Sunday, November 16, 2008

History Repeats

I am sure that everyone has heard the saying that "If you don't learn from history you are doomed to repeat it". That is why Save Our Wild Horses has been working so hard find the historical data to add to the site. During our search we have come upon a number of articles that show how the BLM has managed our wild horses illegally. Most of the stories are not news to those who have worked on the wild horse and burro issue since the beginning, but sometimes we need a reminder of the history so we can prevent repeating it.

The first series of articles is dated only 2-3 years after the passage of the Wild and Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act. They were so horrific that they triggered a congressional investigation and became a part of the congressional record. Below is part of that record. It shows that the BLM has not acted and has never acted in the best interest of the horses within its care.

From the Chicago Tribune, June 9, 1974

The Roundup that Became a Slaughter

(by Robert Young)

“So that is what we did… I mean it was gruesome… we sawed that one Sorrell mare’s legs off with a chainsaw, and now that’s the truth,”--- Idaho rancher’s narrative of a range horse roundup

Washington,---The country around the Lost River and Lemhi mountain ranges in eastern Idaho is rugged and remote.

And it is country where a roundup of a herd of free-roaming horses near the town of Howe more than a year ago has attained nationwide notoriety.

Animal protectionists are outraged over the roundup’s bloody brutality as recounted by ranchers who took part. The government is accused of sanctioning a roundup in violation of a federal law protecting the West’s wild horses.

The roundup took place intermittently during January and February of 1973. In March of that year, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Agriculture Department’s Forest Service started a joint investigation. Their probe was completed last January and a report turned over to the Justice Department---a report made public only late last month.

The federal inquiry into the Howe roundup followed protests from the Washington-based Humane Society of the United States and American Horse Protection Association that the 1971 Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burro Act was violated.

That law protects wild horses and burros on government-owned range lands in Western states under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and the Forest Service.

William B Robison, a local cattleman, in the late fall of 1972 began to organize a roundup of 50-60 horses which he claimed were owned by himself and other ranchers.

In December 1972 ranchers met with Walter (Ed) Jones BLM district Manager and former cattleman, to discuss government regulations issued under the wild Horse protection law, as well as Robison’s roundup. According to those attending the meeting, Jones took Robison’s word that the horses were privately owned and said if that were the case, they were in trespass on public grazing lands and should be removed.

A month later, helicopters were used in two unsuccessful attempts to drive the horse herd into a corral trap. A third attempt, this time using a small airplane to “haze” the animals, also failed. Only one horse, a white stallion, was captured. Federal statues enacted prior to the 1971 law prohibit use of aircraft or motor vehicles to harass, capture, or kill wild horses.

The roundup by then was attracting more than local attention. William Stauffer, a Howe resident, was convinced that the horses were wild. Stauffer both inquired at the BLM District office and wrote a letter to Sen. Frank Church (D) Idaho. Church’s office asked the BLM what was going on.

Robison meanwhile had enlisted the help of Bill Yearsly, a horse dealer from the nearby town of Blackfoot, and Max Palmer, a horse trader from Sugar City.

A party of ranchers on horseback made a fourth attempt to round up the herd, but only 6 animals were captured and taken to Palmer’s ranch. The government investigation showed that 5 of the horses were unbranded.

Yearsly later recalled that at this point, he wanted to abandon the roundup, but Robison urged him to continue, saying he was being pressured by Jones to get the horses off the public range. The horse dealer also quoted Robison as saying that if the horses could not be captured, they were to be shot.

Palmer led a party on a fifth attempt during the 3 days of Feb. 17 thru 19 and trapped 21 horses at the edge of a cliff. Yearsly and others went into the trap Feb. 19 with “hog rings”---metal devices clamped into a horse’s nostrils to hinder and make the animal more manageable.

According to the accounts of those there, 4 of the trapped horses by then had fallen over the cliff to their death’s and 3 others had wedged horses so deeply in rock clefts they could not be freed. The throats of the 3 animals were cut with a hunting knife and their legs cut off with a chainsaw so the carcasses could be pushed over the cliff.

By Feb 25, another 20 horses had been captured and taken to Palmer’s ranch. Three other horses broke their legs trying to avoid capture and Palmer shot them. Palmer later reported he also noticed the carcasses of two more horses, dead from unknown causes.

