Friday, February 24, 2012


                      The CATCH/TREAT/RELEASE  ROUNDUP at the STONE CABIN HERD MANAGEMENT AREA is over.  It was a different experience.  It is always good to see wild horses returned to freedom on their range, so let's start with that...


                  I have been spending hours, literally, going through and selecting from hundreds of photographs and then watermarking them so I can post them, bringing you out to where the horses are.  I would rather let the story tell itself through the horses and only add my words to clarify and fine-tune.   
           I want to cover many issues.  
           But the primary issue underlying all things wild horse and burro is this:  How do we change the old pattern in terms of land use planning and wild horses?  In other words, BLM policy must be changed to actually plan and prioritize HMAs to the wild horses and burros so they aren't outnumbered 4 to 1 by cows and sheep.  Case in point:  At present in Stone Cabin, for every five blades of grass, horses get one blade, cows and sheep get the remaining four.  
           This is upside-down.  The 1971 law states the wild horse and burro ranges should be managed principally but not necessarily exclusively for them in keeping with the multiple-use mandate, meaning they are to have priority.  As the numbers clearly depict, cows and sheep currently have priority.  So who is "excess"?  
            By law (the 1971 Act) BLM is only allowed to remove "excess" horses.  The catch is BLM gets to define "excess," and the GAO (Government Accountability Office) 2008 Report on BLM's Wild Horse & Burro program found that there was no scientific or uniform basis for the way BLM sets its Appropriate Management Levels (AMLs), meaning the allowable number of wild horses and burros on a given range.  
            So in reality, the AMLs are truly arbitrary, and the fox is deciding how many hens should remain in the henhouse.  
            There is no excess of horses in most of the HMAs.   Excess cows, perhaps?...
           I had a good experience with the personnel at the Stone Cabin roundup.  But these numbers are policy issues, meaning they are issues decided by people generally inaccessible to the public. These are decided whether the people conducting actual roundups are compassionate and care about the horses, or not.  
           On one hand, the same "new low" exists in terms of the BLM's policies and plans of permitting four times the number of grazing livestock than the number of wild horses on their own Herd Management Area.  
           And the plan for the wild horses and burros at Stone Cabin was as egregious as I've seen them.  Due to public pressure and the very real threat of litigation, they abandoned one of the most offensive plans this time around, thankfully.  Specifically:  
           They abandoned the plan to geld a bunch of stallions and put them back out on the range as a nonreproducing herd.
           This plan is utterly contrary to the intent of the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act which defines a herd as "a stallion and his mares."  
            Nevertheless, in defiance of that 1971 Act, this approach is now common to every HMA, meaning each large HMA (Herd Management Area) across the western U.S. is planning this nonreproducing "herd," and advocates are having to threaten suit and actually file suit against the Bureau of Land Management in one HMA (Herd Management Area) after another to stop this.  
            But now for the plus side... 
            National policy problems notwithstanding, District Manager Doug Furtado and his staff — Field Manager Tom Seeley, Wild Horse and Burro Specialists Dustin Hollowell (COR), and Wild Horse and Burro Specialist Shawna Richardson, who came in from another District to assist,  demonstrated the most concern and effective leadership I've seen yet in both addressing and forestalling real and potential problems with the helicopter contractor in terms of efforts made to protect the horses during a roundup. 
             These two knowledgeable Wild Horse and Burro Specialists were in the field the entire time during this roundup, the only exceptions being I believe two days, when they were required each to take a day off.  This meant either Shawna Richardson or Dustin Hollowell were present, one at the trap pen and the other at Temporary Holding for any processing/sorting going on.
 These frightened foals, approximately six to seven months old, huddle together for security. The lovely pale medicine hat colt is protecting his lovely Stone Cabin Grey sister.  She kept her head tucked down low under his for much of the time they were in this pen. He is the little stud among them and has all the protective attributes of an excellent band stallion.  You will be pleased to know a big-hearted advocate adopted both of these horses so they wouldn't be separated.   He would have made a fabulous band stallion in the wild.   Sigh...
There's a lot going on in this photo.  The colt is rearing up in the chute, and the soft padding this BLM crew installed on all the upper bars, where his face is, is saving his face and head, and possibly his neck, along with the wrangler's arm that got squeezed into the bars when the foal reared.  By the way, the rearing colt is the little boy who was protecting his sister, above.  The dark filly is pawing at the water trough because she's thirsty but doesn't like the water.  It's not the fresh reservoir water she's used to drinking from in the wild. I watched her; she finally drank. The white filly is watching the commotion in the chute, which settled down fairly quickly.  
           I've not seen better handling in BLM than Shawna did during branding these youngsters in the chute (that's Shawna in the blue and black jacket) and the quality loading of these young horses into waiting trailers.  I thanked her.  So good to see the person in charge is a genuinely caring individual. 
           No offense intended to other conscientious BLM wranglers and horsepeople, but I have just come off the Calico roundup where an injured horse was hotshotted to make him stand up quickly, given no time to collect himself after a front leg was freed from being stuck in a divider panel in the trailer.  

