Return To Freedom Wed, 28 Sep 2016 20:16:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Alto, N.M., wild horse herd comes home, Sept. 27, 2016 Tue, 27 Sep 2016 20:03:51 +0000 Photo by Teeatta Lippert

Photo by Teeatta Lippert

As published by Ruidoso News

The Alto “wild” horse herd was delivered quietly back to Lincoln County Tuesday, ending a month’s battle between herd advocates and officials with the New Mexico Livestock Board.

The return of the horses to pens prepared on land owned by Shelley McAlister was arranged Monday, but advocates said the livestock board didn’t want a crowd waiting for the equines. They were told that the noise and commotion might upset the steeds, advocate Teeatta Lippert said.

“They called me 20 minutes before they got here and said I needed to get here, they were ready to pull into the driveway,” Lippert said.

McAlister said her notice wasn’t from board officials.

“Someone in Carrizozo saw the truck and asked if they were the horses going back to Alto,” she said. “They told a woman, who called me. We just happened to be here working on the security cameras and packing up the house.”

“I am really grateful for the way it worked out,” Lippert said. “Trying to sort them with people hollering or calling names or screaming would have made our job a lot harder and would have stressed them out.”

Unloading went swiftly over a 10 minute to 20-minute period, she said. None of the adult horses acted up, but some of the foals were frisky. The foals now are in pens with their mothers and one even began nursing immediately, she said.

“My biggest advice to the community is that our stance is that these horses are wild,” Lippert said. “They were born wild. They are wild, so we must keep our distance. If we brush them and pet them, and get them use to us, then our standing in court that they are wild goes out the window, because they are officially domesticated. And it would be inhumane at that point to release them back in the wild.”

The battle won’t really be over until a district judge decides whether the horses fall under a definition of wild or are estray livestock under the jurisdiction of the livestock board. Working under the latter assumption, board officials hauled away the 12 mares and foals after they were penned by a property owner as nuisances. The action spurred rallies and community meetings, as well as litigation by the Wild Horse Observers Association asking for a restraining order on the sale of the horses by the livestock board. The order was granted and while the court drama plays out, an agreement was reached to allow the horses to come back to Alto as the responsibility of nine volunteers. The horses must stay in isolation for 21 days and then, if the case remains undecided, could be transferred to larger secure pastures.

Lippert said she was impressed with how the community handled the issue in a peaceful manner.

“We achieved more than shootings and riots and bombings and fires,” she said. “And our children can see that a small town can make a difference. I was raised to have hope and that if you send it out there and you stand your ground and pray, it if it is meant to be, Jesus will answer you.”

But the executive director of the livestock board said not everyone exhibited stellar behavior. “I’d like to thank the staff of the New Mexico Livestock Board for their professionalism during this emotional issue,” William Bunce said Tuesday. “Their courtesy extended to others, while being maligned for holding to the letter of the law, is exemplary. Chapter 77 of the livestock code as well as the applicable Lincoln County Ordinances spell out very clearly that a legal process must take place. Those who expect this agency to operate otherwise, will continue to be disappointed. The vulgarity, insults and accusations thrown at our employees via telephone, email and various social media venues is nothing short of reprehensible. As this issue is currently in litigation, any further discussion should be limited to the legal counsels representing both sides.”

With Aspenfest parade scheduled for Saturday, Lippert and several others said they hope to celebrate the return of the horses with a banner.

Devil’s Garden Day Two: 48 California wild horses captured, Sept. 27, 2016 Tue, 27 Sep 2016 16:27:08 +0000  


Another 48 wild horses were captured on the second day of a helicopter roundup on The Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Territory in northeastern California.

The U.S. Forest Service plans to capture about 200 wild horses there. Forty-five were rounded up on Monday.

Those captured on Tuesday included a number of roans, as well as smaller bands with young foals. The animals were transported to a temporary holding facility at Willow Creek Ranch, where they were sorted and separated from their family bands.

“A gray mare was looking a little beat battered and definitely showing signs of separation anxiety after being separated from her black foal in the temporary holding pens,” said Steve Paige, who photographed the roundup for Return to Freedom.

Shelly Abajian, a district director for Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., was among the observers on Tuesday. The senator’s office did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

For more information on the roundup, please click here.

To add your name to Return’s to Freedom’s anti-roundup petition, please click here.








Devil’s Garden Day One: 45 California wild horses captured, Sept. 26, 2016 Mon, 26 Sep 2016 16:47:47 +0000 devils-garden-8077

Forty-five wild horses were captured during the first day of a roundup on The Devil’s Garden Wild Horse Territory in northeastern California.

