September 2011 Highlights


Today in DC the new head of the Wild Horse and Burro Program, Joan Guilfoyle, will speak at the International Conference for Equine Welfare.

She has committed to speak for ten minutes to introduce herself. She will answer no questions from the public, nor participate in any dialogue. She has agreed to speak to address her willingness to “dialogue” with the public.

Sounds like the same old contradictions.

As Guilfoyle prepares to speak the last horses of the roundup  were removed from Barren Valley in Oregon. Only two runs of the pilot were documented. Almost a week allowed no documentation at all.

This video is of the last two groups taken.

Please help support this effort if you can on our donate page~ thank you.


Yesterday a second supplement was filed in the ongoing case against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that alleges inhumane treatment of wild horses during roundup activities.

The case was successful in gaining a temporary restraining order (TRO) late last month as Honorable Judge Howard Mckibben ruled that helicopter pilot conduct was inappropriate. Judge McKibben also cited his “displeasure” of the Defendant’s justification process.

“We have filed a supplement to update the Court that the same type of conduct appears to be continuing,” states Gordon Cowan, the attorney on the case, “in light of the ruling it seems incredible that no specific corrective action has taken place, no protocol or parameters made public.”

On the day of the new filing, that cites BLM’s lack of response to the decision, the agency made a statement via their press release pages on their website. They claim to be forming a committee to investigate the Triple B roundup that spurred the Judge’s decision. The majority of the press release however is a statement of justification for roundups.

At the Antelope roundup, the operation that occurred in this district just prior to Triple B, the BLM conducted another “investigation” into pilot conduct after video of the roundup hit the news media and complaints were made to the local Sheriff.

Laura Leigh, Plaintiff in the case, founder of Wild Horse Education  was onsite during the investigation and was questioned.

“During the actual investigation (Antelope) I witnessed horrific flying by the same pilot where he repeatedly came in close proximity to horses at high speed,” Leigh said “The BLM investigation found nothing wrong, even though they witnessed what I did. I am not surprised by the BLM response: self-controlled investigation, no immediate corrective action and a justification process, I have no faith in it.”


Ms. Leigh is in the field at Barren Valley. She has reported that the roundup may end tomorrow. Ms. Leigh returned to Barren as she was informed public observation would begin again after it had been closed for almost a week.

Please donate (link on this page) to help Leigh return to Nevada to continue the two cases she is working on: The Inhumane Treatment action and the First Amendment case.

She is literally out of funds.


photo included in Leigh’s update to the Court on Barren Valley taken (by Leigh) 9/14

Photo taken at Barren Valley 9/14 (Leigh)

