Reprint from Horseback
RENO, – The BLM is escalating removal of wild horses from western rangelands in epic numbers. Thirteen thousand horses will be removed just this year. Flawed data and ulterior motive drive their purpose. Blanket closures, deception and restrictions hide their brutal enterprise.
With journalists excluded, their public relations prowess spins favorable accounts from horrendous failures. It’s called the “Owyhee Slaughter.” Thirty-four wild horses perished in northeastern Nevada this July in a BLM roundup. The BLM blamed dry range conditions.
It started when the BLM told a federal judge if his injunction against the roundup continued, 75 percent of the Owyhee herd would die for lack of water. This bleak testimony formed the basis for the judge to lift the injunction. But, something was awry. The BLM managed the area exclusively. They planned the roundup months in advance while never forecasting this emergency.
When the BLM vacated Owyhee after the roundup concluded, independent range experts were eager to see firsthand what caused the emergency. Contrary to BLM court testimony, they found water and lots of it.
It’s a disturbing process. The BLM uses helicopters to push herds several miles. Horses are panic driven over difficult terrain in midsummer heat. New foals, their moms and pregnant mares are among those pursued. Oftentimes they don’t survive. Resultantly, the BLM excludes journalists to discourage their reporting to the public of what transpires behind closed doors.
When Congress in 1971 proclaimed their protected status, wild horses became America’s newest native citizens. When Congress entrusted their welfare in part to the BLM, the assignment posed a conflict where the BLM’s role as “property manager” competes with the horses’ best interests. The BLM caters to private interests who use considerable areas of public land to extract non-renewable resources. To make room for these private concerns the BLM eliminates wild horses from the landscape, giving little credence to their iconic and protected status.
Despite massive land holdings the BLM chooses slivers of private property on which to capture horses. They contend private property is safer than public lands for horse roundups. With traps on private property, the BLM engages local authorities who threaten arrest should citizens trespass to sneak a peek. This allows the BLM to conduct their brutal enterprise under a blanket of secrecy.
How far did the BLM go to prevent public observation of the Owyhee Slaughter? In July horse journalist Laura Leigh and two friends sought to document the BLM’s herd removal. Anxious moments prevailed as BLM officials converged on the women before they reached the trap zone.
Three BLM officials and a sheriff’s deputy stood ground in a desolate region on the dirt road. Reminiscent of the Clantons and Earps, the women were blocked from traveling further. The men said don’t trespass. The women inquired. The men drew the figurative “private property” line in the sand. The women held cameras. The men packed guns. Tensions peaked when a BLM official shoved back a camera lens.
The women retreated, fearful of arrest from venturing beyond undefined property boundaries. It all occurred on public lands on a public road in violation of a judge’s order prohibiting closures.
Earlier, Ms. Leigh sought judicial help to postpone the BLM’s helicopter roundup to a time when foals were more sturdy and when temperatures cooled. She asserted First Amendment notions because the BLM’s land closure was a censorship of her right to observe and report government activity.
When the entourage of Washington, D.C. lawyers descended on Reno to defend Leigh’s claims, her counsel offered to forego suit if the BLM would postpone the roundups and allow public access. The BLM refused. The case proceeded.
Two federal judges agreed with Leigh’s right to observe government in action. Judge Hicks dissolved the BLM’s blanket closure, labeling it a First Amendment “prior restraint,” meaning, “censorship” of a free press. The second, a noted jurist, conveyed this:
“The Press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of the government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people.” Hugo Black, 1971
What’s next? The BLM is back to “business as usual,” playing the “shell game” with roundup dates, closing public lands, censoring speech and killing good horses. If they can’t be stopped, America should be prepared to say goodbye to the last living symbol of the spirit of the west, the wild, free-roaming horse.
Author Bio: Gordon Cowan is a veteran civil litigator in Nevada who challenged the Interior Department’s news blackout of the brutal Owyhee roundup. Mr. Cowan raises horses, works with cattle, is a cutting horse enthusiast and a past president of a top rodeo in North America. His work on the ongoing issues of the First Amendment are supported by Wild Horse Education, Ms. Leigh Nevada non-profit.
Editor’s Note: Mr. Cowan successfully won the right in federal court for press and public to observe BLM activies on public land. Since that time the agency has flagrantly violated the court order. He is now attempting to get BLM held in contempt.
Personal note: I’d like you all to meet my attorney.
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