BLM review of Triple B wild horse gather finds overall safe practices

Dec 9, 2011
by WLJ

After reviewing instances of alleged animal abuse during the recently completed Triple B wild horse gather in Nevada, a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) team has found that helicopter contractor Sun J Livestock generally demonstrated appropriate, humane handling of wild horses over the course of the six-week gather that ended Aug. 31. The review team also cited specific incidents of inappropriate, aggressive practices, including cases when the helicopter operated too closely to single horses and pursued small groups of horses or single horses too long. No single incident, however, generated a consensus among animal welfare experts that horses were treated inhumanely.

The team’s seven-page report made 11 recommendations, including the need for BLM to ensure clarity of management expectations of what is appropriate and what is not in gather-related operations. The agency will take corrective actions in response to all recommendations.

BLM Director Bob Abbey called for the review on Sept. 23 following the conclusion of the Triple B gather which resulted in the removal of more than 1,200 wild horses from overpopulated herds roaming in a complex northwest of Ely and southeast of Elko. The purpose of the gather was to bring wild horse herd populations into balance with the land’s forage capacity, consistent with BLM’s mandate to manage

the public lands for multiple resources and uses, including wildlife habitat, livestock grazing and outdoor recreation. Toward the end of the gather, U.S. District Court Judge Howard D. McKibben granted a Temporary Restraining Order to plaintiffs opposed to the Triple B gather because of his concern that a helicopter was flying too closely to a horse being gathered.

“Aggressive and rough handling of wild horses is not acceptable and we are actively taking steps to ensure that such behavior is not repeated,” Abbey said. “Guidance documents will be issued to ensure that all gather personnel are aware of appropriate handling techniques and related procedures.”

The BLM team was composed of Ken Collum, BLM Eagle Lake (CA) field manager; Gus Warr, BLM-Utah lead wild horse and burro specialist; Steven Hall, BLM-Colorado communications director; and Dr. Owen Henderson, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service veterinarian. The team interviewed BLM staff, external animal welfare experts and Sun J Livestock employees. The team also reviewed declarations filed in U.S. District Court by public observers who documented alleged abuse at the gather. In addition, BLM examined 11 videos taken by public observers of the BLM’s Triple B gather and reviewed the more extensive collection of BLM videos, photos and reports.

“I am instituting a proactive process for conducting internal reviews of many aspects of our program to ensure that we are moving toward the ‘new normal’ of wild horse and burro management,” said Joan Guilfoyle, chief of the BLM’s Wild Horse and Burro Division.

In response to the team’s recommendations, BLM is taking corrective actions, including:

Establishing a helicopter gather contracts review team to determine what operational improvements are needed, whether by modification of existing contracts or by issuing new “Requests for Proposal” (solicitations) for gather-related work, and to clarify management ex pectations as to what is appropriate and what is inappropriate.

Reviewing existing training courses and recommending supplemental curricula to help implement an incident command structure and meet the expectations referred to above.

Issuing guidelines to ensure that helicopters do not make contact with wild horses and burros and to clarify decision making regarding the movement of small groups of horses or single horses to the trap.

The full text of the report, along with the 11 recommendations and the corrective actions BLM is taking, can be found at http:// — WLJ