AP reports: Land managers try new method to capture mustangs

Cross-posted from The Seattle Times

Federal land managers say they will use a new method to remove “excess” wild horses from the range in Nevada and other western states.


Associated Press

RENO, Nev. — Federal land managers say they will use a new method to remove “excess” wild horses from the range in Nevada and other western states.The U.S. Bureau of Land Management for the first time is resorting to the widespread use of “bait trapping,” which involves setting up panels and using food, water and salt to lure mustangs into a trap.The move comes after animal rights advocates’ growing criticism of the traditional use of helicopters to drive the animals to corrals. Activists brand the practice as inhumane, saying horses are traumatized, injured or killed as they are driven for miles across rough terrain to corrals.

“The BLM is committed to continuously improving its management of wild horses and burros,” Joan Guilfoyle, BLM wild horse and burro division chief, said in a statement. “Deploying this new method of bait trapping enhances our ability to gather animals more effectively in certain areas of the West, while minimizing the impact to the animals.”

But the agency also still plans to conduct helicopter roundups, she added.

Anne Novak, executive director of San Francisco Bay area-based Protect Mustangs, said bait trapping would only be justified if there really were an excess number of wild horses on the range ruining the natural ecological balance.

“BLM never provides a scientific wild horse head count – only sloppy inflated estimates to justify removals,” Novak told The Associated Press. “When observers go out on the range, we see other factors devastating the land like big business extracting oil, gas and mining and ripping up the terrain, along with the old school methods of overgrazing cattle.”

The BLM already has used bait trapping in densely wooded areas where helicopters can’t easily move animals, and in areas where timeliness isn’t an issue. Bait trapping usually occurs over a period of several weeks or months.

But the use of bait trapping to remove horses over long periods of time in a variety of locations simultaneously is a new strategy for the agency, Guilfoyle said. The concept is to capture smaller numbers of animals over a long period of time, not to gather large numbers of horses in a short period of time, she added.

For the first time, the BLM is soliciting bids for several bait-trapping contracts to remove mustangs in six zones across the West over a one-year period starting July 1.

The government’s wild horse program is intended to protect wild horse herds and the rangelands that support them. About 33,000 wild horses live in 10 Western states, of which about half are in Nevada. Under the program, thousands of horses are forced into holding pens, where many are vaccinated or neutered before being placed for adoption or sent to long-term corrals in the Midwest.

While animal rights advocates complain that the roundups are inhumane, ranchers and other groups say they’re needed to protect fragile grazing lands that are used by cattle, bighorn sheep and other wildlife.

No proof to justify removing “excess” wild horses with bait traps or roundups

Captured wild horse weanlings calling for help (Photo © Anne Novak, all rights reserved.)

“We are concerned the BLM’s new proposal to bait trap, over long periods of time, will zero-out wild horses in the West. The agency will continue helicopter roundups as well. There is no proof to justify the alleged “excess” amounts of wild horses. Princeton science has proven wild herds heal cattle grazing lands for cattle, so let’s find the win-win and stop wasting tax dollars on irresponsible mustang removals.” ~Anne Novak, Executive Director for Protect Mustangs.

Read about the issue and our comment in the Associated Press article here.

If you don’t like what’s going on then take action to protect America’s wild horses and burros. Get creative  . . .


AP: BLM chief in NV wants more eyes on roundups

By SCOTT SONNER, Associated Press – 12/26/11

RENO, Nev. (AP) — The head of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in Nevada is appealing to agency employees to step up and blow the whistle on any abuse of mustangs.

Amy Lueders said that’s the best way to stop horse protection advocates from undermining the agency’s roundup policies with video footage of the mistreatment of the animals and making it harder for federal land managers to win the public’s trust.

“Regardless of title, whether you are a contractor or law enforcement or public affairs, that’s everyone’s responsibility,” she said in an interview with The Associated Press.

In the past year, BLM has been taken to task by its own internal auditors, independent reviews, a U.S. district judge and camera-toting horse advocates.

A BLM task force that reviewed a roundup near the Nevada-Utah line in July found some mustangs were whipped in the face, kicked in the head, dragged by a rope around the neck and repeatedly shocked with electrical prods.

