Personal message for the “blog”

Jackson Mountain stallion watches his mares after arrival at PVC. They will be separated here, he will go to the stud pens and they with the mares.

Jackson Mountain stallion watches his mares after arrival at PVC. They will be separated here, he will go to the stud pens and they with the mares.

from the desk of Laura Leigh, President of Wild Horse Education (follow ongoing work at wild horse education website)

It is very hard to describe the personal experience of the current state of the issues that Wild Horse Education is addressing for our herds.

On one hand this has been an extraordinary physical marathon of range work, in all kinds of weather, under all kinds of physical extremes. Dust, mud, blistering heat and frigid temperatures take a toll on equipment and ones physical body. Files are massive and the quantity of documentation fills drive after drive and causes laptops to choke. The vehicle makes new sounds every time it is shaken, bounced, bumped and run in sub freezing temperatures or high heat, your physical body begins to mirror the creaks and groans. The very real need to expand this aspect of the work is apparent. This aspect of the work is what gives us the ability to demonstrate a first hand knowledge of the range and present accurate information toward gaining real changes as we try to bring an honest conversation to the management of wild horses and burros to the agency itself, the public, legislature and if needed, the Federal courts. You make this part of the journey looking like a character out of “Mad Max,” or other post apocalyptic film, half the time. You forget to brush your hair, have no time to clean your clothes and your equipment is a mishmash of devices pieced together that looks like it shouldn’t even run but is a powerful editing tool.

On the other hand this work requires diligent research and organization. Thousands of hours of video footage, hundreds of thousands of still photographs, assessment documents and grids, reference material and the hundreds of documents filed in court. You have to focus, wear the right glasses to read,  remember to shower, and raise your vocabulary above the guttural sounds that your dog finds acceptable as conversation on the road.

Then there is another aspect, communication with the public. Somewhere between being a “range rat” and an “accountant” you need to remember the social skills to engage the public in a conversation that relays what you “gained” on the range, digested in the “library,” in a manner that speaks to the daily lives of “normal.”

Many of you have written wondering what it is like to do this work… the best way I can describe it… it is like carrying a bag filled with “hats.” Some of the hats you have worn before and they fit well, others don’t fit quite right but when you wear them in enough storms they shrink and mold and become familiar.

Today I sit at the computer organizing three active cases against the Federal government. Two of them speak to the objective of gaining a humane handling policy for wild horses and burros, one of them speaks to access to animals from range “through ultimate disposition, adoption, sale or death.” I am organizing depositions, documents and editing video footage for various purposes.

High Rock, 10-30 (Leigh) 6 escape the trap

High Rock, 10-30 (Leigh) 6 escape the trap

I wanted to “touch base” with the followers of the blog and say “whew” as we gain the first step in the conversation at Owyhee toward gaining a “humane” objective in the ten year plan and “where’s the #@*! coffee?” as we start to compile and hone the effort on access. The work we are doing on land use plans and investigations such as the slaughter issue are also still in progress AND I have to get back out on the range.

Yes, there is an extraordinary amount of work that needs done YESTERDAY. There are tools that as an advocacy we do not have and must literally build. But this is not without hope… we are building the tools and creating the language for conversations based on first hand observation… we are gaining a conversation that can lead to changes… that can grow to more changes. It IS movement.

As a MOVEMENT we must recognize that fact and gain momentum. If there is an opportunity, no matter how small, if it is not seized the moment passes. The road to change leads to change as the road of apathy leads to apathy, the road of depression leads to depression. We are on the road to change…. it may be a two track in the dessert but eventually (even if you have to travel off-road a bit) it leads to a highway.

Best to you.

Laura

Guilfoyle speaks at Conference in DC today

Today in DC the new head of the Wild Horse and Burro Program, Joan Guilfoyle, will speak at the International Conference for Equine Welfare.

She has committed to speak for ten minutes to introduce herself. She will answer no questions from the public, nor participate in any dialogue. She has agreed to speak to address her willingness to “dialogue” with the public.