             For one thing, the COR (Contracting officer's Representative, i.e., BLM's lead person in the field during this roundup) Wild Horse and Burro Specialist Dustin Hollowell, actually knows the horses on this range, knows where they were, and made sure the trap sites were moved frequently to try to prevent injury to the horses.  
             This has been a concern to me since Sun-J has in the past been known to remain at trap sites day after day after day, driving horses into the trap from further and further away.  There were still a troubling number of deaths and "euthanizations."   We are talking about these things openly.   These roundups are, very simply, really brutal for the horses and these babies. 


Frightened foals hiding as best they could.  These are babies, and some appear to be only about five months old.  They are tall horses in Stone Cabin compared to other mustangs, and some suspect these horses are younger than the age BLM approximates.  I'm trying to put a positive face on this, but darn it, this stinks.  They each have been doted on and protected by both mother and dad, the band stallion.  Now, all that was familiar is gone.  One demonstrated a curiousity about people. Note the little Stone Cabin Grey filly's head (right) tucked under her brother's.  
 Frightened, distrustful eyes watched me.  They have never before been without an adult horse to look to for leadership.        
             These classic Stone Cabin foals stole my heart.  They have been adopted and found a safe place to land although it galls me that they were taken off the range to begin with.  The 1971 Act states that  (c) "range" means the amount of land necessary to sustain an existing herd or herds of wild free-roaming horses and burros, which does not exceed their known territorial limits, and which is devoted principally but not necessarily exclusively to their welfare in keeping with the multiple-use management concept for the public lands.  (Emphasis added.)
              BLM has it upside-down since only 404 wild horses are allotted on this 500,000-acre Herd Management Area, yet over 4,000 cows and sheep per year are permitted on the Stone Cabin range.  The unfair numbers of cows/sheep as related to horses demonstrates what I perceive as a perversion of the 1971 law as set forth in the above paragraph, and it's what forced the removal of these babies from their families.   
             AGNES and DORIE 
              I have to tell you Agnes's story.  Agnes had a hard time.  She is an old girl, and she had a hard time in the trailer and then getting out of the trailer.  Agnes is old and skinny.  And yours truly, well, I'm getting older, and I'm skinny.  But my teeth are good (LOL!), and so are Agnes'.  And because Agnes' teeth are good, and we are coming up on Spring,  COR and Wild Horse and Burro Specialist Dustin Hollowell released this horse instead of "euthanizing" her.  Any other roundup I've been to, this mare would have been killed.  She isn't suffering.  She's alive.  She is full of life.  With a mouth full of good teeth, there is absolutely no reason to keep this old mare from living out her days in the wild mountains she has known all her life.  I hugged Dustin. 
              And her friend, Dorie, waited for her.  They were the last ones out of the trailer; all the other, younger mares had run off, eager to be away from the trailer and the humans who put them there.  But Dorie hung back and waited for her old friend Agnes who had kind of fallen out of the trailer and sat down on the ground, and took a minute to get her legs under her.  
              Once Agnes was up, her left hind leg looked a little ginger, but she was fine (I've had days like that).  She was putting her full weight on it and trotted up the hill strongly to the waiting Dorie.  
L to R:  Agnes and Dorie
Happy Spring, soon, girls. 
For the wild horses and their humble, stalwart burro friends,
Elyse Gardner

