One View: BLM Gets One Right on Horses

Source: written by Ginger Casey as published in RGJ.com

Ginger Casey is an Emmy-award winning journalist and writer who began her 23-year television career at KTVN in Reno.

My first job in television news was in Reno. The searing sun and blistering temperatures could be relentless. We routinely warned people to be careful in high heat and to take precautions for both themselves and their pets.

Twenty miles north of Reno is the federal government’s Palomino Valley National Adoption Center, where nearly 2,000 wild horses and burros are warehoused in large, open pens under blazing sun. True, horses and burros are acclimated to the desert sun in the wild, where they can find relief from the heat by heading to higher ground or by finding shade under bushes or trees. But at the Palomino Valley facility, there is no shelter of any kind for the horses and burros, no relief from triple-digit temperatures. The horses and their foals stand around on bare dirt under scorching sun with no shade of any kind. The irony is that in order to adopt one of the animals, you have to prove you have shelter from the elements available for them.

Several weeks ago, when temperatures began to top 100 degrees in Nevada, horse advocates nationwide began petitioning the Bureau of Land Management to do something about the conditions at Palomino Valley. Lester Friedlander, a former USDA veterinarian, was concerned enough to write on behalf of the horses and burros, saying conditions at the Palomino Valley facility were calling for “emergency action” to ensure the safety of the animals. He wrote that if the horses and burros were not properly protected from the heat and sun, “countless numbers will be lost to disease, infections and heat-related deaths.”

The BLM has taken a lot of flak for its handling of its wild horse and burro program. But on this one at least, the BLM seems to be getting it right. Citing the temperatures and the public’s concern, the agency announced late last month it was going to start installing sprinklers for the horses at the Palomino Valley facility. Hopefully, it is not a publicity ploy to deflect mounting public ire.

Half of the nation’s wild horses and burros live in Nevada. Despite being protected by the Wild and Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, the issues surrounding their management are complex and further complicated by politics and priorities. But rather than list what the BLM is doing wrong, I want to thank them for doing what is right by recognizing that once they take horses and burros out of their native habitat, they are no longer wild animals, but warehoused ones, and as such need to be cared for responsibly and humanely.

Sprinklers are a start, but not a full solution. The animals desperately need shade as well, and hopefully, it will follow. I hope this action is also the start of an overdue dialog between the BLM and the public on the best way to manage America’s wild horses and burros. Love them or hate them, our stewardship over these iconic animals calls us to be both compassionate and merciful.

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Ambassador of American Wild Horses Honored In Congress

“HAPPY BIRTHDAY CLOUD!”

Cloud as he appeared behind bars, Sept. 2009, after the BLM chased he and his herd down the mountains and across the desert so that they could rip family members from him and then chemically sterilize all of his remaining mares, Thank-You BLM ~ photo by Terry Fitch

HON. RAU´ L M. GRIJALVA
OF ARIZONA
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Mr. GRIJALVA:  “Mr. Speaker, I rise today to honor the wild horse stallion known as Cloud, born May 29, 1995 in the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range of Montana.

This majestic stallion has become the most famous wild horse in the world, and serves as the ambassador and emblem of wild horses and burros living free and protected on public lands.

No other wild horse in United States history has had his life story known and shared throughout the world.

Filmed as a tottering newborn foal beside his mother, the citizens of our great nation watched him grow into a bachelor stallion living among other young males, testing his strength, honing the skills he would one day need to start his own family.

Eventually, Cloud became a band stallion, winning mares and fathering his own foals.

Cloud’s history, captured on film and books by Ginger Kathrens, filmmaker and documentarian, has been shown throughout the United States on Public Broadcasting as part of the Nature Series, and throughout the world on numerous channels and networks.

Cloud symbolizes the spirit of the West and links us with our heritage. The study of his life has brought recognition and appreciation of wild horses and burros on our public lands.

Cloud has taught us that what wild horses and burros cherish most is not so different than for all Americans, freedom and family.”

