(Reno, NV) Today the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued a statement “Memorandum” in the wake of litigation brought by Wild Horse Education’s founder, Laura Leigh, to inhumane treatment of wild horses and burros. Leigh’s litigation has won numerous restraining orders and an Injunction to conduct against the agency. The most recent action shut down a roundup and gained the BLM a reprimand from another Federal Judge.
“It is obvious that BLM finally recognizes the importance of this issue yet I don’t see much specific language in this document,” stated Leigh “I see the same ‘defer to the COR’ to determine what is, and is not, humane that we currently have in practice. I am happy to see the issue being addressed but do not hold much hope that I will witness much change in certain districts.”
In August of 2011 Leigh caught a BLM contracted helicopter pilot hitting a horse with it’s skids. That documentation gained an Order from a Federal Judge to conduct and spurred an internal investigation within the BLM. The investigation revealed that conduct that included hot shot use on foals, kicking animals in the head, slamming gates, dragging animals by the next with a rope, among other actions were occurring.
The state issued an “IM,” a document with the same enforceability as the current issue, in 2011 that outlined expectations for conduct during operations.
Since that time Leigh gained two more Federal court Orders to conduct. The most recent involving actions at the Owyhee Complex that included running horses through barbed wire, repeated hot shot use and bands run so fast and far that youngsters could not keep up. That action is currently pending an Injunction hearing in Federal court.
“This is the first time in the history of the Act where we perhaps see the agency begin to recognize that they have something of worth to manage,” Leigh said “We have begun the process of creating a humane care standard but we still have to create the defined standard and enforce it. I don’t want to continue to hear the same justification process while I witness heart breaking actions anymore.”
Wild Horse Education has two cases pending hearing to inhumane conduct and one that addresses access in a “Press Freedoms” case set for hearing February 19, 2013.
These cases, investigations and supporting documentation, are supported solely by Wild Horse Education, a registered Nevada non-profit. http://wildhorseeducation.org/
Links of interest:
Video of Owyhee wild horse roundup: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FK6WM1-xmv4
History of the legal battle for humane care: http://wildhorseeducation.org/the-humane-care-suit/short-history-of-the-humane-care-suit/
COR had authority to determine actions and the state Memorandum was in place during operations at the time of the below embedded video.
Text of Memorandum:
- The Lead COR will ensure that the gather helicopter(s) will not be operated in a manner where, for any reason, the helicopter could reasonably be expected to come into contact with a WH&B. In cases when it is necessary during gather operations, hovering by the helicopter over the WH&B is acceptable.
- Handling aids (including body position, voice, flags, paddles and electric prods) will be used in a manner that is consistent with domestic livestock handling procedures. Flags and paddles will be used as signaling and noise making devices first, with only light contact of the flag or paddle end allowed when necessary. Animals will not be whipped or beaten with these or any handling aids. Flagging and paddles will be used strategically and in a manner that avoids desensitizing the WH&B. While it may be necessary on occasion to use a hand or foot to safely move a WH&B, the Lead COR will ensure that kicking or hitting of WH&B does not occur.
- Electric prods (hotshots) will not be routinely used on WH&B, but rather should only be used as a last resort when WH&B or human safety is in jeopardy or other aids have been tried and are not working. When used, electric prods will only be used to shock animals, not to tap or hit animals. Similarly, electric prods will not be applied to injured or young animals, nor will they be applied to sensitive areas such as the face, genitals, or anus.
- Gates can be used to push WH&B but will not be used in a manner that may be expected to catch legs. Gates and doors will not be slammed or shut on WH&B.
- Only the Lead COR will identify and request the Contractor to pursue and capture a single WH&B. Pursuing a single WH&B should be a rare event and not standard practice. If the animal is identified as a stud, further pursuit should be abandoned unless for management purposes (such as public safety, nuisance animals, or animals outside HMA boundaries or on private lands) it is necessary to capture the animal.
- The Lead COR will ensure every effort is made to prevent foals from being left behind or orphaned in the field. If a foal has to be dropped from a group being brought to the trap because it is getting too tired or cannot keep up, the pilot will relay to the Lead COR and ground crew the location of the foal and a description of the mare to facilitate “pairing-up” at temporary holding. In this case, the Contractor will provide trucks/trailers and saddle horses for the retrieval of the foal and transport the foal to the gather site or temporary holding. If the helicopter is needed to locate and capture the foal, retrieval of the foal should occur prior to another band being located and driven to the trap. The method of capture will be directed by the Lead COR.
- The Lead COR will ensure that if during the gather any WH&B (including foals or horses that may be aged, lame, injured or otherwise appear weak or debilitated) appear to be having difficulty keeping up with the group being brought in, the Contractor will accommodate the animals having difficulty to allow for rest before proceeding, drop those animals from the group, or drop the entire group. It is expected that animals may be tired, sweaty and breathing heavily on arrival at a trap, but they should not be herded in a manner that results in exhaustion or collapse.
- The need to rope specific WH&B will be determined by the Lead COR on a case-by-case basis.
- While gathering, a WH&B may escape or evade the gather site while being moved by the helicopter. If there are foals in the band and an animal that has evaded capture has been identified as a mare that might have one of these foals, the Contractor may make multiple attempts to move the mare by the helicopter to the gather site for capture prior to roping or other alternative for capture. In these instances, animal condition and fatigue will be evaluated by the Lead COR on a case-by-case basis to determine the number of attempts that can be made to capture the animal. Animals will not be pursued to a point of exhaustion or distress.
