Sen. Landrieu: “Obama administration should be ashamed”

Earlier this fall, 2010, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) wrote, "The actions of the BLM are contrary to The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971’s original intent to manage the wild horses and burros in their natural state and to protect them from capture and harassment.

"I have repeatedly called for an end to these roundups until a more humane and cost-effective solution has been put in place. The Obama administration should be ashamed that this is happening under its watch." 

She is not alone. Members of Congress sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar earlier this year, calling for a moratorium on round ups. Also, read Animal Law Coalition’s letter to President Obama. Thousands of Americans have callled on President Obama and Secretary Salazar to stop the round ups until a management plan based on sound science can be put in place. The Cloud Foundation, In Defense of Animals, Equine Welfare Alliance and dozens more advocacy groups have lobbied Congress and held rallies to stop the roundups. 

The BLM has continued seemingly undeterred in its plan to roundup approximately 12,000 wild horses and burros this year alone. (The 2010 gather schedule is attached below for downloading). The BLM still plans to have more wild horses and burros in holding facilities by the end of 2010 than will be left on the range.

BLM’s census estimates are guesswork and wildly inaccurate counts in the past have caused some observers to wonder if the agency is exaggerating the numbers of wild horses to justify gathering even more, leaving fewer than BLM claims are there. Cindy MacDonald, editor of American Herds,, estimates last year alone, BLM rounded up and removed 11,000-14,000 more wild horses and burros than was necessary.  For more on the numbers….. 

BLM is directed to protect the wild horses and burros "in a manner that is designed to achieve and maintain a thriving natural ecological balance on the public lands" and "protect the natural ecological balance of all wildlife species which inhabit such lands, particularly endangered wildlife species. Any adjustments in forage allocations on any such lands shall take into consideration the needs of other wildlife species which inhabit such lands." 16 U.S.C. §1333(a). The Public Rangelands Improvement Act of 1978 amended the WFRHBA to require BLM to determine appropriate management levels (AML) and maintain an inventory of wild horses and burros to help achieve these goals.

The amendment also addressed "excess" horses defined to mean wild horses and burros to be removed from an area "to preserve and maintain a thriving natural ecological balance and multiple-use relationship in that area" or for some other legal reason. See 16 USC §1332(f).  The WFRHBA says that before removing wild horses and burros, a determination must be made that there is an overpopulation and removal is indicated "so as to restore a thriving natural ecological balance to the range, and protect the range from the deterioration associated with overpopulation". 16 U.S.C. §1333(b)(2)

MacDonald found BLM has really failed to include wild horses and burros as part of the "thriving natural ecological balance" and multiple use concept, and instead have largely turned over to livestock the public lands that were to be designated as areas for wild horses and burros. Read The Thriving Natural Ecological Balance, A Comparative Analysis of Free-Roaming Wild Horses & Burros In Relation to Habitat, Wildlife and Livestock Populations.

Geneticists including Gus Cothran, Ph.D., Clinical Professor, Department of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences, College of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University, have said that a minimum of 150-200 adult horses must be present to ensure genetic viability and a minimum effective population size.  

Indeed, a recent independent census of the Twin Peaks herd management area reveals there are far fewer wild horses left after the massive roundup than indicated by BLM.

BLM appears unable to keep track of the wild horses and burros trapped in its holding facilities, let alone those still on the range. 

Roundups now justified as "emergencies"?

BLM claimed in July, 2010, that the Tuscarora roundup was done on an emergency basis because wild horses were suffering from dehydration. BLM only called the roundup an emergency after a lawsuit was filed to challenge the roundup and after horses began dying and became ill as a result of dehydration during the roundup. BLM’s helicopter used to run down and round up the horses forced the animals to run for miles in scorching summer heat. Many mares had just given birth or were about to do so. At least 25 horses died.

Yet, with a straight face, so to speak, BLM claimed the dehydration and resulting illness and death suffered by the horses pre-dated the roundup! Curiously, none of BLM’s planning documents mentioned dehydration as a reason for the roundup.