Robert Amy, one of the ranchers participating in the roundup, was questioned by BLM and Forest Service Agents on Jan. 9th this year and said Jones, the BLM district manager, had told the local cattlemen that “They had better do something” about the horse herd. Amy said the cattlemen agreed something had to be done about the horses running loose on grazing land, but felt they “couldn’t live” with the wild horse protection law.

According to the BLM-Forest Service report, 34 of the horses surviving the whole roundup were shipped to Robison on March 1, 1973, to North Platte, Neb, to be slaughtered for dog food. The animals were cleared for shipment from the stockyards at Rexburg, Idaho by a state brand inspector even tho they were not branded and Robison had no bill of sale to show he had acquired them from private owners. The inspector said he was not familiar with the state law dealing with unbranded livestock.

As soon as hey learned of the roundup and shipment of the horses to North Platte, the Human Society of the United States, the American Horse Protection Association, and Mrs. Velma (Wild Horse Annie) Johnston of Reno, NEV., president of Wild Horse Organized Assistance (WHOA), protested to BLM officials in Washington. BLM interceded and 17 of the horses and 2 colts were shipped back to Idaho Falls where they are still being stabled and fed at BLM expense.

Palmer, the Sugar City Horse dealer, said that most of these animals belong to him. But, Sen. James Abourezk (D), S.D. and Rep. Gilbert Gude (R), Md. have filed a counter-claim that the horses belong to the American people.

Robison also told government investigators that the horses were near starvation and wouldn’t survive the winter because the range couldn’t support them.

BLM officials concede that Jones, who retired last month, encouraged the Howe roundup and failed to observe proper procedures when he made the judgment on his own that the horses were neither wild nor unclaimed and thus not protected by the wild horse law.

The American Horse Protection Association and the US Humane Society are relentless in their determination that a horse roundup will not happen again, that the law will be enforced, and those who violate it will be punished.

In April, 1973, the two organizations filed suit in the District of Columbia Federal Court against the Interior and Agriculture Departments, the BLM and Forest Service, and 13 individual officials. The complaint charged that the defendants failed to enforce the wild horse protection law and not only allowed, but encouraged, the illegal, “grisly and inhumane” horse roundup. The suit asks $10 million in damages, with any money awarded by the court to be placed in trust for the protection of wild horses and burros and the enforcement of existing protective laws.

The civil suit was filed after the Justice Department decided there was not enough evidence for criminal prosecution.

Mrs. William L. Blue, vice-president of the American Horse Protection Association, and Frank J. McMahon, the Humane Society’s Investigation director, scoffed at the Justice Department’s assertion that there is not enough evidence for prosecution.

Mrs. Blue accuses federal officials of “total indifference” in enforcing a law Congress intended to be a National Heritage and living symbols of the old American West. Mrs. Blue asserts that even tougher protective legislation is needed because wild, free-roaming horses have been fast disappearing. Their number is estimated to have declined to 17,000 to 20,000 from 2 million at the beginning of the century.

The next series of articles was the highly publicized articles written by Martha Mendoza from January 1, 1997.

Roundup is Beginning of End for Herds.

By Martha Mendoza

Reno, Nevada--A multimillion-dollar federal program created to save the lives of wild horses is instead channeling them by the thousands to slaughterhouses, where they are chopped into cuts of meat. Among those who might be profiting from the slaughter are employees of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the agency that administers the program. These are the conclusions of an Associated Press investigation of the U. S. Wild Horse and Burro Program, which has rounded up 165,000 animals and spent $250 million since it was created by Congress 25 years ago.

The program was intended to protect and manage wild horses on public lands, where they compete for resources with grazing cattle. The idea: Gather up excess horses and offer them to the public for adoption. Nothing in the law prevents anyone, however, from selling horses to slaughterhouses once they gain ownership. While it is common for old or lame horses to go to slaughter, nearly all former BLM horses sent to slaughter are young and healthy, according to slaughterhouses.