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


                As you probably know, Laura Leigh has won an important legal victory today.  The beginning of the litigation:  
                I REMEMBER WHEN IT STARTED.  Laura held her stomach and said she was nauseous seeing her name, "Leigh vs. Salazar."  But she knew she had to proceed.  The Bureau of Land Management really doesn't give the wild horses or the advocates a choice because try as we might to work with them, no policy changes were happening.
               In fact, access was getting more and more limited.   I would drive hundreds of miles, spend a lot of money on gas and motels and food, and be given teasing glimpses of the horses coming in, not be able to see them coming driven in front of the helicopter and only having visibility when they were halfway down the jute funnel into the trap; never except one time able to see respiration rate once they had landed in the pen; not be permitted to see them processed in Temporary Holding.  
STEAMING, perspiring horses in sub-freezing weather.  Pneumonia in the making.  
               What I was seeing was lack of oversight in holding facilities teeming with wild horses, and I was posting these things on my blog through photos and videos.  Meanwhile, AMLs were getting lower for the wild horses and burros while cattle grazing, mining and mineral extraction were increasing, squeezing the wild horses and burros off their legal land as roundups continued to increase; 
                I became a known advocate with a cutting edge blog because I was constantly in the field and posting videos and photographs and explanations of what they depicted on that blog (this blog).  And FOIA'd documents (documents requested under the Freedom Of Information Act) revealed that Nevada and D.C. BLM decision-makers actually closed out the public from the privately owned, privately contracted short-term holding facility known as "Indian Lakes" or "Broken Arrow" largely because of the fallout and image problems to BLM's reputation from "Elyse Gardner's blog." And they stated that the fallout from members of The Cloud Foundation and from my readers would be intense, but that would "pale in comparison" to the damage BLM was suffering to its reputation by allowing me (and others) to continue to witness and post photographs from Broken Arrow.  
                And last but not least, questions and FOIA requests regarding wild horses who disappear into long-term holding were going unanswered and being refused.  Something had to be done, and journalist Laura Leigh up and did it, exercising that precious American right:  she filed suit against the government, joining the ranks of courageous, committed people in organizations such as The Cloud Foundation, American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, and others who've been hard at it, stepping up to fight the abuses and sickening wrongs we see the American wild horses and burros subjected to by the branch of government tasked with protecting them.
                Importantly, Attorney Gordon Cowan and Laura Leigh saw the big picture and recognized the enormity of what is really going on here in terms of an American's First Amendment rights and the United States Government's obligation to transparency.   The Freedom of the Press to report actual goings-on is paramount in a democracy.  When our President, or any other government official, boasts of transparency, that should be a given.  Like it or not, transparency of the government is what this nation is based upon, short of national security secrets that could jeopardize our national security.   
Photo taken July 15, 2010
L TO R: Laura Leigh, Elyse Gardner (me)
                This photo was taken after the court hearing on July 15, 2010, which took place just six days after my colleague and friend, Laura Leigh and I were rear-ended on the way to the hot, summer Owyhee roundup by a drunk driver on July 9, a roundup which had been planned for months (perhaps as long as a year) despite the known heat that time of year, despite the brand new foals and the many heavily pregnant mares ready to foal.  The first days of the roundup had already claimed the lives of 21 horses, a disaster.  Considering the time of year, it wasn't unpredictable.
               My Toyota Rav4 was totaled, Laura was rushed to the hospital while I stayed in my disabled car with her best friend Elvis, the affable but protective Burnese Mountain Dog who was also injured in the crash.   If you look closely at the right side of Laura's face, above, you will see it is green from her injury where her face hit the passenger window.  My knees took the hit because I braced when I saw him coming in my rear view mirror as the freeway traffic in front of us was slowing to a stop, and there was nothing I could do, didn't even have time to warn Laura.  And I've since had surgery on one torn meniscus and am nursing the other torn meniscus... but another time for that.
               We felt a sense of urgency because of the severity of the hot weather and the developments with the horses, so by the following afternoon my totaled car was left for the towtruck, I had obtained a rental (very grateful for good car insurance, a must), and with Laura nursing a concussion and my wounded knee and neck, and Elvis limping a bit, we were back on the road.