Now, at least one observer, Carrol Abel, wild horse photographer and journalist, notes BLM claimed the Montezuma Peak and Paymaster roundups in September were necessary to "prevent emergency conditions" where wild horses and burros could suffer dehydration. Is this BLM’s new justification for large scale roundups? An emergency but one that won’t require action until September?  

MacDonald says BLM has already been justifying roundups as "emergencies".  She says the "emergencies" are fabricated. That was certainly apparent during the Tuscarora roundup

BLM has systematically eliminated range for wild horses

Abel also points out another BLM justification for the Montezuma Peak and Paymaster roundup carried out earlier this fall is that "horses and burros are moving off the HMAs in search of food and water." BLM says wild horses are "mov[ing] outside the Silver King HMA in search of forage".

What happened to the requirement under the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act, 16 U.S.C. Sec. 1331 et seq. ("WFRHBA"), that BLM must manage the wild horses and burros at the "minimal feasible level" to maintain free-roaming behavior? Why is it that BLM never considers mitigation measures like adjusting boundaries, moving fencing, creating open corridors to respect migration routes, or simply making water and forage available especially in an "emergency"?

In the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range which under the WFRHBA is supposed to be "devoted principally" to wild horses, BLM and the Forest Service are planning to build a 2 mile long fence to cut horses off from critical grazing areas they have used for centuries. 

In fact, since the WFRHBA was passed in 1971, BLM has eliminated  50% of the acreage originally available for wild horses. Wild horses could roam on 54 million acres as of 1971 and now are limited to 27 million acres. To do this, BLM authorized itself to divide herd areas into "herd management areas", something not authorized by WFRHBA. 43 CFR 4710.3-1.

In this way, with no statutory authority at all, BLM has limited wild horses and burros’ access to thousands of acres that were historically their herd areas. This is done as in the case of Montezuma Peak and Paymaster and Silver King, without thought about the horses’ seasonal migration patterns or available resources. The BLM then removes wild horses and burros from the artificially created "herd management areas" on the basis there is insufficient forage, water or habitat! BLM also targets them for removal if they cross the artificial boundaries into their original herd areas.

While BLM has authorized itself to create divide herd areas into Herd Management Areas, its own regulations provide that "management of wild horses and burros shall be undertaken with the objective of limiting the animals’ distribution to herd areas, 43 C.F.R. § 4710.4."Herd area" is defined by regulation as "the geographic area identified as having been used by a herd as its habitat in 1971," 43 C.F.R. §4710.4. For more on BLM’s evisceration of WFRHBA…

The Cattoors and the cruelty of the roundups

The roundups are shocking in their cruelty. Not an agency known for basing decisions on sound science or best management practices, BLM uses a helicopter to run down and round up wild horses. This despite well known passive techniques such as nutrient baits and water trapping which involves using nutrients or water to lure horses, and once they have gathered, build a corral around the animals.

BLM typically hires contractors Dave and Sue Cattoors to run down wild horses and burros with their helicopters. The Cattoors have been paid millions of taxpayer dollars for this. Dave Cattoors has a federal criminal conviction for aiding and abetting the theft and sale of wild horses for slaughter and also for using the helicopter as part of this conspiracy. 

The Tuscarora roundup has not been the only deadly roundup this year with 34 horses dead so far. Photographs taken by attorney Katie Fite suggest one other horse died when Cattoors chased him over cliffs to his death.

The Bureau of Land Management conducted a deadly roundup in the Calico Mt. Complex during the 2009-2010 bitterly cold, icy winter in the Nevada mountains. About 158 horses died during this brutal winter roundup including abortions by at least 39 mares. Horses died  from metabolic failure, the result of the extreme stress of the roundup and radical change in feed. An April 2010 report by the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign found 43 percent of the deaths resulting from the Calico roundup were due to diet and metabolic failure that was brought on by stress and trauma. 

Dozens more wild horses and foals were injured. At least two foals died, their hooves literally torn off from running from BLM’s helicopters. Wild horses were forced by helicopters to run for miles and miles over icy terrain.

