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.  


  1. From Ohio... I want to thank you Laura Leigh, for All You DO. Without you I and many others would not get to see what really goes on out there during these round ups! Hopeful the round ups will stop!!
    ~~God Bless You~~

  2. Elyse, "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. "

    This is alarming. Are George Knapp or Andrew Cohen informed of this .. we need outside press to follow this story as well. Maybe they can get answers where we simply get stone-walled. When BLM's pro-slaughter Lily Thomas is the one to speak to about the location and numbers of horses in LTH, we can only imagine the worst.

  3. Certainly glad to see these significant turnarounds for the past negative and closed minded decisions that have targeted the wild horses. Congratulations to all who have worked so hard for this. From Plaintiff in the Pancakes complex roundup suit involving Monte Cristo, Jakes Wash (zeroing out was withdrawn). Also remember that the gelding herd idea was abandoned. We must now persist and get ever better with only true victory in sight for the horses and burros and their rightful and legal freedom. This is a quality of life issue and also one concerning the value of the horses and burros themselves and of their living free.

  4. I have written to ask different officials to look into the actions of the BLM. I would like my efforts to not always be focused on the negative. Is there anyone you suggest to thank them for these rulings?

  5. There are 105 comments so far:
    The Lasso Tightens Around America's Wild Horses
    Andrew Cohen - Andrew Cohen is a contributing editor at The Atlantic and legal analyst for 60 Minutes. He is also chief analyst and legal editor for CBS Radio News and has won a Murrow Award as one of the nation's leading legal analysts and commentators.