will be decided this year. Will we reform this program and begin to protect wild horses and burros and the asset they are to our American soul? Or will we turn our back and choose to put money into the pockets of a select few and in a betrayal to the contribution these horses and burros made to not only the building of our country, but our own identity as "strong, intelligent, untamable" Americans?
The group WildHorseEducation.org created a "Year in Review 2013." They wrote a timeline and crated a "year in review video" of their work to protect wild horses and burros.
To read the entire timeline, and to watch the video, Click Here.
Source: The Examiner, by Laura Leigh, founder of Wild Horse Education
Secretary Jewell seems to be willfully ignoring a report by the National Academy of Sciences. Why?
Nearly seven months into her tenure as Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell last Thursday at last made her first extended public comments about one of the most controversial and under-reported aspects of her portfolio as steward of the nation's public lands. Speaking at the National Press Club, she addressed in detail a question about the nation's beleaguered wild horses, which in the past few years have been rounded up by the tens of thousands from those public lands and dispatched to vast holding facilities at great cost to the American taxpayer (and to the great benefit of the ranching and livestock industries).
It was not an auspicious debut. Jewell did not directly answer the question posed to her. And the affirmative statement she did make about the herds was unsupported by key facts revealed in June in a report by the National Academy of Sciences that was sharply critical of Bureau of Land Management's practices and policies toward the horses. She offered a series of platitudes—e.g. "So we are working on it. And we are going to work on it"—while wild horses are being sold to slaughter in contravention of federal law and policy. Time is of the essence here but there was no hint of urgency in the Secretary's remarks.
There are two explanations for the Secretary's performance and neither can be seen as encouraging for wild horse advocates (or fans of good governance in general, for that matter). The first is that, despite her extensive scientific background, Jewell does not grasp the essence of the scientific criticism the NAS has offered about the BLM's work. And the second is that she does grasp the extent of the problem the NAS identified—she has done her homework—but that she has neither the political desire nor the bureaucratic will to implement the reforms the scientists suggest. Either way, from an Obama Administration official who talks a great deal about conservation and the environment, who says she is a friend to animals and no tool to corporate interests, it doesn't bode well for the federally-protected horses.
The National Academy of Sciences Report
It has been exactly five months since the National Academy of Sciences released its long-awaited report titled "Using Science to Improve the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program." In it, some of the nation's leading scientists were direct and unambiguous about the failures of the BLM to administer the horses: "The Wild Horse and Burro Program has not used scientifically rigorous methods to estimate the population sizes of horses and burros, to model the effects of management actions on the animals, or to assess the availability and use of forage on range lands," the scientists concluded.
In other words, after years of speculation and debate, the NAS concluded that the BLM was using both bad math and faulty science to justify one of its most controversial (and expensive) wild horse management practices. Wild horse advocates have long argued, for example, that the herds don't have nearly the negative impact on range lands that cattle and sheep do. Nor, advocates have long claimed, has the BLM accurately counted the number of wild horses on public lands or properly evaluated ways in which more horses can safely be kept there.
The NAS Report in June did not prove these allegations to be true. But at the very least it cast serious doubt on the arguments the BLM (and the ranching and livestock industries) have made in support of the current practices. It raises profound questions, in other words, about whether the advocates are right about the BLM and the need for its overhaul. Also relevant to Thursday's public comments by Jewell was this part of the NAS Report that explained what the BLM was doing wrong and how federal officials could remedy the problem:
Promising fertility-control methods are available to help limit this population growth, however. In addition, science-based methods exist for improving population estimates, predicting the effects of management practices in order to maintain genetically diverse, healthy populations, and estimating the productivity of rangelands. Greater transparency in how science-based methods are used to inform management decisions may help increase public confidence in the Wild Horse and Burro Program.