The below photo taken 26 January 2011, L-R: Attorney Gordon Cowan, Laura Leigh, author and President of Wild Horse Freedom Federation RT Fitch,
                All of this to say:
               The reason for the phrase in this blog's title, "Don't Hold Your Breath..." is this:
               Advocates thought Laura won in Court that day — and she did — because even though the Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) was lifted and they proceeded with the roundup, her First Amendment rights were affirmed, and we heard the Court use words like "credible" about Plaintiff Laura Leigh and say she should be allowed to see what was happening.  This was a major victory with far-reaching implications.
               Further, Judge Hicks ruled BLM couldn't close down acres and acres of public land around a roundup, another major victory (and the reason BLM now allows daily "access" to roundups on public land although at the time people scarcely noticed the implications of this.  It tickles me to this day when BLM tells me how good I have it that I can come out every day to see a roundup, and I politely remind them that they had to be dragged into court for this to occur).
               So imagine our surprise when Laura, Deniz Bolbol and I drove all night, showed up at the roundup the following day with cameras in hand only to be completely stonewalled.  Amazingly, we never were permitted to see any of that particular roundup.  Not one horse.  Read George Knapp's report on the stonewalling of advocates at this deadly roundup despite the previous day's Court ruling.  I tell you, BLM has impedence (new word?) and evasive manuevering down to a fine art.
      ©2010 Elyse Gardner   -  no use without permission, please.
We were followed by a ranger who wouldn't give us specific information
               Laura was forced to go back to court to file allegations of contempt.  What I want to say is Laura Leigh is bonafide in-print press, which puts her in a different class than an interested citizen and which elevates this First Amendment case to a whole new level.  It is the reason Amicus ("friend of the Court," interested parties) briefs have been filed by two prestigious journalistic associations .  She is not "just" an interested citizen or advocate.
                None of it made any difference.  The access slammed shut.  An award winning journalist, author of children't books, artist, Laura realized if change is going to happen, we have to press beyond our normal comfort zones.   She is pressing to be able to report firsthand on America's wild horses from birth through death, wherever they are.  What is particularly upsetting to me is longterm holding because over 40,000 wild horses have been spirited away to this mystical place called "longterm holding" which we've never seen.
Below taken January 5, 2012, During the "Calico"roundup in Nevada. This stud's family is in the trailer.  He is soaked with white lather, sweat.  He fought off the helicopter for well over an hour, jumped the 6-foot fence out of the trap pen, escaping when his family was caught, and then evaded the trap again later when he joined up with other horses after his family was hauled away.  He was eventually captured, but he was one of the fortunate studs released a couple of days later, having been stripped of his family, who remained in captivity.   I was there when he was released, and I was so very happy about that.  Sigh.
 He has come up to check us out.  His angst at the loss of his family is evident, tangible as he hovers around the area watching and calling to them. 
                 BLM documentation assures the public that these horses retain their "wild" status, which means they are afforded certain protections under the law even as captives in longterm holding.
This photo is from the Owyhee roundup in 2010. This officer politely warned us we faced arrest if we stepped onto the private land where the trapsite was situated and if the owner of that land complained.  He would not tell us where that private land was. It was abundantly evident, however,  that he would be sure to notify the owner if and when we did step on that private land so that the owner could be sure to complain.   I kid you not.  I never thought these things would happen to me; you're only supposed to read about stuff like this... 
                 Here's the rub:  until recently we the public were led to believe horses lived unmolested, happily-ever-after in these places, these longterm holding ranches located primarily in the midwest, most in Oklahoma.
                 But by BLM's own word, we have learned wild horses are sold out of longterm holding by the truckload.  By the truckload.   Recently a truckload was stopped by a wary BLM employee, Gus War, who smelled trouble, and a truck full of horses was spared any horses' worst nightmare, a trip to a Mexican slaughterhouse.   Advocates have asked for and have FOIA'd (filed under the Freedom Of Information Act) BLM's receipts for the bulk sales of these horses to no avail.  In other words, we want to know exactly how many horses were sold out of longterm holding over the last few years and to whom.   BLM is not releasing that information.  Why?  Their stated policy is to not sell wild horses to slaughter, but exactly how hard do they look at prospective buyers?