The U.S. Forest Service plans to round up 200 horses during the roundup.

On Monday, the roundup started on Pit River tribal land. Because of this, observers, including RTF’s Steve Paige, were limited to viewing the helicopter-driven roundup from a great distance away, along the Goose Lake Causeway. Later, observers viewed horses in temporary holding after the horses had been sorted and separated.

For more information on the roundup, please click here.

To add your name to Return’s to Freedom’s anti-roundup petition, please click here.














BLM to bait-trap Colorado wild horses in October, Sept. 25, 2016 Sun, 25 Sep 2016 18:34:18 +0000 Sand Wash Basin horses (Craig Daily Press file photo)

Sand Wash Basin horses (Craig Daily Press file photo)


As published by Craig Daily Press


Wild horses from the Sand Wash Herd Management Area, about 40 miles west of Craig, will be gathered beginning Oct. 21 by the Bureau of Land Management.

A bait-trap will be used to collect about 200 horses in order to administer fertility control treatments and allow the removal of up to 50 young horses. Horses removed from the basin will be placed in the Great Escape Mustang Sanctuary training and adoption program.

The BLM manages the area for up to 362 wild horses, but the current population exceeds 600, a number that poses a serious risk to the area’s ecological balance, according to the BLM.

BLM hopes that treating mares and removing some young horses should help check the growth of the Sand Wash Herd.

The BLM decision and associated environmental assessment are available at

In fight over Wyoming’s wild horses, advocates see test of public land stewardship, Sept. 23, 2016 Fri, 23 Sep 2016 19:04:56 +0000 Casper Star-Tribune file photo

Casper Star-Tribune file photo


Return to Freedom is among the wild horse advocacy groups arguing on behalf of Wyoming’s wild horses. For more about RTF’s legal advocacy efforts, click here.


As published by the Casper Star-Tribune


A federal court battle over the fate of wild horses in Wyoming’s high desert could have implications for the management of public lands across the American West.

Wild horse advocates claim the Bureau of Land Management has ceded control over public lands near Rock Springs to local landowners. The federal agency claims it is only trying to fulfill its legal obligations to keep the horses off private grazing areas.

Underpinning the dispute are lofty notions of the American mustang as a symbol of the country’s pioneer spirit facing off against ranchers who claim wild horses are feral nuisances, an invasive species competing with productive livestock for precious resources in the arid west.

The debate centers on about 2 million acres of “checkerboard” land just east of Rock Springs. Created in 1862 as part of negotiations with the Union Pacific Railroad, odd-numbered blocks of public land were sold while the even-numbered blocks were retained by the federal government.

Today, the Rock Springs Grazing Association owns the private blocks and uses the entire checkerboard area to graze sheep. With wild horses on grazing association land exceeding the numbers set by federal policies, the group sued the BLM in 2011, demanding that the bureau remove all horses from private land. The two parties settled in 2013, and the BLM recently announced plans to remove all horses from the private and public lands within the checkerboard area. The first roundup occurred in 2014.

“It’s an impossible task for BLM to remove just from the private lands within the checkerboard area,” the bureau’s Rock Springs field manager Kimberlee Foster said. “It’s not fenced, the horses move freely … they might be on private land and half an hour later they’re on public land.”

But under the Wild Horses and Burros Act of 1971, Congress stipulated distinct procedures for removing horses from private and public lands. The BLM argued — and a U.S. District Court agreed — that the bureau could treat the entire checkerboard area as private land for the purpose of removing horses.

A group of wild horse advocates is now appealing that decision and argued before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver this week.

Bill Eubanks, an attorney representing the horse groups, said that while he understands the challenge of managing the combination of public and private lands in the checkerboard, the BLM is still obligated to protect wild horses on public lands.

“The one thing you cannot do as an agency charged with implementing … the Wild Horses Act is to throw up your hands and say we’re just going to violate the statutes,” Eubanks said.

If the BLM is allowed to treat public land interspersed with private holdings under the laws governing private land, there could be repercussions for federal land management across the country, Eubanks said. He said there were 20 checkerboard parcels of land across the country with wild horses; many other public lands with wild horses are adjacent to or surrounded by private land.

“I’ve honestly never seen an agency treat public land as private,” Eubanks said. “If BLM can do this here, it’s a practice and approach that can be used everywhere across the country.”