H.RES.284 — Honoring wild horses and burros as important to our national heritage. (Introduced in House – IH)HRES 284 IH
112th CONGRESS
1st Session
H. RES. 284
Honoring wild horses and burros as important to our national heritage.
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
May 26, 2011
Mr. GRIJALVA submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Natural Resources

RESOLUTION
Honoring wild horses and burros as important to our national heritage.
Whereas the evolutionary origin of equines is found in North America;
Whereas wild horses and burros are part of the ecosystem and rangelands of the United States;
Whereas wild horses and burros are an important part of our national heritage;
Whereas the National Wild Horse and Burro Program should provide for continued long-term existence and well-being of wild horses and burros on public lands; and
Whereas Cloud, the most famous and revered wild stallion, was born May 29, 1995, on the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range, and embodies the essence of wild horse values of freedom and family: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the House of Representatives–

  • (1) honors the 16th birthday of Cloud;
  • (2) encourages the people of the United States to observe and celebrate the 16th birthday of Cloud and the intrinsic value of all wild horses and burros;
  • (3) recognizes wild horses and burros as living symbols of the western development era and honors their hardy nature; and
  • (4) recognizes that with the American frontier long since closed, wild horses and burros remain among the last representatives of the freedom and spirit of the Old West.

Hatred Fueled Killing of Eight Horses

Editorial by Ginger Casey of the Columbus Dispatch

Social Intolerance Took Toll on the Innocent

Elvis is dead. So are Barney, Floyd, Princess, Buddy, Love, Bella and Ethel. They died on Easter, burned to death in their barn in southern Ohio, when someone set the building on fire after spray painting messages to their owner on the outside.

On a day when many were contemplating everlasting life and candy-bearing bunnies, Brent Whitehouse, who lives with his mother on a farm above the county fairgrounds in McConnelsville, woke to see a flickering orange glow coming from outside. Moments later he was tearing frantically at the door of his barn as flames burst through the roof. He could hear his horses screaming inside but could not get the door open.

The fire was so intense, a tractor inside the barn melted. But what was left on the building, still smoldering the following day, was the remnants of spray paint and its searing message: “ Faggots are freaks,” and, “Burn in hell.”

The Quarter horses Whitehouse raised were like children to him. He says he cannot understand why anyone could kill such innocent creatures. Well, whoever did it obviously thought they were making a point about Whitehouse’s sexual orientation. That because of who they thought he was, his horses deserved to die, shrieking in panic and pain as the flames ran through the barn. That because they thought Whitehouse is gay, his horses should be killed to make a statement about homosexuals.

Buddy was only a week old, standing on spidery, wobbly legs. Love was full with her own foal, due any moment.

The capacity for cruelty of this magnitude in the heartland of America should be a wake-up call for anyone who cares about the welfare of animals and the rights of all of us to love whomever we want. Killing these horses most assuredly killed whatever shred of decency might have been in the heart of the person or people who tossed the match. And now that they have murdered these beautiful animals, who knows where they’ll go next? Maybe Reno, Nev., where a couple of guys out drinking shot up a group of 10 wild Mustang horses with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle for kicks a couple of years ago. Or Laramie, Wyo., where 21-year-old Matthew Shepard was viciously beaten, tied to a fence and left to die because he was gay.

Such disregard for life, such brutal allegiance to hatred of a particular class of people doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Or maybe it does. Perhaps the people who killed these horses were never taught to respect life as children; perhaps they never knew anyone gay growing up. And as we know, demons fill the void for most of us, demons and fear. It is only through the light of love and kindness that we emerge blinking and squinting into our humanity.

We can only hope, or pray, that those who live in the darkness of ignorance will see the light. McConnelsville is a small town in a small county of 13,000 people. Sooner or later, someone will talk, fueled by liquor and bravado, or by the incentive of the reward money, which grows larger every day. Then, whoever did this will be brought to justice. So we can say, as a people, that we will not stand for this. Not for these horses, not for Whitehouse or for anyone gay who wants to be able to live freely, openly and without fear in a country that was founded on personal liberty. But to do that, someone will have to step up. I will say my own prayer that someone will.

