Why support humane observers?

A Bureau of Land Management contractor’s helicopter drives fleeing wild horses toward the trap during the recent Cedar Mountain Horse Management Area roundup in Utah. Photo by RTF humane observer Steve Paige.

For three of the last four months, Return to Freedom has kept observers on the ground, day after 10-hour winter day, through holidays and freezing temperatures, documenting helicopter roundups in Utah and Nevada and keeping our supporters informed.

Humane observation has proven valuable for holding Bureau of Land Management and its contractors accountable for the humane handling of wild horses and pressing for improvements to humane standards.

It is also a key tool for showing the public and policymakers how tax dollars are being used on our shared public lands – and the need for an immediate move to humane, on-range solutions for wild horses and burros.

By having a presence at roundups, advocates been able to fight for our First Amendment rights for public observation, point out areas of concern, and improve the handling and shipping of the horses. Federal agencies have responded to those concerns — but we have a ways to go yet to have the minimally intrusive wild horse conservation program that keeps our wild horses and burros on the range.

RTF opposes unnecessary roundups (meaning those that are not to relocate horses from danger and imminent starvation) and the use of helicopters (preferring bait and water trapping and maintaining herd integrity). We continue to work with various stakeholders towards a long-term, holistic and fiscally sustainable program to minimize horses being removed from their ranges.

RTF recognizes a step forward in BLM’s use of humane and proven fertility control (native PZP and PZP-22). We advocate for its judicious use as part of a multi-faceted approach to humane, on-range management of wild horses and burros and an alternative to the outdated, costly and broken system of roundups, separation of family bands, and the addition of still more wild horses and burros to the more than 45,000 already held in off-range facilities.

Last month, video and still photographs shot by RTF humane observer Steve Paige were featured in an investigative report by the Bay Area’s ABC station, KGO, and on the website of The Salt Lake Tribune, an important regional news outlet.

Steve’s arresting footage got the attention of ABC, which took the time to contact RTF and discuss roundups and solutions for ongoing coverage of the issue. RTF’s footage combined with an interview with the American Wild Horse Campaign contributed to a powerful, informative television piece about the wild horse issue.

The report proved revealing for two other reasons:

First, it featured what so far has been a rare comment from the Trump administration about wild horse management. Asked by reporter Dan Noyes for a response to last September’s BLM advisory board vote to euthanize captive wild horses, the administration said it had “no plan to move forward” with that recommendation. “We are evaluating the best path forward for the health and well-being of the federal horse and burro herd and will follow the highest ethical standards consistent with federal law,” Noyes was told.

Second, the report revealed that the number of wild horses that died or were euthanized during last fall’s Owyhee roundup in Nevada was 48 – not the 18 BLM reported on its website.

Often during recent roundups, Steve acted as the lone observer or was one of no more than a handful of members of the public on hand to view how wild horse families were treated before, during and after helicopters drove them into traps.

Had RTF not had someone on the ground, consistently, there might be no evidence of what happened to a stray foal, a paint mare repeatedly chased by helicopters and contractors on horseback before escaping over barbed wire with a lasso still hanging from her neck, helicopters nearly touching the horses backs to drive them over large rocky terrain, or 52 stallions crowded into a small pen.

RTF maintains a dialogue with BLM while present and sends comments to call attention to maintaining CAWP protocol and other concerns.

We can only keep a humane observer on the range if you support this work. If we are not there, the wild horses are often ALL ALONE.

We dedicate ourselves to caring for the wild horses and burros on our sanctuary every day, and to advocating for wild horses on the range by being there, physically, to safeguard what little these wild horses have left and to be available to our supporters so they can engage in what is happening to our wild horses and burros and our public lands.

Our Wild Horse Defense Fund enables us to be present both as observers and as a contact for the increasing number of our volunteers and supporters who go to the range. It also fuels our solution-oriented advocacy aimed at ending inhumane roundups and off-range holding of wild horses in favor of applying a minimally invasive humane model to keep herds on the range. In addition, it funds selective litigation in potentially precedent-setting cases.

Can you be there, too? We need you to donate to our Wild Horse Defense Fund to ensure that we always have someone reporting from the field. Our wild horses and burros deserve our dutiful watch, our respect and our voices.