Next photo in 9/14 sequence (Leigh)


~~~~ Awaiting response from Plaintiff, Laura Leigh

BLM Establishes Team to Review Recently Completed Triple B Gather in Nevada

Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey announced today that he is calling for a review of the adequacy of existing operating procedures that relate to instances of alleged animal abuse during the recently completed Triple B wild horse gather carried out in Nevada in a complex northwest of Ely and southeast of Elko. More than 1,200 wild horses were gathered and removed during the gather, toward the end of which U.S. District Judge Howard D. McKibben granted a Temporary Restraining Order to plaintiffs opposed to the gather because of his concern that a helicopter was flying too close to a horse being rounded up.

The review, to be conducted by a team of BLM employees who will be able to consult with specific non-BLM experts, will look at several incidents, some of which have been videotaped by the public. “The team will carefully review the incidents to determine what happened and to assess the gather operations,” said Abbey. “The review and findings will inform the Bureau’s development of a comprehensive animal welfare plan for the Wild Horse and Burro Program.”

Abbey added, “This fact-finding review is aimed at advancing the BLM’s ongoing efforts to strengthen humane animal care and handling practices.  Any resulting changes in Bureau-wide standard operating procedures will apply to gather contractors, BLM employees, and volunteers.” The findings of the review, which complements the BLM’s effort to make the Wild Horse and Burro Program as transparent as possible, will be posted on the Internet (at

The BLM estimates that approximately 38,500 wild horses and burros (about 33,000 horses and 5,500 burros) are roaming on BLM-managed rangelands in 10 Western states based on the latest data available, compiled as of February 28, 2011. Wild horses and burros have virtually no natural predators and their herd sizes can double about every four years – even with increased efforts to administer fertility control to wild horse mares. As a result, the agency must remove thousands of animals from the range each year to protect rangeland resources, such as wildlife habitat, from the impacts of overpopulation. The 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act mandates that once the Interior Secretary “determines…that an overpopulation exists on a given area of the public lands…he shall immediately remove excess animals from the range so as to achieve appropriate management levels.” In Fiscal Year 2010, the BLM removed 10,255 wild horses and burros (9,715 horses and 540 burros) from public rangelands as part of its overall mission to ensure the health of Western public lands for the use and enjoyment of current and future generations.

The estimated current free-roaming population exceeds by nearly 12,000 the number that the BLM has determined can exist in balance with other public rangeland resources and uses. Off the range, there are more than 40,000 other wild horses and burros that are fed and cared for at short-term corrals and Midwestern long-term pastures. In the most recently completed fiscal year (2010), holding costs accounted for $36.9 million (or 57 percen t) of the total enacted Wild Horse and Burro Program budget of $63.9 million. The Government Accountability Office, in an October 2008 report, found the program’s mounting holding costs to be unsustainable.

In response, the BLM is finalizing a new wild horse and burro management strategy as part of its ongoing effort to reform the Wild Horse and Burro Program and put it on a cost-effective, sustainable track.


This update will begin with a repost of 9/11 from RT Fitch’s blog for 9/11. 9/12 to follow:

9/11 Rushed handling and overcrowding of alley at temporary holding. This horse was pinned (for over 3.5 minutes) and then struggled as they moved horses forward, he was pinned a second time.

Laura Leigh was on-site the first day of the contested Barren Valley, Oregon wild horse roundup on 9/11/2011.  Ms. Leigh is a plaintiff in several suits filed against the BLM and the most recent case riled Federal Judge H. McKibben enough for him to admonish the BLM for “inhumane” treatment of the horses and issued a rare emergency order which clearly warns the BLM and their contract helicopter stampede pilot to conduct their controversial wild horse roundups in a humane and controlled fashion.  According to Leigh’s report it appears that both the BLM and their contractor may be paying attention.

“There were some improvements in areas I was explicit about in the documentation of the Court case.” reported Leigh, “But this is just one day with no way to hold that expectation that this will carry through to other roundups or if the public is not present.”

When asked how the actual operation was conducted Leigh said,

“I could not see the actual trap mouth (around hill… in a draw). But the small pieces I could see were not so “frantic.” But this was day one. When I can really see it … I’ll comment.”

Leigh went on to comment on improvements over what she observed at the Triple B stampede with the same contractor, Sun J.

“They did do dust control and by golly there was water. The horses water tubs were being monitored.”  Leigh continued, “Yet they did try to overload the trailers and rushed too many through at a time at holding. There were heads caught and horses crushed … one time a horse’s head was stuck and it was pinned. Whatever is accomplished in dialogue on the ground has no meaning without a written protocol that follows through program wide. There needs to be a commitment to follow the principles of humane care, with accountability, as outlined in the Act.”

The horse to the left is pinned with neck caught in over crowded alley at temporary.

Ms. Leigh indicated that she will issue an in-depth report on September 12th after documenting day two.

9/12: Leigh

I still cannot observe much of pilot conduct. But today I saw indications that there may be the same issues. I could here the back and forth of the chopper behind the hill indicating that the horses were not making clear forward motion. I could see that horses were trying to break up a hill as the chopper blades and the occasional top of a horses head would appear.

I saw a band receive conflicting signals and be driven back and forth and one run through the jute.

Horse bolts through jute after confusing signals.

I cannot tell you what occurs at the trap mouth nor can I tell you what a drive looks like.

BLM COR and observers are about 35 feet up the hill from me. They have a much greater view and their view is not obstructed by the same rock outcropping I am. I am not allowed to move up to their vantage.

BLM observers given higher, unobstructed vantage

I observed the same crowding during processing at temporary holding as yesterday.

crowded during processing

Full video report and more details as time permits. Days are beginning at 5 am pst and not returning until after 7 pm pst.


I come from a long line of people that felt service to country was an honor.

My Grandad served in both World Wars. In the second WW his eldest sons went with him. Uncles served in Korea. My dad was too young and became a police officer and volunteer fireman. Many family members still live in the New York area. We had a family member missing that day as his office was in the Trade Center… he was ok but it was a very frightening time.

I am reposting an article I wrote that was published in a few venues (including my blog) over the winter… it just strikes me as appropriate for this weekend.

What Does America Stand For?

Our founding fathers made an incredibly brave stand and wrote the Declaration of Independence. They knew by making a stand for what they believed in that they would not win an across the board popularity contest.