                 I've endeavored to give you  an encapsulated overview of what the wild horses and burros are dealing with and why it is so imperative that this heretofore impenetrable shield be broken through at least by a good journalist who knows horses, is street savvy, and a wild horse advocate at heart.  I believe Laura to be really excellent for this.  But I do not expect BLM to just suddenly agree, and I am asking for you to continue to support the efforts of those in litigation, which include Laura Leigh, The Cloud Foundation, American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign.

                 I am deeply moved upon reading the Opinion:  dare I yet hope in this Land of the Free, in the sacred Constitution of this United States?  My hope in my beloved country is renewed this day by this ruling.
                  I cannot tell you how my observations of these roundups and the small-minded power plays, the denials and marginalization of obvious suffering and wrongs done to these horses, and the continued attempts of the BLM personnel to block my access and dismiss the public's concerns have disillusioned me, truly, about my America — where had she gone?  This Court has done a great service, a tremendous thing, in correcting one of its own. These Judges executed their role so beautifully.
                 This is a win for America even more so than for the horses, but dare I say it, the wild horses ARE America, as the 1971 Congress well understood when it unanimously said:  "That Congress finds and declares that wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West," this is more than just flowery words.  The very soul of America is bound up with these animals, as well it should be since this country was literally built on their backs.
                 And how well this Ninth Circuit Court stated:
"If a government agency restricts public access, the media's only recourse is the court system. The free press is the guardian of the public interest, and the independent judiciary is the guardian of the free press. Thus, courts have a duty to conduct a thorough and searching review of any attempt to restrict public access."
                  I encourage everyone to read this ruling.  It is a beautiful application of the pure principles of our Constitution to the current situation we have been facing with the wild horses and burros.  I believe that more than any other, the First Amendment is the heart and soul of our Freedom.  Violation of our First Amendment Rights is the beginning of an internal decay that will destroy America from the inside out, disillusioning her hardworking people.
                  In this economically difficult time, it is more important than ever that we know we can believe in our country, that we know our courts will uphold our vital Constitutional rights against a government run riot, against a renegade agency behaving like a wrecking ball and playing word games with our Constitutional rights.  How I revere our founding fathers, how thankful I am this day for unbiased, visionary people who love and serve the brilliant Constitution of this great land.  My eyes are wet with gratitude as I write these words. We have a ways to go, still; the battle is not won, but make no mistake:  a huge mountain has been reclaimed, and we have Laura Leigh and Gordy Cowan to thank for this great moment in our nation's history.

and to abandon its planned removal of Monte Christo horses in Eastern Nevada.
The Forest Service has agreed to back down from rounding up and zeroing out Monte Christo horses; read more about the Monte Cristo horses here.  They have also reversed course once again on the plan to release gelded horses onto the range and call them "wild horses."  This is a huge relief and win for these animals and for the mountains who stood to lose the presence of the wild horses.  This is a huge victory for wild horses thanks to people and multiple organizations threatening litigation "calling out" the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) failure to manage wild horses and burros according to the spirit and intent of the 1971 Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act (which was passed unanimously by our 1971 Congress).
               All of us working together, exercising our unique gifts, are giving our wild horses and burros a voice.  They need every one of us.

        My heartfelt thanks to all who wrote and called, which persuaded the Atlantic City boardwalk and businessman to drop his ugly plan.  Look at these great strides we were given on Wednesday, Valentine's Day 2012.
         I don't know about you, but to me it certainly appears interesting that all of these powerful positive turns should happen on this Valentine's Day... what a gift of love to the horses and to us who have been working so hard.  Pretty interesting timing for such big events to occur simultaneously.  I'm just saying....


                   There is a another vitally  important hearing upcoming on Friday, February 24, in Sacramento, in the Twin Peaks case.  The horses will have their day in court.  This is where the rubber meets road... Determinations of AMLs will be discussed among other nitty gritty aspects of the Wild Horse and Burro law and program.  If you live anywhere within a few hours I urge you to please come and show your support with your presence.  This is another landmark time.  I would dearly love to see you all there.  If you are a praying type, please do it.
Location: United States District Court
Eastern District of California
501 I Street
Sacramento, California

To be argued in front of Morrison England Jr., Courtroom #7 which is on the 14th floor.
There is paid parking across the street in the Amtrack parking lot.
The Courthouse opens at 9:00 a.m. - if you want to be guaranteed a seat you should arrive early so that you can get through security. 

             Please let me know if you can attend - if the numbers look like they might exceed capacity we can ask the court for accommodations.  Please write me at if you are planning to come so I can tell Plaintiffs' attorney and we can plan from there.  Hope to see you then!   Thank you.