Foster, the BLM field director, disputes the notion that the Wyoming fight will have any broader application. The Rock Springs grazers initially allowed some wild horses on their land before revoking their consent — a situation Foster called “extremely rare.”

Eubanks said that the bureau’s obligation under the Wild Horses Act should never have been affected by an agreement — or lack thereof — with private landowners and that Foster’s contention that the Rock Springs situation is unique “is from an objective standpoint completely false.”

The Rock Springs Grazing Association did not respond to a request for comment. However, attorneys for the association argued in a court brief that the BLM should be allowed no discretion in removing all horses from the checkerboard area.

“[T]he only way any wild horses can be maintained on the Checkerboard is with RSGA’s consent,” the brief argues.

The case is wrapped in acronyms, lengthy environmental reviews and legal precedents. The Rock Springs case centers on three “herd management areas” known as Divide Basin, Salt Wells Creek and Adobe Town. About half the area of those three pieces of land is taken up by the checkerboard.

The BLM is obligated to set a range for the number of horses that each area can support. While the number of wild horses is not supposed to exceed that range, the bureau is also charged with ensuring the population does not fall below the range.

Foster acknowledges that relocating all wild horses within the checkerboard area to off-site holding corrals may bring the horse populations in the three areas below their appropriate range.

“It just depends where the horses are,” Foster said.

Suzanne Roy, executive director of the American Wild Horse Campaign, said that instead of removing all the horses in the checkerboard area, the agency should move some of them to the public lands located outside the checkerboard area.

“This is a resolvable situation,” Roy said.

But Foster argues that because the population ranges were set based on the assumption that horses would be allowed to roam on the checkerboard land, once the district court ordered the BLM to remove all horses from that area, the remaining public land can no longer support the original population range.

U.S. District Judge Nancy D. Freudenthal agreed, writing in her 2015 decision that moving the horses to the public land outside the checkerboard would only lead to them quickly returning to private land.

“This becomes a never-ending cycle of moving horses which roam or stray back,” Freudenthal wrote.

Foster said the Rock Springs BLM unit is revising its resource management plans and is looking at setting the appropriate population ranges for the checkerboard at zero to eliminate future debates of this sort. But a draft of the new plan won’t be ready until summer 2017.

The 10th Circuit of Appeals could release its ruling on the case within the next few weeks or months. In the meantime, the bureau is moving ahead with plans to remove the horses sometime after Oct. 15.

Foster said the roundup is taking place in October because that’s when new annual funding becomes available for federal agencies, not to squeeze it in before the court rules.

But Roy remains skeptical of the agency’s motives and adamant that the BLM’s agreement with the Rock Springs Grazing Association is nothing less than abandonment of its stewardship duties.

“The BLM, especially in Wyoming, is an agency that’s run by and for the livestock industry,” Roy said.

Since only 27 percent of BLM land in the state used for grazing had wild horses on it, there was no need for a showdown between horses and livestock, she added.

“Sometimes it sounds like wild horses are overrunning the West,” Roy said. “In reality they’re really on a small piece of the public pie.”

As for why Wyomingites should care about how the BLM treats wild horses, Roy said that congressional protection for the animals means it’s not a fight she needs to wage in the public arena — and she argues public support for the animals is a given.

“I don’t have to tell people to care about wild horses,” Roy said. “The fact these wild horses are still out there running unbridled and free on our public lands in the West is an important thing to many people.”

Robert Redford: Euthanasia would betray wild horses, Americans who care for them Thu, 22 Sep 2016 19:57:14 +0000  


Return to Freedom Wild Horse Sanctuary and Preservation board member Robert Redford this week expressed hope that the Bureau of Land Management and Congress will heed the public’s outcry and embrace humane alternatives, both on and off the range, over the Advisory Board’s recommendation to euthanize 45,000 captive wild horses and burros in long-term holding pastures.

“Americans have an unwavering bond with the descendants of the horses and burros that have helped build our country and shape our culture – a bond enshrined in The Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act 45 years ago,” Redford said. “After decades of investing millions of tax dollars for the protection of wild horses after their capture and removal from the range, destroying them would be the ultimate betrayal, especially when humane alternatives have long been available.”

On Sept. 9 in Elko, Nevada, the Advisory Board voted to urge BLM “to follow the stipulations of the Wild Horse and Burro Act by offering all suitable animals in long- and short-term holding deemed unadoptable for sale without limitation or humane euthanasia. Those animals deemed unsuitable for sale should then be destroyed in the most humane manner possible.”