Next came the great Constitution of the United States.

The premises within that document began to build the consciousness of a nation. When I walk through the law libraries and touch the pages (yes, I feel books give a sense that the electronic age desensitizes) you literally feel the development of the identity of this nation.

Case law that demonstrates the evolution of the premises within the Constitution can literally remind you of the pride that is “America.” Sometimes it appears this occurs in spite of ourselves. Civil and human rights cases exist that when you read the cases themselves there is shame that what seems like a “no brainer” in current times was actually an issue that had to be decided within the judicial system. The pages are filled with “bad children” being given rules filtered through the guidelines our “founding fathers” left for us.

Within the Bill of Rights a concept was so important to our “fathers” that it was listed first. (The right to bear arms was second).

“The founding fathers gave the press the mission to inform the people and promote the free flow of facts and ideas, however untimely or challenging or disagreeable those facts and ideas may be.” — Katharine Graham, publisher, The Washington Post, 1973

The concept of a free press is to allow the public an opportunity to investigate and report on the activities of it’s government without fear of reprisal and censorship. The intention is that the true power of decision making in a Democratic society comes from an educated public conveying ideas to a representative that then advocates those positions in debate within a Senate and House toward shaping our nation.

Within the dialogue of “Wild Horse and Burro Program” implemented by the BLM we have a serious breakdown of this process. Plain and simple the public, Congress and often BLM employees themselves are seriously uninformed.

There is currently a lawsuit that has been patiently waiting to actually be heard within the judicial system.That case has been joined in an Amicus brief by the Reporters Committee for a Free Press and the National Press Photographers Association. (This case is also one I am Plaintiff).

Congress asks for information and the BLM will chose an “independent” organization (read “pro-slaughter”) to do an investigation or an investigation occurs in house. The reports are continually bias or outright filled with omissions and inaccuracies. Would we allow the tobacco industry to self-police? Would we make an appointment before showing up to do a search of a crime scene with a suspected perpetrator?

It appears yet again that an “independent” review is being prepared for the BLM by those chosen by the BLM. Those doing the review were supposedly on site Wednesday and Thursday of last week. I was not given the same access to the trap that they were. Activity at holding was very different when the government observers showed up with BLM public relations.

Last week Representative Burton made these statements to the House as a proposal to cut the BLM’s budget in a “slap on the wrist” gesture was made: “It seems to me that we ought to be frugal with the public’s money. We ought to cut the Bureau of Land Management’s budget so that we can save the money and save the mustangs.”

The wild horse advocate community has expressed sincere gratitude toward Burton. He has demonstrated bravery displayed by our founding fathers in bringing this dialogue into a forum that has the power to effect the change needed.

But in all honesty how can any dialogue be effective if that dialogue addresses symptoms of a long standing problem without taking the time to look for the root cause? Any symptomatic reaction has the potential to create a reality that has consequence worse than the current situation. A full investigation of the program and the consequence of placing the implementation of the 1971 Legislation into the hands of an agency with an apparent conflict of interest and often literally “inbred” with those that perpetrated the actions that spurred the need to pass the 71 Act in the first place is sorely absent. Why would any “change” be expected to be implemented any differently? It’s like changing the product you put in a meat grinder… it still comes out in the same fashion.

Until a dialogue actually begins to exist that addresses the root causes, arbitrary boundaries and policy that caters to special interests, the change needed to protect the “living symbol of the pioneer spirit of the west” will not happen.

If the information about the hands on care being done “humanely,” the most basic premise of the 71 Act, remains in the realm of “content control” … how can dialogue in any real fashion exist?

The first step in achieving that dialogue are independent observations that can only occur when the rights of the public to investigate and formulate opinion is protected. The closed door facilities must be open. Records must be made available in a timely manner for review without the need to file Freedom of Information Act requests. The ability to independently observe the hands on actions of contractors and government employees must occur on an extended basis and not in “periodic windows” at the discretion of those under scrutiny.

“I have taken an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States more times than I can count,” said attorney Gordon Cowan, “that’s what this case is all about.”

What is happening behind closded doors?
No Kidding.
2/.26 Antelope Complex
“Hope” died of hoof slough, Calico Complex 2010
Triple B, Do we stand for this?


(Working VERY hard. …. I promise. note from Laura)

An amended complaint was filed yesterday, September 8th 2011, in Federal District Court Reno, Nevada. The action was filed by attorney Gordon Cowan on behalf of Plaintiff Laura Leigh, Founder of Wild Horse Education (WHE) against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Department of Interior (DOI) asserting allegations of inhumane treatment of wild horses at roundups.

The amended Complaint comes after a Temporary Restraining Order was issued to inhumane helicopter pilot conduct at the Triple B roundup in Eastern Nevada. That decision was rendered more than a week ago by Federal Judge H. McKibben. The BLM has yet to directly address the ruling. Instead the BLM simply released a report completed by the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) which claims that conduct is acceptable, but cautions helicopters to keep their distance, on the same day the Court ruled.

“This is the exact conduct that the Court found distressing,” said Leigh “Instead of saying ‘there is something wrong and this is how we have fixed it’ they continue to deny that there are any issues by simply ignoring the obvious consequences of their operations.”

On September 10th, tomorrow, the same agency, the same contractor and perhaps the same pilot will begin another roundup at Barren Valley in Oregon.

Viewing opportunities at the Barren Valley Roundup will be limited to ten observers that must obtain BLM approval to be added to the attendance roster. It has been reported that the agency has not returned calls made by concerned individuals attempting to be included on the listing.

In addition the BLM is a defendant in a First Amendment suit also brought by Leigh that is now in the Ninth Circuit. The suit alleges that discriminatory access, and limited access, to avoid public review of their actions is commonplace within the management of Wild Horses on public lands.

 Wild Horse Education is a Nevada non-profit that supports the collection of documentation toward education of wild herds. Please donate to keep Laura Leigh in the field.

Will it just be hidden next time?