Twice this year, BLM has issued reports or statements pledging reforms to ensure humane treatment only to have videos of new incidents of mistreatment surface within days.

In the most recent case, this month, Ginger Kathrens was pointing her camera at the wranglers who appeared to be repeatedly shocking several burros with an electric prod.

The practice, called “hot-shotting,” is used to help move them into a pen or trailer and it was being employed the same day BLM chief Bob Abbey issued a report pledging more changes.

Among other things, the report said electrical prods should be used only as a last resort when human or animal safety is in jeopardy, and that they should never be used on a horse’s head or genitals.

“I thought it was ironic that while Bob Abbey was announcing the reforms I was filming the hot-shotting of the burros,” said Kathrens, an Emmy-award winning filmmaker who is the executive director of the Colorado-based Cloud Foundation, a nonprofit horse advocacy group.

Kathrens said she was about the length of two football fields away when, zooming in with her professional lenses, she captured the footage. The video showed the end points on the prods producing a shock when a wrangler lifted it into the air.

Most disturbing to Kathrens was that officials for the U.S. Agriculture Department and BLM were standing near the wranglers and witnessed the shocks but did nothing to interfere.

Kathrens said BLM officials told her privately they shared her concerns in that regard.

That’s where Lueders said agency workers have to do a better job.

Lueders delivered that message to several dozen employees in a video teleconference involving all of Nevada’s BLM offices last week, saying there’s no excuse for turning the other way if they get wind of any inhumane treatment of animals.

Lueders said, however, that it may be easier said than done when it comes to persuading workers to step up in what is often a controversial, and emotionally charged, situation.

But she said she believes her message got through.

“I made it very clear that is my expectation,” she said. “We have a lot of committed, passionate people here who care very much about the resource and the animals themselves. You can tell by that passion and professionalism that everyone takes it very seriously.”

Lisa Ross, a public affairs specialist for the BLM in Winnemucca, said Lueders’ words have been well received and will be taken seriously.

“It’s a very important message to hear,” Ross said. “It doesn’t mean that everything was wrong and now we are making it right. It’s just that it is important and everybody needs to be on the same page on this.”

About 33,000 wild horses freely roam 10 Western states — about half in Nevada. Another 41,000 are kept in government-funded facilities, including one in Herriman, Utah, that came under fire as a result of more video footage taken by horse protection advocates last spring.

A BLM task force asked to investigate issued a report in September confirming “unacceptable” conditions at the overcrowded facility where horses were forced to stand in a 4- to 8-inch deep mixture of mud and manure. BLM has since moved those animals elsewhere.

It was videotape of a helicopter either nudging or getting extremely close to a mustang in August during a roundup in northeast Nevada near the Utah line that prompted U.S. District Judge Howard McKibben to give BLM a stern lecture.

McKibben granted a temporary restraining order requiring helicopters to keep their distance from the galloping mustangs.

Lueders said it is important to remain open to criticism.

“I think we all learn more from each gather,” she said. “Each gather gives us another opportunity to improve what we do.”

Kathrens is among those who believe BLM officials are sincere and is optimistic real reform may soon follow on the range.

But Anne Novak, executive director of Protect Mustangs, based in Berkeley, Calif., isn’t so sure. She said there should be a moratorium on roundups until the agency proves they have mechanisms in place to guarantee safe and humane treatment of the horses.

“The BLM must take responsibility to train their contractors before turning wranglers loose with whips and cattle prods,” she said.

Honor the Wild War Horse


Wild War Horse (Photo © Cynthia Smalley, all rights reserved.)

California is home to some wild horses blended with ancestors of WW1 cavalry remounts. These treasured herds are found east of the Sierra Mountains, between Susanville and the Nevada border.

“We want to see horses treated humanely–they have carried us in battle and helped us plow the fields–just like in the movie WAR HORSE,” explains Anne Novak, Executive Director of California-based Protect Mustangs. “American wild horses deserve humane treatment. BLM needs to revamp their protocol to ensure the horses’ safety as well as create transparency within the Wild Horse and Burro Program. Right now too many bad things are funded with taxpayer dollars.”

Protect Mustangs’ mission is to educate the public about the American wild horse, protect and research wild horses on the range and help those who have lost their freedom.