The message that was scorched onto the side of the barn is ironic because we already know who is more likely to burn in hell, if indeed there even is one. It most certainly will not be the man who loved these horses. But it most surely will be that person or people who walked past Elvis and Barney and Floyd, past Princess, Buddy, Bella, Love and Ethel, and set the barn on fire, knowing that when the flames began licking at their stalls, the horses would be trapped. With any luck, and by the grace of their own creator, these people will someday know that same feeling. For eternity.

The Vision for New Mexico’s Wild Horse Sanctuary

by Ginger Casey, an Emmy winning TV news veteran

One Small Step Forward in the Battle to Save the Wild Horses

Since March, we have been working with the State of New Mexico and the Federal government on developing a horse park and preserve for the Santa Fe area.

With more than 35-thousand horses in captivity and many in feedlot conditions, we wanted to work on a model that could bring some of these horses to permanent homes as well as showcase them on open lands that would be habitat for them to live out their lives in freedom.  We have learned that no one can do this by themselves.  The States are all broke, the Feds are struggling under the weight of their own care for the animals, and the non-profit world – blessed as they are with good-hearted people – simply does not have the funds to take on a large number of horses and burros.

Our model blends together a unique partnership between State and Federal agencies as well as the non-profit world.  Under the plan, the State will buy the property, the Federal government will bring the infrastructure and horses and a 501(c)(3) will be responsible for raising the operating funds through corporate partnerships and private donations.  It is a win-win for everyone – especially the horses.

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, an avid horseman himself, saw the beauty of the plan and has been supporting its development.  The negotiations have been long and tedious, but are bearing fruit.  We have been working very closely with the Nature Conservancy, New Mexico’s State Parks director, Dave Simon, and Jim Noel, the NM Cabinet Secretary for Energy and Minerals.  They deserve a lot of credit for making this happen.  So does Phil Walker with the BLM in Washington.   He has been out to New Mexico several times and together we arranged for Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior, Sylvia Baca and Don Glenn of the BLM to come out to see for themselves the 12-thousand acre ranch we identified.  They loved it.  Governor Richardson then gave the go-ahead to acquire the property, which sits halfway between Santa Fe and Albuquerque on the historic scenic byway, the Turquoise Trail.  The town of Madrid is close by; a former mining town now known as an eclectic arts community.  The movie, “Wild Hogs“, was filmed there and several other western movie sets, dating back to the forties, line the road as it winds through the area.  The Ortiz Mountain ranch is a stunning parcel of land that rises up to the tallest peak in the mountain chain.  It is a striking visual point that can be seen for more than 50 miles.

What the plan envisions is a State park that is equine centered – the miles of roads and trails that are already in place on the property will welcome both hikers and those who trailer their horses to the park.  The old hacienda style house will be converted into a state of the art visitor center that will welcome school children and visitors with exhibits on the Mustangs and their historical contributions to our nation’s development.  A nearby stable will enable people to meet the horses themselves and see first-hand, the gentle methods used to successfully train the Mustangs from the wild to domestication.  These horses will then be available for adoption. Right now, if someone wants to adopt a horse, they have to drive a truck and trailer several hours to one of the existing Federal facilities, pick a dusty horse out of the crowd, somehow get it into the trailer and hope it works out when they get it home.  This only sets the horse and owner up for disaster.  Many people, not knowing how to handle wild animals, try to strong-arm them into submission.  As we know, that approach is probably the worst to take with the Mustangs.  At the New Mexico park, prospective owners will have several chances to meet and get to know their horse and learn the best ways to handle them. This will result in better adoptions for both the rider and the horses.

Most important, a separate 5-thousand acre parcel of the ranch will be set aside for a number of horses to simply run free, away from the public.  By setting up web cams near the water areas, much like they do in other Federal and State parks,  video of the wild horses will then be sent back to the visitor center, where people can watch the Mustangs and burros in their environment.