The independent Advisory Board is empowered to make recommendations to BLM, not direct its actions, yet the public responded swiftly and emphatically. In response, BLM on Sept. 14 announced that it would continue caring for the more than 45,000 wild horses and burros off-range corrals and pastures and that it would not sell or send animals to slaughter.

While pleased by BLM’s recognition of the public’s wishes, Return to Freedom will continue to press the agency and Congress to ensure not only that euthanasia remains off the table, but that BLM refocuses its wild horse management on proven, humane methods that can be implemented on the range and provide an aggressive timeline for implementing those changes, said Neda DeMayo, president of Return to Freedom.

DeMayo urged wild horse supporters to remain vigilant about the lifting of restrictions on sales or adoptions and any proposals that would enable the transfer of wild horses and burros to other government agencies without assurances that they would receive humane treatment during and after service.

In the days since the vote, for instance, little attention has been paid to the rest of that same Advisory Board recommendation: “…offering all suitable animals in long- and short-term holding deemed un-adoptable for sale without limitation or humane euthanasia.” If enacted, such a change would be a death sentence for captive wild horses and burros, many of which would surely be purchased by kill buyers then trucked to foreign slaughterhouses.

“It is way overdue for the Bureau of Land Management to develop a proud vision for the preservation of America’s wild horses and burros,” DeMayo said. “To destroy these horses would be even more irresponsible than the crisis created by the agency over the past 30 years by stalling proposals to humanely manage wild horse populations on the range.”

Return to Freedom advocates for minimally intrusive on the range management using proven, safe and humane fertility control in combination with other alternatives like relocation, range stewardship and incentives for ranchers who reduce or forego livestock grazing in designated wild horse Herd Management Areas.

Return to Freedom stands ready to assist with responsible, minimally invasive management both on and off the range, DeMayo said: “RTF has 18 years of successful, practical experience in the humane management of wild horses and burros, including the use of fertility vaccines, both at its sanctuaries and in ongoing projects with private landowners through our Wild Horse Conservator Program.”

About Return to Freedom

Founded in 1997, Lompoc, Calif.-based Return to Freedom is dedicated to preserving the freedom, diversity, and habitat of America’s wild horses and burros through sanctuary, education, advocacy and conservation, while enriching the human spirit through direct experience with the natural world.


Contact: Cory Golden, (805) 737-9246, or Neda DeMayo, (805) 588-5105


Related Links:


Commentary: Robert Redford opposes call for wild horse euthanasia- Elko Daily


BLM to Begin Roundup in Nevada’s Big Sand Spring Valley, Sept. 21, 2016 Wed, 21 Sep 2016 19:39:23 +0000 Pancake Complex horses rounded up in 2012. BLM Nevada photo..

Pancake Complex horses rounded up in 2012. BLM Nevada file photo.


As published by The Horse


The Bureau of Land Management, due to on-going drought conditions resulting in insufficient water to support the wild horses in Nevada’s Big Sand Spring Valley, will begin gathering and providing emergency care for up to 300 wild horses.

The gather was expected to begin on Sept. 20 in the Pancake herd management area (HMA) located about 30 miles west of Ely or 80 miles northeast of Tonopah, Nevada.

An estimated 1,800 wild horses reside within the Pancake HMA based on a March 2016 inventory flight; more than 1,000 of the horses were in the Big Sand Spring Valley area. The BLM said the HMA has an appropriate management level of 240-493 wild horses. Precipitation in May and June 2016 filled or partially filled catchments in the Big Sand Spring Valley area which normally provide water for a large portion of the resident horse population in the area. However, these catchments are now dry which has resulted in additional horses seeking water at the few available spring sources

The BLM said that without emergency action, the condition of the wild horses in the Big Sand Spring Valley is expected to deteriorate and potentially result in the death of some of the horses within a few weeks.

The BLM will gather and remove the wild horses utilizing temporary water and bait traps consisting of a series of corral panels stocked with water and hay; no helicopters will be used. Because of the need for wild horses to adjust to the hay and corrals in a quick and safe manner, only essential wild horse personnel will be allowed at the gather sites during initial operations. Depending on the animals’ adjustment, public viewing through an escorted tour of the temporary holding facility could be arranged at some point during the gather. A veterinarian will be on-site during the first two weeks of gather operations to assess animal condition, the BLM said.

All gathered wild horses will be taken a short distance to a temporary holding facility, where they will receive a veterinarian assessment and have free access to water and hay. The horses then will be transported to the BLM’s Indian Lakes off-range corrals located in Fallon, Nevada, and be made available for adoption or sale or moved to off-range holding pastures.