Sounds like the same old contradictions.

As Guilfoyle prepares to speak the last horses of the roundup  were removed from Barren Valley in Oregon. Only two runs of the pilot were documented. Almost a week allowed no documentation at all.

This video is of the last two groups taken.

Please help support the work if you can.: http://wildhorseeducation.org/mission-statement/donate/

On the Road… a repost for 9/11

I come from a long line of people that felt service to country was an honor.

My Grandad served in both World Wars. In the second WW his eldest sons went with him. Uncles served in Korea. My dad was too young and became a police officer and volunteer fireman. Many family members still live in the New York area. We had a family member missing that day as his office was in the Trade Center… he was ok but it was a very frightening time.

I am reposting an article I wrote that was published in a few venues over the winter… it just strikes me as appropriate for this weekend.

What Does America Stand For?

Our founding fathers made an incredibly brave stand and wrote the Declaration of Independence. They knew by making a stand for what they believed in that they would not win an across the board popularity contest.

Next came the great Constitution of the United States.

The premises within that document began to build the consciousness of a nation. When I walk through the law libraries and touch the pages (yes, I feel books give a sense that the electronic age desensitizes) you literally feel the development of the identity of this nation.

Case law that demonstrates the evolution of the premises within the Constitution can literally remind you of the pride that is “America.” Sometimes it appears this occurs in spite of ourselves. Civil and human rights cases exist that when you read the cases themselves there is shame that what seems like a “no brainer” in current times was actually an issue that had to be decided within the judicial system. The pages are filled with “bad children” being given rules filtered through the guidelines our “founding fathers” left for us.

Within the Bill of Rights a concept was so important to our “fathers” that it was listed first. (The right to bear arms was second).

“The founding fathers gave the press the mission to inform the people and promote the free flow of facts and ideas, however untimely or challenging or disagreeable those facts and ideas may be.” — Katharine Graham, publisher, The Washington Post, 1973

The concept of a free press is to allow the public an opportunity to investigate and report on the activities of it’s government without fear of reprisal and censorship. The intention is that the true power of decision making in a Democratic society comes from an educated public conveying ideas to a representative that then advocates those positions in debate within a Senate and House toward shaping our nation.

Within the dialogue of “Wild Horse and Burro Program” implemented by the BLM we have a serious breakdown of this process. Plain and simple the public, Congress and often BLM employees themselves are seriously uninformed.

There is currently a lawsuit that has been patiently waiting to actually be heard within the judicial system.That case has been joined in an Amicus brief by the Reporters Committee for a Free Press and the National Press Photographers Association. (This case is also one I am Plaintiff).

Congress asks for information and the BLM will chose an “independent” organization (read “pro-slaughter”) to do an investigation or an investigation occurs in house. The reports are continually bias or outright filled with omissions and inaccuracies. Would we allow the tobacco industry to self-police? Would we make an appointment before showing up to do a search of a crime scene with a suspected perpetrator?

It appears yet again that an “independent” review is being prepared for the BLM by those chosen by the BLM. Those doing the review were supposedly on site Wednesday and Thursday of last week. I was not given the same access to the trap that they were. Activity at holding was very different when the government observers showed up with BLM public relations.

Last week Representative Burton made these statements to the House as a proposal to cut the BLM’s budget in a “slap on the wrist” gesture was made: “It seems to me that we ought to be frugal with the public’s money. We ought to cut the Bureau of Land Management’s budget so that we can save the money and save the mustangs.”

The wild horse advocate community has expressed sincere gratitude toward Burton. He has demonstrated bravery displayed by our founding fathers in bringing this dialogue into a forum that has the power to effect the change needed.

