WHE Walks BLM to Court Over Wild Horse Welfare Issues


Org Walks BLM to Court Over Wild Horse Welfare Issues 

(RENO: July 26, 2023) After making numerous attempts to engage the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to address measures to protect wild horses and burros from unnecessary death and suffering, Wild Horse Education (WHE) has filed a lawsuit in federal district court. 

A roundup in eastern Nevada has gathered international outrage after a palomino stallion attempted escape, suffered a catastrophic compound fracture and was then chased by helicopter and horseback wranglers for over 30 minutes before being shot. The golden stallion had been called “Sunshine Man” by members of WHE that visited the area over the years and the horrific fate of this beloved wild horse made them “physically ill.” 

Fatalities at this roundup have included 3 broken necks, 3 broken rear legs, and at least 6 foals (3 of which died from heat related illness including dehydration). 

From July 9th through July 24nd, at least 19 wild horses have died and 6 foals have been orphaned. The number of injuries and deaths after transport to BLM facilities is unknown as the agency does not make that information available with a time-consuming Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

“Our Team has been engaging every available avenue, and then some, to gain desperately needed policy revision for years,” stated Laura Leigh, President of Wild Horse Education. “During this operation welfare issues became urgent and we have made numerous attempts to meet with BLM and each attempt is ignored or blocked by public affairs.”

“BLM simply went into a defensive posture and hit the accelerator on removals ignoring data-based input. In fact, instead of responding, there have been incidents where our team in the field has been given restrictions that even involve being told they can’t talk to each other by an incensed public affairs person after news coverage began. While we watch wild horses die BLM is more focused on controlling a conversation between observers than they are the safety of wild horses they are mandated by law to treat humanely. It is crazy-making.” 

In 2017, BLM approved a designated single project area under Environmental Assessment (Gather-EA, DOI-BLM-NV-E030-2017-0010) for the Antelope and Triple B Complexes that spans square acreage larger than the states of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. BLM has been segmenting roundups by complex due to the sheer size of the area. The gather area for the 2023 Antelope Complex roundup operations span nearly 1.4 million of those acres. The area is so large, for the first time in a single complex, two crews have been operating simultaneously. 

“Even before this roundup began I feared for the safety of these wild horses I love,” said Leigh. “I contacted BLM to see if they had done any review to determine if the 2017 document was adequate. Heck, that document was finalized before BLM even hired someone to head their welfare program in 2021. BLM had done no additional analysis and I knew, before this roundup began, wild horses would suffer again during actual foaling season… babies would be orphaned and die. I did not know a stallion I loved would suffer such an excruciating end. Out of options, unfortunately, BLM has forced this issue back into the courts. It is absurd.” 

During a roundup last summer (conducted under the same documents governing the current operation) WHEs independent Comprehensive Animal Welfare Policy (CAWP) team documented foals trampled, wild horses run through barbed wire, electric shocks used to speed up loading (even near the face and neck of foals), and other violations of current policy. The group prepared an independent review, program recommendations and sent the entire package to the agency’s CAWP team and received no response. The same review was submitted through every channel available, with no response. 

“In this matter my clients have diligently engaged to create necessary change addressing ongoing and urgent matters concerning the life, death and suffering of wild horses and have run out of options,” stated Jessica Blome of Greenfire Law, representing Wild Horse Education. “This egregious contact should concern us all. It is an honor to work to represent this urgent issue.”

“I am so tired.” Leigh ended. “The physical and emotional toll of watching BLM wrap abuse in layers of bureaucracy and simply take no real action to stop inflicting unnecessary suffering on these sensitive and family oriented beings is sickening. We have to try everything we can to stop unnecessary suffering and get this most obstinate agency moving toward creating real change, not just promises of change, now.”