Since June, I have repeatedly asked Secretary Jewell, through her spokeswoman, to respond to the National Academy's work. I have asked the secretary, again through a spokeswoman, to respond more generally to the plight of the nation's wild horses as they become more and more vulnerable to mistreatment or slaughter. Over and over again those requests have been declined. I was told to be patient, that the secretary was working through the NAS Report, and that the time would come when there would be a substantive response. Evidently, that time has come.
July On Capitol Hill
To put into better perspective last week's comments by Secretary Jewell, I need to briefly digress. First, Secretary Jewell said she wanted to wait for the results of the NAS Report before commenting upon the plight of the wild horses. Then, on July 17th, she appeared at a hearing on Capitol Hill just a few weeks after the NAS Report was issued. At the time, she had an exchange with Rep. Raul Grijalva, a Democrat from Arizona with a long history of sense and sensibility toward the nation's wild horses. He framed his question to her the following way:
Madame Secretary, the Wild Horse and Burro program managed by BLM has been a persistent source of criticism, controversy, and I believe in need of serious reform and an overhaul. And much of that criticism that has been leveled at the program was reaffirmed by an independent review by the National Academy of Sciences.And so in light of that independent review, do you see a need to restructure the program in order to both save money and, just as importantly, guarantee humane treatment of Wild Horses and Burros in that program?
RENO, Nev. — The Reporters Committee on Freedom of the Press says the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is using safety concerns as an excuse to limit media access to wild horse roundups across the West in violation of the First Amendment.
The National Press Photographers Association and more than a dozen newspaper companies joined the committee in a friend-of-the-court brief filed in the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals late Monday to back an advocacy group waging a series of legal battles over mustang roundups in Nevada.
Horseback Magazine photographer Laura Leigh and others “have a right to see what happens" during the roundups, the media groups said, urging the court to be “highly skeptical of assertions by the BLM that restrictions placed on media access were done for administrative convenience and/or to satisfy safety concerns."
“People in an open society do not demand infallibility from their institutions, but it is difficult for them to accept what they are prohibited from observing," they said.
The 9th Circuit sent the case brought by Leigh’s advocacy group, Wild Horse Education, back to U.S. Judge Larry Hicks in Reno last year to determine if the BLM limits are constitutional.
Hicks ruled in 2011 that a balancing of the interests of the agency and public access to a roundup in Nevada didn’t warrant granting an injunction to block the gathers. But a three-judge panel of the appellate court ruled he failed to determine whether those restrictions violated First Amendment protections.
“When the government announces it is excluding the press for reasons such as administrative convenience, preservation of evidence, or protection of reporters’ safety, its real motive may be to prevent the gathering of information about government abuses or incompetence," Appellate Judge Milan Smith Jr. wrote in the 18-page opinion in February 2012.
BLM spokesman Tom Gorey said Tuesday that the agency had no comment on the latest filing.
Agency officials testified at a hearing earlier this year that they do their best to provide public access to the roundups and temporary holding of the animals and denied Leigh’s claims she was singled out to be kept away from the mustangs.
The National Press Club, Nevada Press Association, Reno-Gazette Journal, The Seattle Times Company, the Las Vegas-Review Journal’s owner Stephens Media and others joined in the new brief arguing that journalists routinely face far more
dangerous assignments, especially at war. They say reporters should have the same unrestricted access to public rangeland as they do to battlefields.
BLM’s concerns are “speculative at best and at worst are overly broad and ambiguous, often arbitrarily and capriciously chilling visual journalists’ ability to cover matters of public concern," they said.
“If they are willing to assume such risks in a warzone, it should certainly be considered that such safety concerns by the government are nothing but mere pretext when it comes to horse gathers ... BLM land is more akin to an open park than a battlefield, and a horse gather is less dangerous than open combat or fires, floods, explosions and other calamities where safety concerns are at stake."
Hicks said during a hearing earlier this year that he recognizes it’s an issue that “strikes deeply in people’s emotions and interests."
Source: Bend Bulletin by Scott Sonner