BLM Director Bob Abbey called for the review on September 23 prompted by allegations of animal abuse during the recently completed Triple B wild horse gather northwest of Ely and southeast of Elko, Nevada. The review team cited specific incidents of inappropriate and aggressive practices including cases when a helicopter operated too closely to single horses and pursued small groups of horses or single horses too long.
However, no single incident generated a consensus among animal welfare experts that horses were treated inhumanely. The team’s report made 11 recommendations, including the need for the BLM to ensure clarity of management expectations of what is appropriate and what is not in gather-related operations. The agency will take corrective actions in response to all recommendations.
The purpose of the gather was to bring wild horse herd populations into balance with the land’s forage capacity, consistent with the BLM’s mandate to manage the public lands for multiple resources and uses, including wildlife habitat, livestock grazing, and outdoor recreation. Toward the end of the gather, U.S. District Court Judge Howard D. McKibben granted a Temporary Restraining Order to plaintiffs opposed to the Triple B gather because of his concern that a helicopter was flying too closely to a horse being gathered.
“Aggressive and rough handling of wild horses is not acceptable and we are actively taking steps to ensure that such behavior is not repeated,” Director Abbey said. “Guidance documents will be issued to ensure that all gather personnel are aware of appropriate handling techniques and related procedures.”
The BLM review team was composed of Ken Collum, BLM Eagle Lake-California Field Manager; Gus Warr, BLM-Utah Lead Wild Horse and Burro Specialist; Steven Hall, BLM-Colorado Communications Director; and Dr. Owen Henderson, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service veterinarian.
The team interviewed BLM staff, external animal welfare experts, and Sun J Livestock employees and reviewed declarations filed in US District Court by public observers who documented alleged abuse at the gather. In addition, the BLM examined 11 videos taken by public observers of the BLM’s Triple B gather and reviewed the more extensive collection of BLM videos, photos, and reports.
Joan Guilfoyle, Chief of the BLM’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."
In response to the team’s recommendations, the BLM is taking corrective actions that include:
* Establishing a helicopter gather contracts review team to determine what operational improvements are needed, whether by modification of existing contracts or by issuing new “Requests for Proposal” (solicitations) for gather-related work, and to clarify management expectations as to what is appropriate and what is inappropriate.
* Reviewing existing training courses and recommending supplemental curricula to help implement an incident command structure and meet the expectations referred to above.
* Issuing guidelines to ensure that helicopters do not make contact with wild horses and burros and to clarify decisionmaking regarding the movement of small groups of horses or single horses to the trap.
For more information, go to BLM National Wild Horse and Burro Program