Santa Fe’s high desert climate means the number of horses the park can sustain will not be very high – the grasses are thin.  We may not be able to get more than  60 horses to run free there.   But if this model works, and we hope it will, then we can take it to other States where the grasses are more abundant, where we can then begin to talk about moving hundreds of animals out of the feed lots and onto free range.  Rather than doing the typical thing of pushing the horses farther and farther away to remote locations, we are going to bring them closer, so communities will meet and embrace them as beloved local treasures.   The benefits of Santa Fe – the crossroads of the Old West, a strong tourism economy based on its history, and a large horse-loving population, in our eyes, outweighs the negatives.  According to the Albuquerque and Santa Fe Convention and Visitors Bureau, millions of people visit the region each year. New Mexico, where horses first entered the ‘New World’ is a perfect place to begin.

We are setting up a non-profit that will not only manage the horses at this preserve, but at several others we hope to establish under this unique State/Federal/Private model.  This non-profit, the ‘American Association of Mustang Preserves’,  will also serve as an ‘alliance umbrella’ for other preserves that seek greater political voice and buying power.  By aligning ourselves with our fellow preserves, (where everyone retains their own name and brand) we will be able to better track the needs of the horses once they leave the Federal holding facilities.  Together, we can better advocate for the animals, share best practices and hopefully effect some real change in how the Mustangs and burros are handled.

Habitat, education, adoption are the three pillars of our model, along with a vigorous campaign that will incorporate some of Hollywood’s heavy hitters and major media.  Chantal and I both come from television news.  We have a lot of contacts within the worlds of newspapers, magazines, radio, television and Hollywood.  There is a lot of support already waiting in the wings, waiting for the word that New Mexico will approve the purchase of the property.  The first part of the project is underway, but we fear the election year politics in New Mexico may destroy the work we have all been doing.  There have been misinformation campaigns regarding the actual numbers, smear tactics against the Governor, and general nastiness about the horses, the BLM and the State.

New solutions need to be found for the care of the Mustangs.  The BLM admits this.  Most of your colleagues in the horse world are painfully aware of the problems the agency has had in rounding them up and caring for them in captivity.  Your activism and the work of others to forge a political solution is an important component of making real change happen. But change from within is also important.

Chantal and I have chosen to work with the BLM and the State of New Mexico to do what we can to make a real difference to the horses already being held.  So far, they have treated us fairly.  So, we are pushing on, hoping that this first park will be the example that other States will want to follow.

We have no stake in any of this, other than trying to help the horses.  We know this is not a full solution to the problem, but it is a start.  We are doing it for free and without any promise or expectation of compensation.  The BLM will not be paying us, nor will New Mexico.   I have flown to Washington to meet with officials at the Department of the Interior at my own expense and expect nothing in return.  Well actually, I do.  I expect to be there with Chantal when the first trailer of horses arrives in New Mexico and the gates open to let them out!  When we watch them run free, I will then consider myself paid in full.

So, if you can tell your friends about the plan and the work we have been doing, hopefully we can gather up more support for the project.  The NM Board of Finance will vote on the purchase on November 16.  They need to know that people support it.  If you can get the word out to a wide audience, I would  be very grateful.

These are the names of the people on the NM Board of Finance who will be voting on the property:

John Loehr
Rhonda Dibachi
Robert Apodaca
Maria Griego-Raby
State Treasurer James Lewis
Lt. Gov. Diane Denish
Governor Bill Richardson

Emails for the board can be sent to the board administrator:  Suzanne.Romero@State.nm.usor letters here:  New Mexico State Board of Finance, 181 Bataan Memorial Building, Santa Fe, NM 87501

Editor’s Note: (James Kleinert, Director and Producer of the film “Disappointment Valley – A Modern Day Western”, and Ginger Kathrens, Emmy award winner of the “Cloud” Nature series, have teamed up to support the Governor by hand delivering, on wild horse back, 1,000 letters of appreciation to the Governor in NovemberSo please copy mustangfilm@gmail.com in your emails to Ms. Romero to ensure delivery to the Governor)