Update Sept. 28, 2009: Cloud and members of his herd are still injured following the brutal helicopter roundup. The good news is that all of the older horses the BLM auctioned off were saved from slaughter.
For more on the tragic round up and removal of wild horses from Cloud’s Herd, read Animal Law Coalition’s reports below.
Update Sept. 10: Curiously, when a concerned citizen called the BLM to ask the fate of the horses to be permanently removed from Cloud’s Herd, she was told all would be adopted to good homes.
But the BLM states on its own website that "sale-eligible horses (over 10 years old) will go through the sale authority process (oral competitive bid for one round then first come-first serve)."
That means kill buyers will be there to purchase the horses for slaughter. Jerry Finch of Habitat for Horses states, "Previous statements by the BLM were that they would remove only 70 of 190 horses. Today they are exceeding that number by going beyond their specific Herd Management Area (HMA) and rounding up bands outside of their legal perimeter in Custer National Forest, branding and tagging them and shipping them to holding pens ready to be sent away. All this is being done by a contractor previously convicted of ..capturing and killing unbranded horses, mares and colts running at large on public land."
Update Sept. 9: The Pryor Mountain Roundup has been called off! The BLM is leaving alone around 25 horses – 4 family bands.
Red Raven and his family are hiding in the mountains. Two foals are thought to be with this family.
The BLM will release some horses today, including most of Cloud’s family. (Cloud is pictured here in captivity.) But there is no plan to release older horses slated for sale, meaning slaughter.
Update Sept. 7: Cloud, pictured here in captivity, the namesake of the herd, has been captured. But not without a fight.
The BLM has also announced that of the 70 wild horses that will be permanently removed, those 10 years of age and older, will be sold. That means these animals will likely end up at Mexican or Canadian slaughter houses. Earlier BLM had said the horses would be adopted to good homes.
Sadly, the contractor hired by the BLM for the round up of Cloud’s Herd in the Pryor Mountains, is Dave Cattoor, previously convicted of federal charges of illegally running down wild horses and foals in Nevada with a helicopter and selling them for slaughter. The BLM pays him $7,000 per day for this round up.
Update Sept. 2, 2009: U.S. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan in Washington, D.C., has denied a motion for a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction, (attached below) filed by Cloud Foundation, Front Range Equine Rescue and nature photographer, Carol Walker, in their lawsuit to stop the roundup of Cloud’s herd.
The motion basically asked the judge to order the roundup delayed until the lawsuit is resolved. A hearing to resolve the lawsuit on summary judgment is set for December 3, 2009.
The U.S. attorneys representing the BLM in the lawsuit agreed to delay the roundup set to begin Sept. 1 until the judge ruled on the motion. The judge issued the denial following a hearing on Sept. 2.
Original report: Beginning on September 1, 2009, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), an agency within the U.S. Dept of Interior, plans to begin rounding up "nearly all wild horses" in the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range in Montana.
The Cloud Foundation estimates there are 190 wild horses living in the mountains that are 1 year old or older.
The herd is called Cloud’s Herd for the horse filmed by Ginger Kathrens, founder of the Cloud Foundation, when he was just a colt. Cloud lives wild and free with his family. At least for now.
The BLM plans to remove permanently "up to 70 adults including foals", having decided they are excess horses. 60 mares will be treated with a fertility control, Porca Zonae Pellucidae (PZP), and released. The way the BLM put it in its Environmental Assessment or EA which the agency is required to prepare pursuant to National Environmental Policy Act ("NEPA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321, et seq., "The method of capture w[ill] be helicopter drive-trapping using temporary traps of portable panels as well as trapping directly at Britton Springs Corrals. After capture in the trap, horses would be sorted on site and treated with fertility control or taken to the Britton Springs administrative site for sorting and application of fertility control. Treated mares and stallions identified for retention would be released either during or after gather operations. ….Excess wild horses removed w[ill] be prepared for adoption or sale at the Britton Springs Facility."
Cloud or his family could well be among those horses deemed to be "excess" by BLM and sold. Certainly, it is unlikely they will be together again as a family.
Excess wild horses is a legal term that means horses BLM has decided to remove 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).
Under a 2004 amendment to the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act, which authorizes BLM to manage these animals, "excess" horses "shall be sold…if the excess animal is more than 10 years of age; or … has been offered unsuccessfully for adoption at least 3 times." 16 U.S.C. §1333. Any horse sold under this provision is no longer subject to the protections of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. 16 U.S.C.§1333. Since this amendment became effective, BLM has sold thousands of wild horses for slaughter.