To make matters worse, the BLM then held the Calico wild horses in a holding facility in Fallon, Nevada that is basically an open, dirt arena, a feedlot, with no windbreaks or other protection from the winter weather. But observers say BLM has not been keeping track of the horses captured and the exact number is unknown.  BLM says 600 horses were left in the wild, but it is not clear how the agency arrived at that figure.

BLM was also supposed to return some wild horses after sterilizing them. It is unclear whether this ever happened. Cindy MacDonald filed a complaint with the FBI, claiming that BLM has no authority to retain non-excess wild horses in holding facilities. BLM is authorized under WFRHBA to roundup "excess" wild horses and burros, those that represent an overpopulation. No word on the FBI’s response. For more on the Calico roundup…..

And this is nothing new. Read the PEER White Paper, Horses to Slaughter, Anatomy of a Cover up Within the Wild Horses and Burros Program of the Bureau of Land Management, April, 1997 and the tragedy of the Jackson Mt. wild horses.

Blatant denial of public access to roundups

BLM has severely limited public access to the roundups despite contrary promises earlier. Advocates and concerned citizens were denied information about BLM’s handling of the Calico horses as the agency was freezebranding, vaccinating, sterilizing and relocating the horses.  The public has had no access to confirm adequate care, injuries, illnesses, death tolls and other information about these horses.  Visit the blog of Elyse Gardner, the humane observer for the Calico roundup for more information. Also, visit Saving America’s Horses – A Nation Betrayed, for more information on this deadly roundup Watch the video below and go here for more.

During the Tuscarora roundup, BLM closed 27,000 acres of public lands and never allowed journalist, Laura Leigh, access to the roundup or holding facilities, all despite a court order. Access to the horses during this ordeal has remained extremely limited. Leigh told the judge hearing her claims about denial of access, "Of the fifteen days it took the [BLM] to gather and remove nearly 1,200 horses, [BLM] allowed the public to observe two days where they gathered about 100 horses. In perspective, the [BLM] kept public scrutiny away from ninety percent (90%) of the [roundup] process."

During its Bush era discussions BLM considered ways to keep the public away from round ups and the killing and sales of healthy horses and burros and planned to brand protests as "eco-terrorism".  This was all to be done in secret. It looks like BLM’s plan may succeed.

BLM runs over WFRHBA – and the American taxpayer – in wielding its power over public lands 

In watching this devastation of herds, families, animal lives, it is hard to believe it was being perpetrated by the agency charged with protecting them from "harassment", "capture" and "death" and which is supposed to manage them at the "minimal feasible level" and treat these animals humanely. 

Indeed, BLM does not manage the wild horses in the wild or work to maintain their "free roaming behavior".  The focus of BLM’s management is roundups that destroy the herds, the free-roaming behavior and leave families separated in stark holding facilities. The budgets prove this.

Ginger Kathrens, founder of The Cloud Foundation, recently told the BLM, "Please consider that the removal of a mustang costs already strapped American taxpayers over $2,000 in addition to a possible $2,098 to $470/year holding cost for the rest of the horse’s life if they are not adopted or sold. Why not apply the [these funds] to range improvements, livestock and fence removals, noxious weed treatment, water improvements, and any number of projects that would improve the condition of the [herd] area for wild horses and all the other wildlife species?" 

Indeed. Note the massive budget for stepped up roundups, more than 12,000 wild horses this year alone, and relocation of horses to generally non-reproducing herds in preserves in the Midwest or East. Yet, fees charged for cattle or sheep grazing are a low $1.35 per animal under 18,000 grazing permits and leases on 258 million acres, an astonishing taxpayer giveaway.

Despite the protections of the WFRHBA, BLM’s priority has been to clear public lands of wild horses and burros to accommodate primarily livestock grazing which results in only 3% of the beef consumed in the U.S. BLM also clears the public lands it is supposed to protect for oil and gas development, mining and other development interests. 