- Mares and their dependent foals will be separated from other animals at the temporary holding facility and moved to a designated BLM preparation facility. The Lead COR will ensure that any foals that are not weaned and have been maintained with their mares at temporary holding will be transported with their mares to the BLM preparation facilities as soon as practical.
- The Lead COR will ensure that all sorting, loading or unloading of WH&B will be performed during daylight hours.
- All handling pens, including the gates leading to the alleyways, should be covered with a material which serves as a visual barrier (plywood, burlap, plastic snow fence, etc.) and should be covered a minimum of 1 foot to 5 feet above ground level for burros and 2 feet to 6 feet for horses. Perimeter panels on the holding corrals should be covered to a minimum height of 5 feet for burros and 6 feet for horses. Those panels attached to and leading directly into the trailers from the trap will be covered with a material which serves as a visual barrier. Padding should be installed on the overhead bars of all narrow gates used in single file alleys leading or leaving the squeeze chute set up. Screening will be placed on all division gates in the sorting area and solid fencing placed on panels from the working chute to the semi-trailers in an effort to decrease outside stimuli.
- When dust conditions within or adjacent to the trap or holding facility so warrant, the Contractor shall be required to wet down the ground with water.
- When possible (e.g., soil conditions allow) and as needed (e.g., the WH&B are unwilling to step up), the Lead COR should request that the Contractor will have the trailer floor at ground level to ease the loading of WH&B at the gather site.
- If the pilot is moving WH&B and observes an animal that is clearly injured or suffering, the animal should be left on the range and its location noted. The BLM Lead COR with veterinary assistance from an Animal Plant Health Inspection Service or locally licensed veterinarian will then go to the identified location as promptly as possible so that any animal that cannot make it to the trap will be inspected to determine the problem. The Lead COR will then decide on the most appropriate course of action.
- Injuries that required veterinary examination or treatment, deaths and spontaneous abortions that occur will be noted in gather reports and statistics kept by the Lead COR.
- At the discretion of the Lead COR, if a WH&B is injured or in distress during gather operations and the animal is within the wings or first corral of the trap, gather operations may be temporarily suspended if necessary to provide care for the animal and subsequent removal. Such actions should take place prior to the trapping of additional animals whenever possible.
- The Contractor shall provide animals held in facilities with a continuous supply of fresh clean water at a minimum rate of 10 gallons per animal per day. Pens containing more than 50 animals will have water provided in at least two separate locations of the pen (i.e. opposite ends of the pen). Animals held for 10 hours or more in the traps or holding facilities shall be provided good quality hay at the rate of not less than two pounds of hay per 100 pounds of estimated body weight per day. If the task order notes that weed free hay is to be used for this gather the Contractor will provide certified weed free hay in the amounts stated above. The Contractor will have to have documentation that the hay is certified weed free. An animal that is held at a temporary holding facility after 5:00 p.m. and on through the night, is defined as a WH&B feed day. An animal that is held for only a portion of a day and is shipped or released does not constitute a feed day.
- When extreme environmental conditions exist (such as temperature) during a gather, the overall health and well-being of the animals will be monitored and the Lead COR will adjust gather operations as necessary to protect the animals from climatic and gather related health issues. The Lead COR should be equipped to take air temperatures periodically throughout the day to help with the monitoring of environmental conditions at the gather site. There may be days when the Lead COR determines that gather operations must be suspended or ceased based on temperatures or other environmental conditions.
- The rate of movement and distance the animals travel shall not exceed limitations set by the Lead COR who will consider terrain, physical barriers, access limitations, weather, extreme temperature (high and low), condition of the animals, urgency of the operation (animals facing drought, starvation, fire rehabilitation, etc.) and other factors. In consultation with the Contractor, the distance the animals may travel will take into account the different factors listed above and other concerns relevant to individual HMAs. With foals, pregnant mares, or horses that are weakened by body condition, age or poor health, the appropriate herding distance and rate of movement will be determined on a case-by-case basis considering the weakest or smallest animal in the group and the range and environmental conditions present. The maximum gather distance will depend on the specific animal and environmental conditions on the day of the gather and direct dialogue with the pilot/ Contractor and Lead COR to provide important information as to numbers, number of foals, locations distance and/or overall animal and/ or environmental conditions. The trap locations will be moved closer to horse locations whenever possible to minimize the distance the animals need to travel.
- The Lead COR or IC should be available to provide a short briefing to any members of the public that may be present at the end of daily operations, including the preliminary tallies on the total number of animals captured by sex, number of foals, and any incident that required medical attention or euthanasia. This briefing should occur at temporary holding corral after all animals have been sorted, fed and watered and allowed to settle. The public should be clearly informed that such preliminary tallies may change after all the information is processed from the day’s gather and that the final results of the day’s gather will be posted to the appropriate BLM website.
- The Lead COR should ensure that holding alleys will not be overcrowded at temporary holding facilities. If there is a risk of overcrowding, gates should remain open to allow animals to move back out of the alley and be reloaded. If an animal falls in the alley no other animals should be moved through the alleyway until the animal stands on its own or the alleyway is clear.
- The Lead COR should ensure that animals will not be left in alleyways for any extended period of time (greater than 30 minutes). If personnel are not present at the temporary holding corrals to sort animals, the horses should be placed into a holding pen until such time as they can be sorted and placed into the appropriate pen.
- Bait/water trapping: All traps will be checked a minimum of once every 24 hours when the traps are “set” to capture without human presence (trip trigger traps, finger traps, etc.). All handling procedures outlined above in this document apply to bait trapping to the extent applicable.