Sunday, March 6, 2011

For High Crimes & Misdemeanors

Last week, Vivian Grant, founder and president of International Fund for Horses in conjunction with Michael Blake, screenwriter of "Dances With Wolves" and two-decade long wild horse and burro champion, released a powerful call to citizens and advocates across the country to exercise their Constitutional rights for the sake of our wild horses and burros.

The timing of the call could not have been better as it coincided with the release of BLM Director Bob Abbey's approved "new" Wild Horse and Burro Proposed Strategy; a regurgitated and misleading pack of cow manure that continues to promote an unyielding agenda of spin and bureaucratic "substantiation" for continuation of their crimes.

"I believe crimes are being committed against our wild horses", says Grant. "Crimes that must be prosecuted and the federal officials responsible removed. We are asking Congress to do just that, starting with BLM Director Bob Abbey."

"Article Two, Section 4, of the United States Constitution states that "The President, Vice President, and all Officers of the United States shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors."

International Fund For Horses then goes a step further by providing citizens and advocates alike an easy-to-follow, step-by-step guide to initiating Impeachment proceedings against BLM Director Abbey.

At a time when the BLM is extending its hand with promises of reform, why should those who are trying to implement change demand the Impeachment of Director Abbey?

I'll tell you why.

BLM has been promising reform and using their bureaucratic weight to generate these kinds of smoke and mirror tactics for decades now while our mustangs and burros have suffered and continue to suffer with no end in sight.

How bad is it?


> After the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act was passed to protect America's wild horses and burros from harassment, capture, branding and death, between 1971 and 1980 the BLM allowed over 69,000 animals to be taken off the range by private individuals claiming them as their own.

> In 1986, 20,000 horses went to large-scale adopters and were sold to slaughter or abused as a result of weakened adoption standards, fee waiver programs and sanctuaries used as fronts for commercial exploitation; many of these while still owned by BLM employees.

>In 1992, Michael Blake funded and organized an independent census of wild horses in Nevada conducted by the Public Lands Resource Council. At the time, the BLM was reporting over 33,000 wild horses were on Nevada rangelands but the independent found less than 8,300. The results of the census were dismissed by BLM officials based on the assertion that BLM used a superior method to count the animals via helicopter while the independent census used a fixed wing aircraft. Today, BLM is making "progress" on new census techniques using fixed wing aircrafts.

> In 1992, an investigation by BLMs own law enforcement officials resulted in the accumulation over 3,000 pieces of evidence being compiled about what amounted to little more than a highly organized horse-to-slaughter trade run by the BLM now known as Del Rio. The DOI, Department of Justice and Office of the Inspector General were all implicated in a large-scale cover up at the highest level through a systematic dismantling of a Grand Jury convened to try the DOI for alleged crimes. After the successful shut down of the investigation and trial proceedings, those involved in uncovering the truth about the BLM's Wild Horse and Burro program pleaded with then Attorney General Janet Reno to re-open the case. This request was denied.

> In 1997, Associated Press reporter Martha Mendoza began a series of articles filled with investigative research exposing more corruption within the DOI's BLM, which touched off a firestorm of press about the Program.

>In 1998, a Congressional Field Hearing before the Subcommittee on National Parks and Public lands regarding Range Issues And Problems With The Wild Horse And Burro Act, which current BLM Director Abbey attended, quotes Congressional representative Faleomavaego raising the question: "And is it true that some 32,000 horses cannot be accounted for since we implemented this program?" Mr. Abbey failed to answer the question nor was an investigation ever initiated to determine their fate.

> In efforts to placate public outrage, the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board was re-established after a lengthy hiatus. Predominately stacked with those who had glaring conflict-of-interest, staunch pro-BLM supporters were reappointed time and time again as the list of their recommendations justified each new step in extinction of the herds that continues unabated to this day. Public requests for investigations and removals of Board members were denied.


In March 2000, a Senate Subcommittee on Energy and Natural Resources held a hearing where long-time National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board member Larry Johnson submitted a statement in concert with BLM urging support for a mass cleansing campaign of wild horses and burros throughout the West under the "Restoration of Threatened Watersheds" proposal. Wild horses and burros, not livestock, were cited as one of the top three threats to watersheds in the West. The official testimony has since disappeared but was preserved HERE and was instrumental in launching the largest removal campaign of wild horses and burros since the passage of the Act, which is still ongoing today.