The program’s rules let anyone adopt up to four horses per year, paying $125 for each healthy animal. If the adopters properly care for the horses for one year, they get title to them in the form of BLM certificates bearing a number freeze-branded into each horses hide. Using freeze-brand numbers and computer records, the AP traced more than 57 former BLM horses sold to the slaughterhouses since September. Eighty percent of them were less than 10 years old and 25% were less than 5 years old. Horses are often ridden well into their twenties. At the Cavel West Slaughterhouse in Redmond, Ore., for example, the proprietor, Pascal Derde, displayed a sheaf of BLM certificates for horses he recently butchered and sent to Belgium for human consumption. Asked about the AP’s findings, Tom Pogacnik, director of the BLM’s $16-million-a-year Wild Horse and Burro Program, conceded that about 90% of the horses rounded up go to slaughter. Has a program intended to save wild horses, as a symbol of the American frontier, evolved into a supply system for horse meat? "I guess that’s one way of looking at it,""Recognizing that we can’t leave them out there, well, at some point critters do have to come off the range."

Clifford Hansen, a former U.S. senator from Wyoming who introduced the bill to create the program, said he now wishes he could remove his name from the legislation. "The law was intended to recognize the significance of wild horses and burros," said Hansen, now 84, "but talk about a waste of public funds!"

The government spends up to $1,100 to round up, vaccinate, freeze brand and adopt out a horse. Although adopters pay $125 for each healthy horse, a lame or old horse can be bought for as little as $25, or even acquired free. After holding the horses for a year, adopters are free to sell them for slaughter, typically receiving $700 per animal from the slaughterhouse. The sellers find no shortage of horsemeat buyers. The demand for American horsemeat has long been strong in Asia and Europe.

Government officials offered conflicting opinions on whether it is legal or ethical for BLM officials to adopt and sell wild horses.

The AP matched computer records of horse adoptions with a computerized list of federal employees and found that more than 200 current BLM employees have adopted more than 600 wild horses and burros. Some of these employees, when contacted, could not account for their animals. Others acknowledge that some of their horses were sent to slaughterhouses.

In Rock Springs, Wyoming, the BLM corrals are run by Victor McDarment, whose crew rounds up horses from open ranges in Wyoming and arranges adoptions. According to BLM database records, McDarment has adopted 16 horses. His estranged wife adopted nine. His children adopted at least six. His girlfriend adopted four. His ex-wife adopted one. His co-workers in the corrals and their families adopted 54. McDarment said he could not account for the whereabouts of all the horses. "I don’t keep track," he said. Some ended up with Dennis Gifford, a Lovell, Wyoming, rancher and rodeo contractor who said he has tried to breed them for rodeo stock. He said he is sure some of McDarment’s horses were slaughtered. They have to end up somewhere, Gifford said.

Federal law prohibits U.S. government employees from using public office for private gain. The U.S. Office of Government Ethics said this means BLM workers are not allowed to profit from BLM programs. But Gabriel Paone, the Interior Departments ethics official in Washington, said there is nothing wrong with BLM employees adopting wild horses and then selling them for profit. "They’re not doing this as public officials." Paone said. "They’re doing this as private citizens."

The federal government is conducting several reviews of the Wild Horse and Burro Program, with two audits and two reports to Congress expected to be completed in 1997. "I welcome the scrutiny," Pogacnik said.
Pogacnik said. "It can only help."

The last is more recent and it is copyrighted so I cannot post it here. It comes to us from the Quarter Horse News and is about the Jackson Mountain Horses. The BLM failed to act appropriately and 185 horses died during and after the horses were removed. You can read the story by going here.

The Secretary of the Interior is supposed to oversee our wild horses. Instead over 19 million acres have been removed from the program, in violation of the law. The population level of horses, otherwise known as Appropriate Management Level (AML), is arbitrarily set with little or no scientific data to support it and most data has been manipulated. In fact, the law requires that each herd area should be self-sustaining, and since 90% of the herd areas are set below genetic viability, the law isn't being followed.

The BLM is not appropriately managing our wild horses and they never have. We MUST take action to protect them before they no longer exist. Please call your Senators and your Congressperson and ask that Congress investigate the management of our Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros. To find your Senators and Representative visit the Save Our Wild Horses website. The site also offers sample letters to jump start your communications, but remember letters, emails and phone calls are most effective if they are in your own words.

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