But in all honesty how can any dialogue be effective if that dialogue addresses symptoms of a long standing problem without taking the time to look for the root cause? Any symptomatic reaction has the potential to create a reality that has consequence worse than the current situation. A full investigation of the program and the consequence of placing the implementation of the 1971 Legislation into the hands of an agency with an apparent conflict of interest and often literally “inbred” with those that perpetrated the actions that spurred the need to pass the 71 Act in the first place is sorely absent. Why would any “change” be expected to be implemented any differently? It’s like changing the product you put in a meat grinder… it still comes out in the same fashion.

Until a dialogue actually begins to exist that addresses the root causes, arbitrary boundaries and policy that caters to special interests, the change needed to protect the “living symbol of the pioneer spirit of the west” will not happen.

If the information about the hands on care being done “humanely,” the most basic premise of the 71 Act, remains in the realm of “content control” … how can dialogue in any real fashion exist?

The first step in achieving that dialogue are independent observations that can only occur when the rights of the public to investigate and formulate opinion is protected. The closed door facilities must be open. Records must be made available in a timely manner for review without the need to file Freedom of Information Act requests. The ability to independently observe the hands on actions of contractors and government employees must occur on an extended basis and not in “periodic windows” at the discretion of those under scrutiny.

“I have taken an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States more times than I can count,” said attorney Gordon Cowan, “that’s what this case is all about.”

What is happening behind closded doors?

No Kidding.

"Hope" died of hoof slough, Calico Complex 2010

Triple B, Do we stand for this?

Is it Bad Enough for You?

I sit here as the clock turns midnight. Today is the fortieth anniversary of the unanimous passage of the Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act.

§ 1331. Congressional findings and declaration of policy

Congress finds and declares that wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West; that they contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people; and that these horses and burros are fast disappearing from the American scene. It is the policy of Congress that wild 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 the public lands.

Forty years later it appears that “mustanging” has simply become a government enterprise. Instead of humane management of herds in the wild, we now have a system where the government simply chooses the profiteers.

A complex system of mostly private contractors warehouse our National Treasure at public expense, yet off limits to public scrutiny. Roundups that occur without any meaningful access to assess the condition or actions of the contractors, at public expense. Policy that is so outrageous and contrary to the Act carried out on a daily basis.

“Have you commented on the EA(Environmental Assessment?” is a common response from BLM (Bureau of Land Management).

Well I don’t know about you, but hundreds of thousands of comments that disagree with policy are considered “of no significance.” After a while you feel like your voice as an American means nothing to the current administration.

It also appears neither does the law.

There are several lawsuits that are pushing that issue within the Judicial system. In Twin Peaks we still have a case very much alive holding feet to the fire on accountability to protocol. The West Douglas herd was saved for yet another year through litigation. The First Amendment violations very becoming very clear to a vast majority of the media as a dangerous precedent to documenting the actions of government in a “Democratic society.”

We are forced to take our government to the Courts to demand accountability within the government that supposedly holds our Constitution as it’s blueprint.

The absurdity is mind boggling.

As advocates we are now fighting to stop the spread of wild mares being given hysterectomies in the field. This is not new. It has occurred under the oversight of the Department of Interior through Fish and Wildlife. Now this butchery is attempting to make it’s way into “protocol.”

Let’s paint a clear picture. BLM manages about 252 million acres (and that depends on which website you check). Within that only about 10% are “managed” for wild equid populations. Some of those areas have AML’s (Appropriate Management Level) set ridiculously low. We even have an HMA (Herd Management Area) with an AML of 3.

Genetic bankruptcy is very real. It is happening with an animal that Congress passed an entire Act to protect. The Multiple Use Mandate has truly become “Multiple Ruse.”

We are truly in an age of Industrialization of your public land. The biggest pocket is calling the shots in the way your resources are being used. Your public resources are putting cash into the pockets of large corporations (often foreign owned). The entities that operate on public land often do so subsidized. Yes, in America we run a “welfare” program on the taxpayers back to make the rich, well, rich.

