Friday, December 9, 2011

BLM Responds to Wild Horse Litigation

Straight from the Horse's Heart

Story by Pat Raia as posted in The Horse

Issued Report Sends Mixed Signals

Laura Leigh, champion for the wild horses at Antelope stampede earlier this year ~ photo by R.T. Fitch
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) personnel and contractors involved in wild horse gathers should receive clear instructions on what constitutes humane horse handling, according to a panel appointed to review procedures during a controversial mustang round-up which took place in Nevada earlier this year.
Beginning in July, the BLM gathered more than 1,200 animals collectively from the Triple B, Maverick-Medicine, and Antelope Valley Herd Management Areas (HMAs) and the Cherry Springs Wild Horse Territory, all located in Nevada. The gather became controversial in August when wild horse advocate Laura Leigh, vice president of the Wild Horse Freedom Federation, filed a complaint and a companion Temporary Restraining Order asking the U.S. District Court Nevada District to shop the round-up on grounds that animals in holding facilities lack water, are inappropriately fed, and that helicopter pilots fly dangerously close to exhausted animals.
In September BLM Director Bob Abbey announced that a review team composed of agency personnel would review existing agency procedures used at the Triple B gather. On Dec. 7 the BLM released the panel’s findings.
After reviewing U.S. District Court materials and conducting interviews with external equine welfare advocates, BLM personnel, and the helicopter contractor used in the gather, review team members reported no consensus among animal welfare experts that animals were treated inhumanely during a single incident during the gather. However, the panel did cite specific incidents of “inappropriate, aggressive practices” during the gather including cases when helicopter operators few too closely to a single horse or pursued small groups of horses or a single horse too long.
As a result of its review, the panel issued 11 recommendations to improve BLM horse handling during gathers including:
  • The review and update of gather standard operating procedures, contractor provisions, procedures and guidelines to ensure that agency personnel and contractors clearly understand management expectations of appropriate gather conduct; and
  • Providing continuous appropriate horse-handing training for all gather participants, and the development of a training program for agency personnel and contractors on ways to handle wild horses at trap sites and holding pens in order to eliminate stress on the animals.
Joan Guilfoyle, BLM Wild Horse and Burro Division chief, said the agency is taking steps to reassess the agencies wild horse handling practices based on the review panel report: “I am instituting a proactive process for conducting internal reviews of many aspects of our program to ensure that we are moving toward the ‘new normal’ of wild horse and burro management. The Triple B review and associated recommendations are already being used to improve on-the-ground practices for gathering and handling wild horses.”
Meanwhile, Leigh was encouraged by the report: “We’ve been trying to have these discussions for two years now, and we may be making progress on getting (wild horse) care standards. However it is of interest that no document filed by the BLM in the course of litigation admits any wrong doing occurred.”
The Triple B review panel’s full report and Guifoyle’s response can be viewed online.

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