Horse News

The BLM’s Internal “Investigation”: The Fox Guarding the Henhouse

Story by Debbie Coffey ~ Investigative Journalist for the PPJ Gazette <-Live Link

Under this option, any facility could become a focal point for public, media or Congressional attention.  Increased levels of security would be needed at all locations, or the activity may need to be moved off-site to a more appropriate and secure facility.  Increased support from public relations and management staff would also be needed to insulate those doing the actual work from public, media and Congressional scrutiny/criticism.”

After the many horrific photos and videos of the Antelope HMA wild horse gather being conducted by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) contractor, Sun J, the BLM Review Team appointed to do an internal investigation (AKA cover-up) found “no violation by wild horse gather contractor of existing BLM policy and procedures” and Director Bob Abbey called for a “NEW NORMAL” for doing business.

1)    The helicopter pilot for Sun J Livestock (owned by John and Jody Holmes of Vernal, Utah) is Josh Hellyer of Sky Aviation (Worland, Wyoming).  Sky Aviation does aerial crop spraying and fish planting (the helicopter lifts a container of water containing fish and empties the contents over a lake).

2)    The BLM’s report states: “The gather contract solicitation requires that all proposals demonstrate a minimum of 1,500 hours of flying experience in similar projects for the proposed primary and secondary helicopter pilots.”   Did Sky Aviation’s helicopter pilot Josh Hellyer have 1,500 hours of flying experience on similar projectsDoes hauling equipment or containers of water or aerial crop spraying seem even remotely similar to rounding up wild horses?

3)    What prior BLM experience did Josh Hellyer have other than hauling equipment in June, 2010?

4)    At the Warm Springs wild horse gather in Oregon (where Blue Moon died), which was also run by Sun J, Laura Leigh was told that the helicopter pilot, Josh, was just learning.  See how the helicopter and Sun J operated:

5)    The BLM Investigative Report concludes: “Allegations that the helicopter is dangerously close to the horses or trap are inaccurate or exaggerated.” (In the following photo, it sure looks like the helicopter is close to the trap.  It also looks like the rotor blades are close to hitting the ground.)

6)    “There is no indication that the helicopter or crew was acting in a cruel or inhumane manner.” – BLM

7) “There is no indication the helicopter was flying dangerously low, too close to the horses, or in an unsafe manner.” – BLM investigation report

8)    The BLM Investigation Report states that the helicopter “kept a safe distance” from the wild horses.

Photographs by Laura Leigh

9)    3 out of 8 pages of the BLM’s investigation report focus on ONLY one incident, the mare that fell on Jan. 27, 2011.  This seems like the old “narrow the scope of the investigation” ploy.  The report called the fact that the mare fell down “an unfortunate accident.”  (Like she didn’t have a loud, 1500 lb. helicopter bearing down on her.)  (In this link, the mare falls at 2:10 and the helicopter flies close to her at 3:14 and 3:40)

10)           The BLM’s report states (regarding the Jan. 31 photos shown on #8 above): “BLM was unable to acquire images from the owner to allow for review and evaluation.”  This statement is untrue.  For one thing, the BLM could’ve easily seen the images on the internet and also here:

Laura Leigh, who took the photographs, met with BLM Schell Field Manager, Mary D’Aversa, and Ely District Public Affairs specialist, Chris Hanefeld, and offered to send copies of her photographs/videos DIRECTLY to the people doing the investigation.  D’Aversa and Hanefeld wouldn’t identify who was doing the investigation, only that the investigators were “higher up” and from Washington D.C.  On Feb. 1, Maureen VanDerStad of called Chris Hanefeld and informed him that the pictures taken on Jan. 31, 2011, were on Laura Leigh’s blog.  Hanefeld told her that he didn’t have time to read blogs.

11)           Laura Leigh took photos on Jan. 31,  but was not at the gather on Jan. 27, when the mare fell.  However, BLM Spokesman Tom Gorey didn’t get his facts straight, and stated:  “BLM believes the photos were taken the same day of the video but from a different angle.”  This was not true.

12)           The BLM investigative report does not give the name of the BLM’s COTRs (Contracting Officer’s Technical Representatives).  Nor does the report give the names of the members of the “public” the BLM team questioned.  Since this investigation goes back to Oct. 2010, it includes the Warm Springs, Oregon gather, and most of the “public” who were able to get on the very limited attendance list were BLM “friends” who were invited by the BLM.

