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Wild Horse Madness

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An Open Letter to the BLM

Dear Bureau of Land Management: You know what you’re doing to America’s wild horses is wrong.

So why are you doing it?

Our public rangeland is in trouble. It is in trouble because it has been battered, beaten and raped by profit-driven interest. It has been managed through fear, bungling and the kowtowing to good ole boys in Stetsons.

The cowboys who dominate the rangeland hate wild horses because the horses are said to compete with cattle for the forage on the public domain. They hate the federal government for stopping them in 1971 from the wholesale capture and slaughter of wild horses that put extra money in their pockets.

But here’s the truth: less than 2 percent of the public forage is eaten by wild horses. Livestock use 66 percent of public land, wild horses can legally exist on about 11 percent of public land, and in that 11 percent the horses are allocated as little as 12 percent of actual grass to survive.  In other words, actual use of all public forage by horses is minuscule.

A century of documentation shows that livestock grazing does most of the ecological and environmental damage to the public lands.  Ironically, grazing of our shared resource produces a tiny amount of food, less than 3% of all beef sold in this country. In other words, marginal food production has historically beaten our public land to dust with cloven hooves.

Congress acted on behalf of the American people in 1971, with the passage of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, to protect the horses on the public domain as “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West.”   Some land was set aside for the horses, land that was to be managed “principally, but not exclusively” for their use.

But you folks at the BLM don’t seem to care about the law and the mandate of Congress.  Apparently you only care about doing what you’re told by cattlemen, who appear to be your real overseers.

The BLM regularly incorporates into its management process so-called “science” to benefit exploitive private interests on public land.  At the same time it ignores the National Academy of Sciences, one of the most authoritative scientific bodies in the world, whose 2013 report on the wild horse program states that the program is grounded in science so flawed to be almost meaningless.

It’s clear similarly that the paperwork justifying the current round-up of horses in northern Nevada, which began on November 1 and is expected to last several weeks, has no basis in science or reason.

The result is needless bloodshed.  The ongoing round-up in Nevada, at the Owyhee Complex not far from the Idaho border, has trapped 405 wild horses so far with a total of 1600 expected.  Less than a week into it there have been at least four deaths of horses.

I have been the sole public observer in recent days.  In good weather the roads in this part of the Nevada high desert are treacherous.  In bad weather, the kind we’ve had during the past week, constant traffic on the roads creates ruts, pits, and exposed sharp rock.  Everywhere there is mud.

I asked the BLM about the safety of transporting horses in trailers over these rutted roads and was assured that the expertise of the round-up contractor, the privately-owned Cattoor Livestock, was enough to provide safe passage.  I warned the BLM that I had seen horse trailers get stuck before.  Coordinating with the Cattoor contractors, BLM went forward with the plan nonetheless.

As expected, a trailer laden with horses broke in the deep rocky mud. The wild horses inside the trailer were severely injured. One of the mares had blood gushing from both eyes.  Her skull was smashed and face swollen. She was limping.  There were another three horses with severe facial injury.

The contractor is now making the claim that the horses were not injured in the accident but during handling in the corrals. If that is the case, then the negligence is worse than I thought.   Who runs the show? BLM? They are supposed to have padded equipment and move slowly in their handling of the animals, according to their own “welfare policy.” Was BLM sleep deprived?

Moving forward at this operation it now appears the BLM is going to reduce the days of public observation.  My group, Wild Horse Education (WHE), litigated and won in the 9th Circuit the right of citizens to observe the handling of wild horses during capture. The state of Nevada promised, as a result of my lawsuits, to make observation a priority.

Do I really need to litigate again? Is this what “collaboration” means for a wild horse advocate?

WHE, the only organization to have ever litigated and won in federal court on the issue of the inappropriate and inhumane treatment of wild horses, has begun a formal process to address what’s happening at Owyhee.

My days observing the round-up begin at 3 am in freezing weather and end at dusk.   Then I process the information and images for sharing with the public on my website.  I don’t sleep much.

But when I report to the public what I discover and document, I’m told by the BLM that I’m making trouble, causing dissension and disorder.  All because I’m simply observing the persecution of animals that Americans have come to love — animals which the US Congress deemed worthy of protection from the actions of a tiny minority, the cattlemen of Nevada.

Laura Leigh is the director of Wild Horse Education [http://WildHorseEducation.org] and has been observing and litigating against the cruel and inhumane round-up and the sale to slaughter of wild horses since 2009.

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