Friday, December 9, 2011

Bureau promises changes after muster handling issues


December 9, 2011

Incidents of aggressive handling of wild horses have been acknowledged in a Bureau of Land Management report into Triple B muster in Nevada. 

However, the bureau report found that helicopter contractor Sun J Livestock generally demonstrated appropriate, humane handling of wild horses over the course of the six-week gather that ended on August 31. The review team cited specific incidents of inappropriate, aggressive practices, including cases when the helicopter operated too closely to single horses and pursued small groups of horses or single horses too long.
No single incident, however, generated a consensus among animal welfare experts that horses were treated inhumanely, the bureau said.
The inquiry arose after wild horse advocates monitoring the muster and captured images and video of some of the wild horse gather operations.
Included in the video footage were alleged instances of inhumane or improper treatment of wild horses, which led to the issuance of a temporary restraining order by US District Court Judge Howard McKibben that prohibited helicopters from bumping or coming into excessively close proximity to wild horses during gather operations.
The seven-page report made 11 recommendations, including the need for the bureau to ensure clarity of management expectations of what is appropriate and what is not in gather-related operations. The agency said it would take "corrective actions" in response to all recommendations.
Bureau director Bob Abbey called for the review on September 23, following the competition of the Triple B gather, in which more than 1200 wild horses were removed from the complex northwest of Ely and southeast of Elko.
"Aggressive and rough handling of wild horses is not acceptable and we are actively taking steps to ensure that such behavior is not repeated," Abbey said.
"Guidance documents will be issued to ensure that all gather personnel are aware of appropriate handling techniques and related procedures."
The BLM team was composed of the bureau's Eagle Lake field manager Ken Collum; its Utah lead wild horse and burro specialist Gus Warr; the bureau's Colorado communications director Steven Hall; and an Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service veterinarian, Dr Owen Henderson.
The team interviewed bureau staff, external animal welfare experts, and Sun J Livestock employees.
The team also reviewed declarations filed in US District Court by public observers who documented alleged abuse at the gather. Members examined 11 videos taken by public observers of the gather and reviewed the more extensive collection of BLM videos, photos, and reports.
Joan Guilfoyle, head of the bureau's Wild Horse and Burro Division, said: "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 bureau said it would be establishing a helicopter gather contracts review team to determine what operational improvements are needed, whether by modification of existing contracts or by issuing new contract guidelines over what is appropriate and what is inappropriate.
It would review existing training courses.
It said it would issue guidelines to ensure that helicopters do not make contact with wild horses and burros and to clarify decision-making regarding the movement of small groups of horses or single horses to the trap.
The lawsuit that resulted in the temporary restraining order was taken by Laura Leigh, of Wild Horse Education and who is also vice-president of the Wild Horse Freedom Federation.
The legal action, filed by attorney Gordon Cowan, of Reno, raised multiple areas of humane concern. Documentation related to what the plaintiffs said were lack of food and water, lack of dust control, hotshot use, inappropriate handling during loading and sorting, as well as the helicopter pilot allegedly bumping a wild horse with the skids of his aircraft.
"I find the report encouraging," Leigh said. "However, it is of interest that no document filed by the BLM in the course of litigation admits any wrongdoing occurred.
"The recommendations in the document are not in effect on the ground. At the Calico roundup I have witnessed several incidences of concern. There is no excuse for not having a standard in place before the helicopters fly tomorrow morning."
The review team and outside animal welfare experts noted specific instances of inappropriate, aggressive handling and operational procedures in some of the videos reviewed, including the following incidents:
  • A helicopter operating too close to single horses.
  • A helicopter pursuing small groups or single horses too long.
  • Excessive and inappropriate use of electric prod, based on the opinions of the animal welfare experts' review of the videos.
  • Excessive use of wild rags as whips, especially around the head
  • Kicking, slamming of gates, pinning in gates, twisting of tails during horse loading processes.
Leigh's suit is currently awaiting a ruling on injunctive relief that asks that roundups be postponed until a policy is in place that outlines handling and a system of consequence for violations. A ruling is expected soon from Judge McKibben.
Author R.T. Fitch, president of the Wild Horse Freedom Federation, said: "The idea of sane and sensible management starts with honest conversation.
"These were areas where productive dialogue was a real possibility yet it was ignored by the BLM until litigation became a necessity.
"A federal agency that insists on operating in such a manner is not one that gains public trust."

No comments:

Post a Comment