BLM Director Bob Abbey’s “new normal” is the same as the “old normal”:  The BLM’s continued assault on the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971.

Three of the four members of the BLM’s “review team” who did this “investigation” should be investigated themselves, in a Congressional investigation.

Lili Thomas, Gus (Victor) Warr and Al Kane, USDA’s AHPHIS veterinarian, were all part of a BLM “team,” whose conference calls and Alternate Management Options were obtained by the Freedom of Information Act by The Conquistador Program, a non-profit equine welfare organization in Phoenix, AZ.   In these conference calls, they discussed using taxpayer money to pay for psychological counseling for BLM employees who would be euthanizing healthy horses.  They discussed experimenting on our wild horses with unapproved drugs and using our horses for research.  Also, in these conference calls:

  • Al Kane, a USDA APHIS veterinarian, would be sending info on SpayVac and GonaCon.  It’s noted that SpayVac is “not commercially available; barely available as a research project; Indications it may be permanent in horses;  It is unclear whether we can get it in the countryAlan Shepard will be working on this with Al Kane.
  • SpayVac has not been approved by the EPA or FDA for investigational use.
  • A single vaccination of SpayVac…could be permanent…Based on the Nevada estray horse trials…
  • The use of PZP under an investigational exemption…the products are technically challenging to mix and administer and their safety has not been confirmed by the FDA or EPA.
  • If large numbers of animals become eligible for euthanasia at one time or at one location…euthanasia could be performed on or off-site.
  • Under this option, any facility could become a focal point for public, media or Congressional attention.  Increased levels of security would be needed at all locations, or the activity may need to be moved off-site to a more appropriate and secure facility.  Increased support from public relations and management staff would also be needed to insulate those doing the actual work from public, media and Congressional scrutiny/criticism.
  • How many could be euthanized during a gather without having NEPA?
  • If proven to be permanent, SpayVac could be used to create non-reproducing herds of mares.
  • Adjusting sex ratios of herds:  “Does it affect behavior and do we care?…

There are many reasons there should be a Congressional Investigation of the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Program.  Some go back to the 1990s.  The PEER White Paper “Horses To Slaughter” (April, 1997) stated: “the BLM has tolerated and in some instances facilitated the routine and illegal trafficking of wild horses to slaughter…

This included “black booking” or phony double branding of horses so that duplicate branded horses could disappear without a paper trail.  The agency obstructed efforts by its own law enforcement officers to expose commercial theft of wild horses, fraudulent adoption schemes and fictitious ‘sanctuary’ herds, not only to avoid embarrassment, but also to maintain the flow of horses off the range.”

An investigation backed by former BLM Director Jim Baca had “been accepted for prosecution by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Texas by the time he had left office.  This investigation, by BLM law enforcement agents from New Mexico, centered around the direct participation of BLM employees and contractors selling wild horses for slaughter with the knowledge and approval of BLM managers. Their scheme involved the use of satellite ranches and horse sanctuaries to hide the horses for profit operation.

Troubling aspects of this investigation were the apparent obstruction and witness tampering by BLM managers.  In some instances, BLM officials warned suspects of impending search warrants and  revealed the identity of undercover investigators.

After Baca left office, the Department of Interior began a campaign to shut down the U.S. Attorney’s investigation, even though a grand jury had already been convened to hear evidence in the case.  The U.S. Attorney was pressured into limiting the scope of the investigation to the actions of low level BLM employees.

After the investigation was limited, the BLM reassigned investigators working on the case and began a campaign to drive the original investigators out of the agency.  When agency lawyers blocked the execution of subpoenas, it struck the death blow to the grand jury probe.  The grand jury was cut off from getting the evidence it needed to continue.

Lawyers from the Department of Justice urged that the case be dropped because the tolerance within BLM for the horse to slaughter trade was so widespread that it would be unfair to single out any one person for prosecution.  The Assistant U.S. Attorney objected, but the recommendations of the Justice Department lawyers were accepted and the grand jury was dismissed.”

Will there ever be any justice for our wild horses?  Will there be any justice before they become extinct?