The horses are panicked, terrified, traumatized and many times injured as they are run down by the helicopters. Families will be separated and destroyed, probably forever. It is unlikely the BLM would bother to keep even horses marked for release together in their families.
Go here for more information about what happens to these wild horses and burros when the BLM rounds them up.
As a reason for the removal of the 70 horses including foals from the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range, the BLM says only there has been "resource damage". Its EA cites to "[d]eteriorating range and forest conditions associated with past management practices". In BLM’s Record of Decision issued this month, August, 2009, the BLM says only the removal will limit the horses to their herd area, "limit competition among wild horses and wildlife" presumably for food, and "prevent deterioration of rangelands and vegetation resources". It is mentioned there has been limited water.
But, according to Cloud Foundation, there has been 3 years of rainfall that has ended the drought and left the range in "excellent condition".
The BLM also refers to a need to "maintain a multiple use relationship for the area".
The wild horses and burros are actually supposed to be protected under the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. In passing that law Congress declared that, "wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West"…"[T]hey contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people". Congress recognized the wild horses and burros are "fast disappearing from the American scene". "[W]ild free-roaming horses and burros shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment, or death; and to accomplish this they are to be considered in the area where presently found, as an integral part of the natural system of public lands." 16 U.S.C. § 1331.
Indeed, the Pryor Mountain wild horses are descendants of horses in the Lewis and Clark expedition that came to be owned by the Crow tribe in the early 1800’s. George Reed, Secretary of Cultural Education for the Crow Tribe Executive Branch, wrote in 2006: "We advocate preserving our heritage, culture and language, and these Pryor wild horses are part of our culture."
The WFHBA requires that BLM management activities be at "the minimal feasible level." Id. According to its own regulations, BLM must protect wild horses and burros from unauthorized capture, branding, harassment or death and provide these animals with humane care and treatment. 43 C.F.R. § 4700.
Under the WFHBA, wild horses are "to be considered in the area" where they were found in 1971 "as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands." 16 U.S.C. § 1331. These legally protected areas are known as "herd areas," and are defined as "the geographic area identified as having been used by a herd as its habitat in 1971." 43 C.F.R. § 4700.0-5(d).
A brutal wholesale round up and removal, even slaughter, of so many horses is surely a direct violation of the protections of the WFHBA. It’s hardly management of the herd at the "minimal feasible level".
According to the Cloud Foundation, this removal of 70 horses will leave this unique and historical herd genetically non-viable and unable to sustain itself into the future. Equine geneticist, Gus Cothran, Ph.D. of Texas A&M University, states that "a census population of 150-200 is required to achieve the minimum effective population size…. The [Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Herd] has been one of the most important and visible herds within the BLM Wild Horse Program and it is important that it stays viable."
Just last month a federal judge entered an injunction to stop a BLM decision to eliminate an entire herd of horses in a range in Colorado. The BLM had decided simply to eliminate the horses even though the agency agreed the horses were not "excess". The BLM has also decided to eliminate entire herds, 620 horses, from their ranges in Nevada.
The Cloud Foundation, Front Range Equine Rescue and nature photographer Carol Walker, have filed a lawsuit and a motion for a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction in the federal district court in Washington, DC to stop the roundup and removal of horses from the Range.
The plaintiffs claim the BLM has violated NEPA by failing to prepare and Environmental Impact Statement, consider alternatives, and take a "hard look" at the environmental consequences. They claim the BLM’s proposed action means the herd will not be genetically viable. Also, the plaintiffs claim BLM relied on a 2004 study to support its contention the range has deteriorated when there is evidence that since then with the end of the drought, the range conditions have greatly improved.
The plaintiffs also claim these actions by the BLM violate WHBA’s mandate to manage the wild horses at the "minimal feasible level" and protect them from harassment, capture and death.
A copy of the Complaint is attached below to this article. Animal Law Coalition will bring you more information about this lawsuit as it becomes available. In the meantime:
Listen to Angels for Cloud on WFL Endangered Stream Live radio
For more on this historic herd, go to http://www.cloudfoundation.org/
Information was provided for this article by Equine Welfare Alliance. Photographs courtesy of R.T. Fitch.