America's wild horses and burros have continued to be an issue of intense interest to the American public. The year 2013 was no exception. Issues of range management, slaughter, abuse during roundups and in facilities continued to surface.
The year began with legal actions filed against the BLM roundup at the Owyhee Complex. The suit alleges that wild horses are being illegally removed from the range. In addition the suit illustrated horses run into barbed wire, babies run to exhaustion and intensive use of an electric cattle prod. On January 10th the court issued strong language against the abuse. Several motions were filed in this case over the course of the year and the suit is expected to go to hearing.
Early in 2013 the Department of Interior (DOI), that umbrellas several agencies including the BLM, saw former Secretary Ken Salazar step down. In 2012 an investigation by Dave Philipps (for ProPublica) uncovered 1700 wild horses sold by the BLM to a single kill buyer that has apparent ties to Salazar. During a press conference Salazar actually threatened journalist Philipps with a "punch in the face" for publicly asking him about the sales of wild horses.
Salazar's replacement Sally Jewell, former REI executive, immediately began to shuffle questions on the program over to the expected National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report. The study had been commissioned nearly two years prior at an estimated cost of 1.5 million dollars. The report was issued in June and gave the program a failing grade pointing to a "lack of data" that supports and decision making. Since the report was issued no reforms in failing policy have surfaced.
The BLM's contentious relationship with the press continued as legal actions carried by the advocacy group Wild Horse Education against press restrictions battled in and out of the courtroom all year. The litigation was joined through Amicus briefs by fifteen news organizations including: The Reporters Committee for a Free Press, NPR, Seattle Times and others. In December the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals placed this case into mandatory mediation for 60 days with a report to be filed with the court if no agreements can be reached in this case that has spanned over three years in the legal system.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) wild horse and burro program was under scrutiny as the government shutdown momentarily halted roundups. Networks such as NBC, the Travel Channel and NPR ran major stories on wild horses. Actions by the BLM received hundreds of thousands of comments from a dissatisfied public.
As 2013 drew to a close serious public land management issues are rising that may very well make a bleak picture even more fragile. Sage Grouse management plans are being formulated that could likely impact wild horses and burros in an extremely negative fashion as private livestock interests push to protect government subsidized public land grazing. The Grazing Improvement Act (if passed) will allow livestock producers to skirt environmental review for decades. And the Nevada Association of Counties (NACO) organizes legal action supported by the Cattleman's Association against wild horses.
Horse slaughter is standing on the edge of coming back to American soil. Regardless of the simple fact that horse meat is not a safe food source slaughter plants are pushing to process American horses. Many advocates for wild horses have feared for years that a failure to change policy and the continual stockpiling of American horses in government facilities (more than twice the number of wild horses sit in facilities than exist wild on the range) is a sign that wild horses are in direct line for slaughter. Many appointed members of the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board are openly in support of horse slaughter.
2014 promises to be an important year for the survival of wild horses and burros on America's public land. The Chinese call 2014 the "year of the horse." It may very well be that the fate of America's symbol of Freedom will be decided this year. Will we reform this program and begin to protect wild horses and burros and the asset they are to our American soul? Or will we turn our back and choose to put money into the pockets of a select few and in a betrayal to the contribution these horses and burros made to not only the building of our country, but our own identity as "strong, intelligent, untamable" Americans?
The group WildHorseEducation.org created a "Year in Review 2013." They wrote a timeline and crated a "year in review video" of their work to protect wild horses and burros.
The year began with the Owyhee Complex roundup. On January 10th 2013 we filed litigation that gained a Temporary Restraining Order. Stern language from the court was issued to conduct issues that included running horses into barbed wire, extensive hotshot use and running babies to exhaustion. The Owyhee case remains active awaiting Discovery and further hearings against inhume conduct and unjustified removals. In the wake of litigation BLM issued a humane care “Memorandum.” Until there is an enforceable policy, and outrageous actions continue on the range and in holding, our legal actions that address inhumane conduct will continue.