To watch the current wild horse gathers, go to or the blog for at

Sources: (Implementation Team Conference Calls and Alternative Management Options documents are available on this website)

An excellent analysis of the documents above, titled “BLM’s Final Solution for the Wild Horses and Burros” was done by the Animal Law Coalition

Sky Aviation’s helicopter (N34CM) at Sun J’s Antelope wild horse gather.

Fish Planting by Sky Aviation:

Sky Aviation’s services:

Sky Aviation does aerial crop spraying:

Josh Hellyer listed as a Sky Aviation pilot

Josh Hellyer hauled equipment for the BLM in June, 2010 at Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range:

Page 14:

BLM colluding and conspiring agianst wild horses and you

BLM’s press release regarding their investigation:

Full copy of the BLM’s Investigative Report:

35 replies »

  1. Congress (not all, but most) stood by when humans were being brutalized by slavery. They stood by when Hitler was exterminating humans any place he could. They stood by when Japan was raping China and Asia until the bombing of Pearl Harbor. They did NOTHING after one environmental and financial disaster after the other…except get FACEtime on the evening news or CSPAN with useless quips of nonsense and flat out lies….they continue to stand by while our West and wild equines are slaughtered and raped.

    Excellent report, but painfully sickening to read.

    Maybe we should find a “square” and do what the Egyptians have done/doing.


    • We must protest. Letters are the only legit petitions. Mail yours today. I truly believe following a money trail is only way to solve problems in politics. REASON, MONEY & MARCHES to post office to mail petitions CAN change horse history.
      Please consider the peril of all horses. Change is not easy. Now, put on your brave boots. Speak up and stick that petition in the slot!
      Make Horse Slaughter History with Fair Taxes and Committees. Petition and addresses on website.
      Corruption ends with the voice of the people. Our representatives have to listen to US when we mail petitions. Emailed and online group petitions do not carry weight. Mail it.


  2. No investigation is worth a hill of beans if it comes from within…. it can only be done by outside entities. Because it would cost money I think it would be hard to get….

    The DOI/BLM has been self-policing from day 1. This must end, be circumvented by the public outcry and information frozen and sealed in place for a real investigation.
    But by whom?? mar


  3. CUT their damn “budget” (NOT A FREEZE or shuffling it around) for roundups, transport and longterm holding because they belong on the ranges!!!!!

    What’s Obama’s design?….CUT freaking Pell Grants!


  4. I can’t watch this video again – it is just too painful to watch. But thank you Deb Coffey for putting this debacle of democracy into prospective (with pictures for those BLMers reading the blog). I don’t suppose any of those expert horseman or veterinarians would have called “they were walking and trotting” a reaction to chutes, r confusion or maybe they didn’t see that two other horses in the herd stumbled and almost went down. Or that the stallion lagging so far behind was encouraging the old mare to keep going. Maybe nobody noticed the volume of expiration from Ole Sister as she lay there trying to get up the strength to bring her knees up, watching as her band moved towards the trap. Maybe they didn’t notice the difference between the younger horses relatively smooth gait and her exaggerated knee lift to bring her hooves up to avoid tripping, which she did twice before falling.

    I did read the BLM “decision” – it took a moment to steady myself. The arrogance and audacity of the proclamation and the use of the media and major networks to proclaim the contractor is innocent of violation of BLM policy almost bowled me over. This is my government, run for, by and of (or reverse that) the people. WE are not the enemy. Amongst the rationalizations, I kept sensing we were – as was the horse.

    I don’t believe anyone charged the contractor with violation of BLM policies. The public charge is violation of Nevada state animal cruelty charges of overdriving. It is obvious that BLM policies do not rise to the level of the state cruelty laws. Pity. BLM’s decision has no impact on the outcome state laws. At least not the last time I checked. I believe the DA has been given the charges to investigate and he should continue to do the job of prosecuting to the fullest extent of the law and thus protect the people from those who operate outside legal constraint. We await your decision.


  5. what a bunch of crap like I said we have talked long enough it will take action on our part . you cannot fight the government when they want the land for there cattle and you cannot fight the blm but we could stop the whole thing if we all stand together the people who love horses we have talked long enough the courts and judges don’t have any back bones and fight them so we have to .
    this is so heart breaking to read and to see . I can’t watch it anymore


  6. Has anyone heard from OSHA regarding the unsafe actions of the pilot? I believe OSHA is REQUIRED to investigate all complaints … right?