Gather reports will be posted on the BLM Ely District website at

For more information, contact Chris Hanefeld, BLM Ely District public affairs specialist, at 775/289-1842 or

U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver hears arguments over removal of wild horses from public land, Sept. 19, 2016 Mon, 19 Sep 2016 20:18:16 +0000 Wild horses in the Sand Wash herd management area located 45 miles west of Craig, Colorado, in the Sand Wash Basin. File photo by Joe Amon, The Denver Post

Wild horses in the Sand Wash herd management area located 45 miles west of Craig, Colorado, in the Sand Wash Basin. File photo by Joe Amon, The Denver Post


Return to Freedom is among the advocacy organizations involved in this ongoing suit. Read about ongoing litigation and support the Wild Horse Legal Defense Fund by clicking here.


As published by The Denver Post


The U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver heard a case Monday that will decide if the BLM, the agency that oversees the government’s free-roaming wild horse program, can remove mustangs from public land in Wyoming at the request of a private landowner.

Wyoming is a party in the case as well, siding with the Bureau of Land Management’s position that a landowner’s request to remove horses from adjacent public land in an area where the agency in 2014 removed 1, 263 horses, is sufficient to trigger removal from public land by the BLM.

Wyoming is trying to “protect the rights of private citizens in Wyoming,” said Erik Petersen, Wyoming senior assistant attorney general, who argued for the state before the three-judge panel.

Advocates for the horses say that a decision in favor of the BLM would lead to elimination of the federally-protected animals from a patchwork of public and private land called the Checkerboard where there are few fences.

The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, and other advocates, say that the roundup leaves the population far below the minimum number mandated under the BLM’s Resource Management Plans that guide land use policy for the public lands in the area.

Help build a much-needed hay cover for RTF’s sanctuary, Sept. 19, 2016 Mon, 19 Sep 2016 18:00:34 +0000 Photo by Susan Matsumoto

Photo by Susan Matsumoto


Return to Freedom’s American Wild Horse Sanctuary needs a 48′ x 48′ hay cover that will protect hay from the rain while increasing safety and efficiency.

You can help us reach our $25,000 fundraising goal by clicking here. RTF must raise $5,000 from 40 donors by Sept. 30 in order to earn a permanent spot on GlobalGiving’s website.

Return to Freedom’s 50-year-old wooden barn is too cramped to meet our hay storage needs. Access for deliveries and daily loading of feed trucks by our staff is challenging, particularly in slick conditions. A steel, open-sided structure built on concrete in an easily accessed area will give us safer, more efficient storage that is less vulnerable to rain and fire. In addition, greater air circulation will make it less likely that hay will grow mold and ferment in damp weather.

RTF’s sanctuary offers a safe haven for 379 wild horses and burros. Our programs enrich the lives of hundreds of children and adults annually, giving them close-up views of these living symbols of the pioneer spirit of the West while educating the public about the need to preserve the freedom, diversity and habitat of wild horses and burros.

BLM to round up 60 horses in Nevada, Sept. 17, 2016 Sat, 17 Sep 2016 17:00:12 +0000 Horses at Maverick Medicine Herd Management Area. BLM 2011 file photo.

Horses at Maverick Medicine Herd Management Area. BLM 2011 file photo.


As published by the Elk Daily Free Press


ELKO, NEVADA – The Bureau of Land Management will begin an emergency wild horse gather on Monday with placement of corrals near the Cherry Spring area located in Maverick-Medicine Herd Management Area.

Cherry Spring is approximately 60 miles southeast of Elko.

The wild horses are in an area with declining critical water sources. Removing them will prevent further resource degradation and allow the range to recover from wild horse impacts, the BLM stated.

The Maverick-Medicine HMA has an Authorized Management Level of 166-276 wild horses but the estimated population is 1,051, not including this year’s foal crop. Approximately 60 horses are currently using Cherry Spring based on recent monitoring of the area.

The BLM plans to gather and remove them utilizing the water and bait method, consisting of a series of corral panels stocked with water and hay; no helicopters will be used.

The contractor for this gather is Sampson Livestock of Utah. Excess wild horses removed from the range will be transported to the Palomino Valley Center, north of Reno, to be prepared for the BLM wild horse adoption program or for long-term pastures.

The emergency gather is expected to last one month. A Gather Information Hotline has been established at 775-861-6700.