Roundups will begin again July 1 during foaling season. Just because an entity that behaves like a sociopath says something is the truth does not make it so. July 1 IS foaling season. Newborn babies and pregnant mares will be stampeded without a care for their true welfare. The concern is for convenient scheduling and budgets. The concern is to clear the land of horses, not manage the land for horses.

I will lay a flower on Velma Johnston’s grave. Known as “Wild Horse Annie” she was instrumental in passing Legislation to protect our wild herds. I wonder if she knows that what she fought for has not come to reality?

But we go on. We are getting faster. we are not reporting what happened yesterday, but we are uncovering what is planned for tomorrow. We are also getting better at the tools we have: litigation, media and the great mover of mountains, public pressure.

Stay strong, stay smart and watch the “dark side, Luke.”

After 40 years it’s long overdue to have our wild herds protected in the spirit of the Act.

Many of the horses in this video died. I can’t show you those mages because documentation is not allowed. Music Courtesy of the Amazing Maria Daines:

Dignity Returned

As I followed a semi-load of wild horses on Route 80 we made the familiar turn off into Wells, Nevada. As we passed the Loves gas station, where we met the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) in the bitter cold of dawn during the Antelope roundup, I was flooded with memories of all that was seen. Each trap site with it’s intricacies of “access no access,”  each conversation, each band that was fractured, each face came back to me in detail.

The cargo

The semi turned down a dusty dirt road. This time the driver came to a slow stop. I could hear the animals settle. He then proceeded down the graded dirt path at a crawl, mindful of the precious load he carried. I began to cry.

My experience has been to drive roads in much worse shape at speeds that make you hold your breath for the safety of the lives inside the container.

Yet the horses onboard were headed to Mustang Monument, Madeleine Picken’s Mustang Sanctuary run through her organization Saving America’s Mustangs.

That sanctuary has raised no less controversy than the Wild Horse issue itself. But that was not what today was “all about.”

This face says so much...

For the last two weeks I rose in the middle of the night to meet the driver at a “feedlot turned way station” in Fallon. Each dawn I documented the loading of animals that had been saved from certain death. My lens captured the faces of the mares and their babies as they left the confines of that dusty old feedlot and boarded the truck.

The faces belonged to Pauite horses that had gone to a slaughter auction last Christmas. If wild horses are prejudicially referred to as “desert rats,” the Pauite horses are considered no more than fleas on those rats. These reservation horses are regularly sent to kill with little to no hope. They are not managed under the Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act, but are legally shipped off under the jurisdiction of tribal authority.

Wearing the auction tag

The truck slowly backed up to a chute at the makeshift roundpen of hay bales.

An excited woman met me and crawled with me to the top of the pen to document the off loading of these horses headed home.

The woman was Madeleine Pickens. In her hand she held a small camcorder. She observed the offloading of each horse that warily left that metal container. Her voice into her camera demonstrated concern as she made sure that each mare matched up with each foal. Foals that had been born in a dusty feedlot that would soon run in the open range for the first time.

Madeleine Pickens documents her horses

The last few horses were reluctant to leave the container. The others began to munch on the bales of hay that made up the pen. Laughter and pleasant conversation filled the air and joined the sounds of the horses calling to those already home in the field beyond the gate.

Where am I?

The moment had arrived. The moment of “Freedom.” The moment the “fleas on rats” are given the greatest kindness a human could show them. A chance to run in the open range. A chance to live as bands. A chance to live and die with freedom and dignity in the normal course of what they are.

Ranch manager, Clay Nannini, walked to the gate and removed the chain. The gates opened…

It took but a brief moment for the horses to recognize the opportunity.

I cannot describe in words the sensation of “wrong turned right” that flooded my senses. The emaciated, abused, disregarded souls ran to join the others. The babies that I had seen born in that feedlot ran free. The beautiful Spruce Mountain in the background bore witness with us of what I can only describe as “dignity returned.”

Ms. Pickens climbed the rail, opened her arms and declared “I own you now, no one will ever hurt you again.”