    • I sent a letter to Nevada OSHA last week. I guess it’s too soon to expect a reply, but I did include photos of the dangerous flying by the SunJ pilot — not only close to the horses, but also close to the trap site where employees are often on hand.
      I’ll definitely let y’all know if I get an answer.


  7. I think the time has come for us to mount (no pun intended) a peaceful (we don’t want to be compared to the people we’re trying to stop) demonstration in Phoenix next month! The weather will be great, and if enough of us show up the news stations will be all over it. And they can see the videos as well as read what we just have about the BLM’s “investigation” and how many times it’s been sidelined in the past. Even non-horse people have opinions about the “symbol of the American West” and the importance to this country! As I recently told the group I’ve been working with on this issue the last year, I haven’t attended a demonstration since the late 60’s/early 70’s, but I will definitely be there for THIS one! I’m now heading for some kleneex…Blessed Be!


    • I had not seen this Louie, thanks, it is good news. Next question,how will the BLM circumvent this one? I am sure they are figuring out some way around.


      • The BLM has not been able to win or circumvent any of the many lawsuits being won by WWP, in fact ranchers are volunteering to pull cattle off of allotments when they find out wwp is suing for removal, rather than have it go to court and have it adjudcicated-even tho it is BLM being sued, the ranchers don’t want that judgement against the allotment, as some will lose it permenently


  8. Big Sigh…what a long weekend. I can only hope that when we all light up the phone lines tomorrow at the WH–that someone will finally listen. That some idiot that went to Harvard will tell Bobby boo boo to stop the freaking insanity. To stop with the outrageous lies.

    I’m sorry but the cow manure I read was the first time I EVER SAW Bobby boo boo LIE OUTRIGHT to me. Or if it did this time it more than sank in. I saw that video. I knew what was what and I didn’t come to the party late.

    I don’t know what video Bobby boo boo was watching but that freaking helicopter pilot chased that poor mare–after she fell and finally got up–round and round again. Needlessly. And he flew right over her head and almost hit the jute. Bobby boo boo must have had his hands over his eyes so he could truthfully say he didn’t see any problems.

    Sorry BLM but Laura Leigh was not there that Fri. Other horse advocates that were can verify that. So the pics that show the same bozo pilot yet harassing another horse (and foal) were in fact taken on the Mon following.

    For a really good look at what that kamikaze pilot is doing go to the blog for Sat and look for Laura’s video in the comments section. I made a comment right under that tells you where the really bad pics are. BIG CAUTION. They will bring you to your knees.


  9. Debbie, very good in-depth report, sickening and infuriating as it is in all its parts. Even more disturbing to me than the latest “investigation” which was no surprise when they pronounced themselves and their contractor not guilty. I think most of us knew that was coming. I was unaware of the Texas/New Mexico cases and the agency’s blatantly crooked and heavy handed shutdown of the attempted deeper investigation and probable prosecution. There were apparently a few concerned and honest BLM law enforcement officers that tried to do something about the felonious actions of the top dogs but they were effectively squashed and transferred or “encouraged” to leave the BLM. Couple that with a gutless U.S. Attorney that let them intimidate him and a weak DOJ that basically said it wasn’t worth prosecuting because it was too widespread and not worth going after low level participants! What?!?! Did I miss something or misinterpret that? You do not kill a snake by stepping on its tail, you must destroy its head! No insult to snakes intended by that analogy.

    One of my questions is related to some of my previous posts. Where does the money trail lead? If as suspected, wild horses were being illegally shuttled away to be sold for slaughter there were significant amounts of money changing hands, who was getting paid for facilitating the supply of horses? Since they would have been violating the law by doing that I am quite sure they weren’t putting the money from sales into any BLM operating accounts because its source would have had to be explained sooner or later. So how was that money laundered and who ended up with the bulk of it in their pocket? Anyone attempting to track that down had better keep a sharp eye on their back trail !! These people obviously have no conscience and who knows what they would do to keep from being exposed?