BLM has wielded great political power in opening herd areas and ranges to "multiple use", including selling off public lands, increasing grazing, and prioritizing oil and gas, mining and other development and trophy hunting.  So many special interests are now beholden to BLM and its control of public lands. It’s easy to see how the horses and burros have become nuisances that must be moved aside.  They interfere with BLM’s power grab. Indeed, BLM has ignored both the law and truth in limiting herd areas and issuing so-called "environmental" assessments and other pronouncements that wild horses and burros are degrading the range, overpopulated and starving. It seems BLM will say anything to get rid of the wild horses and burros, including running over its own employees who have said there is no overpopulation and the range can support the number of wild horses and burros

wild horsesSecretary of the Interior Ken Salazar’s plan announced in 2009 is, of course, nothing more than window dressing on the BLM’s abuses of these animals.

Under the guise of saving the range said to be degraded by the few remaining wild horses and burros and the "starving" horses, Secy. Salazar’s plan has meant stepped up roundups with the idea of aggressively sterilizing horses and burros and placing them in zoolike settings in "preserves" in the Midwest and East where they are not native; the horses would be generally non-reproducing, ensuring their extinction. Few, if any, would be left in the west on ranges or in herd areas. But then, BLM has said "wild horses do not belong in western ecosystems". BLM meeting notes establish the real hope is to send these animals to slaughter or kill them. BLM officials have actually openly admitted to discussions with agents for European slaughter houses. And wild horses seem to just disappear from holding facilities.

In the past, Secy. Salazar has stated opposition to keeping wild horses on any public lands. Never mind that the WFRHBA mandates that wild horses and burros be maintained as components of the public lands.  Secy. Salazar is also a proponent of slaughter. So he was the perfect choice for Interior Secretary for politicians like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), for example, and others anxious to get the horses out of the way for friends anxious to develop Nevada and other areas of the west. 

Don’t give up….

Dozens of grassroots protest rallies around the country, thousands of letters and calls to President Obama, the BLM and members of Congress, not to mention lawsuits, have put the "BLM’s final solution" for the wild horses and burros in jeopardy! 

BLM has been prevented from using any appropriations for euthanasia of healthy wild horses or burros or to send them for slaughter

Two federal judges have warned BLM its policy of rounding up wild horses and placing them in holding facilities may not be legal. A promising legal challenge to the zeroing out of the West Douglas herd area in Colorado is pending. There is also a pending legal challenge to BLM and U.S. Forest Service mismanagement including plans to build a fence to cut off the Pryor Mtn. Wild Horse Herd from grazing lands they have used for centuries.


As the budgeting process in Congress is underway, it is important now more than ever for you to call on President Obama and Vice Presiden Biden (Phone: 202-456-1111 or 202-456-9000; Switchboard: 202-456-1414) to put a moratorium on the wild horse and burro roundups until there can be an investigation or hearing on BLM’s management of these animals and a better course of action set.

FY11 DOI Budget hearings are going on now in the Senate and House Appropriations Committee, Subcommittee on Interior & Environment.
Call on your Representative and also members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, (Find their contact info here; just click on their names) to de-fund the wild horse and burro roundups for FY 2011 and also continue the prohbition on slaughter or other commercial use of wild horses and burros or the killing of healthy horses.

Call on your U.S. senators and also members of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies (Click on their names for contact info) to do the same.

Watch CNN anchor Jane Velez-Mitchell take on the BLM! 


Photos courtesy of Craig Downer

3 thoughts on “Sen. Landrieu: “Obama administration should be ashamed””

  1. You telling me that Mexico could not use these horses for transportation and work?
    Or we two?
    We all do not live in a metropolitan community. There is plenty of space in the country for free range horses. And again Mex. and other S. American countries could use these horses for riding and working.

  2. Perhaps, but where they could end up is in disastrous Mexican slaughter houses where horses are deliberately kept awake, or in Mexican rodeos where “tripping” is an event. Essentially, roping contests that trip a horse, causing injury and some times death.

    The ones that survive the injuries of the rodeo season STILL end up in Mexican slaughter houses (like the old joke Ru Ru.) By the way, “tripping” is not banned in every US state.

    1971 Federal Law designates areas for American Wild Horses to live in peace. On specific range lands owned by the American people. I agree with Congress – sounds like a good plan to me, and there’s plenty of land available to do it on, if BLM obeyed the law.

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