That familiar promise. How many horse owners have made that promise as they bring home a horse from auction or one they found in a bad situation? The scale was much bigger, yet the promise hung in the air with undeniable truth.

Sanctuary

After checking in to the roadside Motel I laid down on the bed, still in my clothing. My life still an uncertain path, roundups beginning again in mere days. The Court case still dominating my life. The issues surrounding our horses still unresolved. But I slept.

I slept like I haven’t slept in months.

Beyond words....

To learn more about Mustang Monument go to: http://SavingAmericasMustangs.org

Trapped

Note: I have been notified that many people are trying to post and are not being allowed. It appears that emails are bouncing and videos are also not playing. I will check to see if anyone has accessed my computer and screwed with settings. This may take a day or so, sorry for the issue.
 
 
 

Trap site from Antelope

I have been on a data collection mission. Checking out new issues and tracking down the old. But I had to revisit… I had to go sit at the old trap sites from this past winter.

Sitting there I felt like a Vietnam veteran that had returned home… to be criticized… and left with the private memories from hell to deal with alone. I could still hear the chopper blades and the horses calling to each other.

The trampled and broken sage marked each trap clearly. The evidence of the unnatural occurance. The evidence of the violent removal in such a beautiful serene place… and not a horse to be seen at any of the sites. The horse sign old… weathered.

As Elvis (my dog) and I traveled the highway from place to place I saw two horses. They were pacing the fenceline… one on either side of the highway separated by barbed wire run along the highway of our “public land.” I stopped to photograph them. They looked at me… and nature took it’s course… they were together last night.

I got back into my truck and began to shake. I couldn’t stop. I was not crying… I was not “emotional.” But the tremors that took my body had me find a hotel room and not spend another night on the range.

It is morning and I am going back “on the road.”

So much to do. So much information to get into hands that are more powerful than mine. More legal documents to prep… more prayers to say.

Romeo

Juliet

http://wildhorseeducation.org

Phoenix, Forward

What can I say? It was another Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board Meeting. I went. Not because I feel that the board has any meaning except to act as an illusion of public participation in process. The Board sleeps half the time and has no real legal authority… and NOTHING REAL every comes out of the meetings… from the Board. However I did attend as another voice and “warm body” to represent our herds.

Many other wonderful people were there. I am not going to start naming because I will miss someone and end up editing this entry for days. I do not have time to create a slideshow or edit video but I am posting a few pics to share.

Do not, for one second, believe there is no funding for summer. Do not, for one second, believe this is “time off.”

Funding will be pulled from another agency or program. The “balls to the wall” pace of the last year will continue. The agenda has not changed no matter what words are printed, spoken or drawn in the sand. The actions on the range, in holding, hidden in closed facilities remains unchanged.

There is no “New Direction” until the train is a hundred miles down track no one has even laid yet.

I’m back out… and the pace will pick up not slack off. This IS NOT “time off.” It is time to reload…

WE need a Congressional investigation into this program… no NAS study with parameters given to them by BLM, no internal investigation into contractor actions, no “observers” provided by a 501 that may very well be illegally operated and a conflict of interest for an Advisory Board Member… no more.

We need something tangible from Abbey now.

For starters let’s try transparency of actions…   OPEN closed facilities to the public, approve sanctuaries that give something back to the tax payer, start making lease holders actually pay for the cost of their leases and stop running an entitlement program on public land… AND adhere to the most basic premise of the act and start treating these animals in a humane fashion according to today’s standards and NOT some 1800’s cowboy mentality.

Am I really asking too much in a supposedly civilized nation?

RT, Ginger, Madeleine at Press Conference

Protest outside

Elyse taping press conference

Maureen VanDerStad streaming the vigil to home viewers...

 

Vigil

the "Bored" meeting

another "Bored" member

protest outside

Outside the meeting

AMEN!

"good" cookies!

"family" gathering... and an adult beverage

New Life... March 13, 2011: Nevada

Back to work….