Update Dec. 10, 2010: After the report below from Equine Welfare Alliance earlier this week, this from Horseback Magazine about large sums of money taken in by what appears to be a shell organization, American Horse Protection Association (AHPA), operated by Robin Lohnes, a BLM Wild Horses and Burros Advisory Board member. For more….
Original report: Chicago (EWA) – The Bureau of Land Management’s December 3rd Observer’s Report evaluating BLM’s handling of wild horse round-ups has left advocates and independent observers stunned. It is impossible, they say, to reconcile the positive, almost congratulatory findings with the mountain of negative evidence they have collected over the past year.
The disconnect appears to begin with BLM’s appointment of Robin Lohnes to its Wild Horse Advisory Board. Lohnes in turn appointed the "independent observers".
Lohnes is the executive director of the American Horse Protection Association (AHPA). The AHPA has no website and maintains only a small, unoccupied office on the lower level of a Georgetown hotel. If the organization has been involved in any activity (horse protection or otherwise) since the 1990’s they have managed to conceal it both from Google and from the hotel’s maid who told an EWA investigator that she had never observed anyone in the office.
The report’s observers witnessed a 3 – 4 day period from 3 round-ups conducted during the summer; the Owyhee Herd Management Area (HMA) in Nevada, the Stinking Waters HMA in Oregon, and the Twin Peaks HMA in California.
Typical of the findings were comments like, "contractor and BLM personnel appeared to be gentle and knowledgeable, horses did not exhibit undue stress or show signs of extreme sweating or duress due to the helicopter portion of the gather…"
It is difficult to reconcile this with independent observations at round-ups like that in the Calico complex. There, the helicopter, that the report claims was no louder than a riding mower, literally ran hooves off of foals. There were at least 39 simultaneous abortions in pregnant mares and a reported death toll of 160. Dozens of videos and hundreds of photographs were released that tell a totally different story than the observer’s report.
Virtually every round-up over the past year has had inexcusable incidents that would have no doubt gone unreported if independent observers were not present to capture the incidents on video and photographs. A recent round-up video documents a stallion that was literally lifted off the ground by a helicopter. In another case, BLM’s "gentle and knowledgeable veterinarian" was captured on video amusing himself by poking a stick at terrorized mustangs packed into a truck.
Suzanne Roy, Director of American Wild Horse Preservation commented "This biased report is an attempt to deflect increased scrutiny on and public opposition to the BLM’s inhumane wild horse roundups. The report’s authors do not have any wild horse handling experience and its conclusions are not credible and lack scientific validity."
One hand-picked observer is outspoken horse slaughter proponent, Dr. Carolyn Stull from the University of California, Davis. Dr. Stull aggressively opposed Proposition 6 in California, a law that banned the slaughter of horses. She testified that there would be increases in abuse and neglect if the proposition was passed. Not only did her warnings prove false, but horse thefts decreased 39% in the year after the law was enacted (1998), and continued to decline over the years that followed.
The Equine Welfare Alliance and Animal Law Coalition and wild horse advocates across the country are calling for an independent commission appointed by Congress to oversee the Wild Horse and Burro Program. Enough tax payer dollars have been wasted on Public Relation firms to change the perception of a rogue government agency that has no intention of changing.
For the BLM to regain any credibility, their claims of being transparent must be backed-up with actions. Allowing truly independent observers at all stages of round-ups and at holding facilities would be a good start.
EWA President John Holland summed up the organization’s position, saying "The BLM needs to understand that this is the age of Wikileaks, cell phone cameras and YouTube. Attempting to hide a smoldering pile of misdeeds with a fanciful report, instead of trying to fix problems, only makes the agency look more dishonest and inept.
The Equine Welfare Alliance is a dues free, umbrella organization with over 125 member organizations. The organization focuses its efforts on the welfare of all equines and the preservation of wild equids.