Chief Investigative Reporter George Knapp and Chief Photojournalist Matt Adams
Las Vegas CBS Channel 8
George Knapp Nails BLM and Dave Cattoor
LAS VEGAS — The Bureau of Land Management has suffered two defeats in federal court in recent weeks. One judge ordered BLM to make public the names of ranchers who lease public land for grazing, something BLM didn’t want to do. A second judge struck down a BLM plan to severely limit public input into how public lands are managed.
BLM management has come under severe criticism from wild horse advocates who allege the agency seems to be morphing a public program into a private, off-limits undertaking.The BLM is in the middle of the most ambitious schedule of wild horse roundups in modern history, with some 10,000 mustangs from Nevada and other states in its crosshairs – meaning they will be captured and then shipped off to holding pens or long term warehousing at a cost of tens of millions of public dollars.
BLM says it values transparency, but has gone to great lengths to hide what it’s doing from the very taxpayers who foot the bill. It’s as if BLM is taking a lesson from other three-letter agencies, like CIA.
The 1971 Wild Horse and Burro Act was passed with overwhelming support from the public for the preservation of wild herds on public ranges, but BLM has chafed under this edict ever since, despite P.R. statements to the contrary.
More than 20 million acres that were set aside for the herds have been zeroed out — wiped free of horses even though privately owned cattle still graze on the same acres.
BLM has apparently grown tired of being pummeled for the roundups, but when you chase wild animals with helicopters across miles of tough terrain, there will always be consequences and BLM no longer wants you to see them.
All of its most recent roundups have been headquartered on islands of private land located within the public acres. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but by putting their operations on private property, BLM managers get total control over who gets to see what they do.
At last winter’s Calico Roundup in Nevada, the bloodiest roundup in memory, observers from the public and media were invited to watch for only designated times and from a considerable distance.
Horse advocates didn’t see animals injured or killed, yet we know it happened, a lot, since more than 100 mustangs died either at the site or in holding pens later. It likewise didn’t want to see images on the evening news of the horses that keeled over dead during the Owyhee Roundup after being run for miles during the hottest month of the year.
BLM not only put roundup operations on private land, its holding pens are now private too. Horse advocates were previously able to visit the Fallon corrals to photograph the carnage, such as the colts whose hooves were literally ground off by the forced run over miles of sharp rock.
A few months ago, BLM decided it had had enough of those images, so it severely limited public access to holding facilities. It has even declared the air space off limits, a power it doesn’t have.
Horse advocates who tried to get in to see one recent roundup were threatened with arrest, even after a federal judge ordered BLM to allow them in.
What next, will they start stashing wild horses down in the bowels of Area 51, right there with the corpses of extraterrestrials? Will mustangs become the black budget equivalent of stealth drones and death rays?
The BLM doesn’t want the public to see the money shot — that is, a dead or dying horse or a cowboy kicking a colt in the head, so access is tightly controlled, you know, for our own protection.
The wild horse program isn’t part of the Pentagon’s black budget. National security is not at stake out on the range. Those are public dollars being spent on public lands by public employees. There is no room in those wide open spaces for secrecy and subterfuge.
Another roundup is set to begin this week in Nevada. BLM says it will arrange for at least one day for the public to observe the operation.