    I have said numerous times here that Congress must stop this whole operation by immediately cutting all funds pertaining to the removal of wild horse from their home ranges. It is increasingly obvious that ALL equine operations must be taken away from the BLM even if it means creating a totally separate and new agency to administer the intent of Congress and the will of the American people regarding the preservation of these irreplacable, living symbols of American freedom and culture.

    Given the present disregard by Congress and the stonewalling by the BLM honchos, it is looking like more active measures will needs be taken to get their attention and put a stop to what they have been doing.

    “Under this option, any facility could become a focal point for public, media or Congressional attention. Increased levels of security would be needed at all locations, or the activity may need to be moved off-site to a more appropriate and secure facility. Increased support from public relations and management staff would also be needed to insulate those doing the actual work from public, media and Congressional scrutiny/criticism.” This sounds like what they were talking about in a high level closed door meeting I alluded to in a previous comment referring to the need to have armed guards at roundup sites.

    THEY KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING IS WRONG! They have known that from the beginning!!!!


  10. Excellent article Deb, you pulled all the threads together to form a tapestry of lies mayhem and murder..They have never quit following the Alternative Management document..I recognised that when they raised the issue at the last WH&B Advisory meeting of spaying mares in the field, they just tried to go undercover with it, the nitwit at Sheldon verified they intended to spay mares in the field when the did the sneak attack gather this year..The ghastly experiments they are doing on the WH would be stopped in a sane society, I hope those in DC use your article to put things in context, drawing the pathway between all of the criminal acts and intents is critical to making our point


  11. This is a national scandal, and if no one steps up to stop this insanity, the fact that this administration has condoned the actions of this malevolent, misguided DOI/BLM should be grounds to consider their prompt removal from office.

    To think that this president supported the end of horse slaughter in Illinois and thereby won the endorsement of animal rights group is just sickening. If is all just smoke and mirrors.

    We can not believe a word that Bob Abbey says. These people need to get a grip. It’s like they were caught beating my grandmother with a stick, but claiming that beating an 80 year-old woman with a stick had not harmed the woman. They presume an authority that they do not have. They cannot declare evil acts good and expect any thinking person to believe anything else they say.


  12. The leadership of the House and Senate need to hear from outraged citizens, especially if you live in their districts or State’s.

    (1) The cuts Obama is proferring are not enough.

    (2) The programs at USDA and DOI need to be reduced, targeted and then, CUT!…especially the grazing programs and WH&B with a BIG overhaul of farm subsidies (watch that one sink like a lead balloon in conference and committees).

    (3) More transparency AND listening to citizens…not Carghill, Tyson or Rape Mining and Extractors, Inc.

    (4) Remind the leadership that although we may or may not be in the district or State….they guide legislation and budgets that effect ALL in the US and the environment…they MUST listen to us, the people.

    When is the Advisory Board meeting in AZ?


  13. I’ve said it before and say it again……….it is fine to formally communicate with DOI/USDA. I wouldn’t only provide them a cc on any commo with DC. Go after the DOJ and White House and CONGRESSIONAL LEADERSHIP. Then make a media entity pay attention. Yes it will be difficult, but not impossible. where the Hades is 60 Minutes when you need them.

    Anybody getting tired of Egypt, Egypt, Lindsey Lohan, Egypt, Egypt, Charlie Sheen, Egypt yet?!?!?…especially when we know what is happenning to our wild ones, food supply, banks, mortgages, resources and public lands?


    • Egypt is a pretty big story. 18 days to topple a dictator that was in power for 30 years and it all began by a facebook page started by a google manager in Egypt who was outraged at the abuse of power of a corrupt government. This story should be inspirational.


  14. Be careful what you ask for on the budge cuts. BE SPECIFIC – budget CUT on Roundups, not on maintaining the horses or you will find them shipped to Mexico and Canada faster than you can say @#$@!! GAO will not mind one iota about cutting loose 40,000 horses for slaughter. AND make a profit on it. THAT is sickening.


  15. The continued claim of “overpopulation” by BLM and other anti-wild horse factions is an outright lie. Lacking is a true sense of the wild horse’ importance and place here, and the need for we humans to learn to live in a much less greedy way and allow such noble expressions of freedom as the wild horses — and burros — to be rightfully and naturally reinstated. They have so much that is truly positive to contribute! They are healers on the Earth, especially when given the space and the time and the suitable habitat.


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