> After four years of massive removals, Senator Conrad Burns slips an eleventh hour amendment in an Omnibus Appropriations Act, without public notice or review, which allows the unlimited sale of our American heritage. BLM officially launches the legal sale of wild horses and burros to undisclosed individuals, a practice that continues today. The original language of the For Sale Authority clauses were found in a Nevada strategy document and linked to Nevada Senator Harry Reid. The majority of both advocates and citizens now consider the secret sales of wild horses and burros a legitimate function of the BLM and rarely call for its immediate repeal.

> Over the next decade the BLM continues to remove wild horses and burros at record levels while simultaneously reducing appropriate management levels and accelerating the elimination of habitat without accountability or review. As the costs of warehousing the now captured animals' skyrockets, in 2008 the BLM announces the Program is broke and they no longer have the funding to feed the animals. Euthanasia of tens of thousands of animals is proposed and strategies are developed to kill wild horses and burros en mass and sterilize the remaining herds in documents titled BLM Team Conference Calls and Alternative Management Options.

> In response to the BLM's declaration of considering mass disposal of America's wild horses and burros, Congress orders the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review of the BLM's Wild Horse and Burro Program and answer questions about the status of the land that has been removed from wild horse and burro use. The GAO comes back with a report that freely admits the majority of the information and data used to compile the report has not been independently verified by the GAO. Instead, the GAO relies on BLM survey data to evaluate the Program and issue their conclusions and recommendations based on BLM personnel responses. With respect to questions surrounding the large scale habitat loss, again the GAO defers answers to BLM instead. After three years, the BLM has still failed to provide a comprehensive overview of the lands status and there has been no independent review as to the accuracy of BLMs summary reports.

> In response to Congressional demands for reform in September 2009, newly appointed Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar responds with a new initiative a month later. A long-time cattle rancher with strong ties to the oil and gas industry, Salazar presents a vision that utterly fails to challenge the culture of corruption and history of abuse by pushing for so-called reforms that merely continue the trend of decimating America's herds.


> In 2008, U.S. District Judge Collyer rules the DOI/BLM has exceeded its authority by issuing decisions to declare all wild horses in the Colorado based West Douglas Herd Management Area as "excess" and zero the area out. After the ruling, the BLM proceeds to issue a bushel basket full of new Resource Management Plans that continue to eliminate at least 2 million acres of previously designated habitat and schedule the removals every wild horse and burro they can find.

> In September 2009, the BLM launches a roundup of the Pryor Mountain wild horses and The Cloud Foundation is instrumental in catapulting public awareness of the plight of the American mustang and burro into the spotlight. BLM responds to increases in public scrutiny by closing off public lands to conduct their activities and BLM Field Manager Jim Sparks tells the public, "This is not a democracy".

> In December 2009, the BLM signs the decision to launch the largest wild horse removal operation of the year in the Nevada based Calico Complex. The public submits over 10,000 comments with questions about the legality of BLM's environmental review process, discovers recent increases in cattle authorizations and that the BLM buried testimony and data from their own rangeland specialist to justify the removals. A lawsuit is filed by Bill Spriggs on behalf of In Defense of Animals, who argues that long-term holding is illegal. While the judge agrees this is most likely the case, the BLM moves operations on private land to keep the public at bay and almost 1,900 animals are removed before a verdict is rendered; the case loses on a technicality and answers about long term holding are left answered.

> Advocates and citizens attempt to gain access to wild horses removed from Calico and are greeted by a barrage of law enforcement escorts and restrictions. Despite this, over 100 horses are reported as dead as a result of the removals including known miscarriages and aborted foals. Citizen based photos and videos of the reality of roundups gain national media exposure and the BLM begins to scramble to find ways to justify how roundups are humane.

> In June 2010, the BLM hosts a public forum led by hired spin-doctors to sell the Salazar Initiative. This event will culminate in the newly released strategy document referred to above, which coincidentally found three main topics worthy of consideration out of 9,000 public comments, two of which are almost identical to Salazar's new vision.

> In July 2010, the BLM again closes all public lands during the Tuscarora roundup and is greeted by a lawsuit by Laura Leigh and Gordon Cowan demanding public access. After filing a request for an injunction, the BLM suddenly announces the wild horses are dying of thirst and a BLM emergency response team is created to provide testimony to the judge. As a result, the judge rules in favor of the BLM and the horses are removed with little to no independent scrutiny.

> In response to evidence of inhumane treatment and allegations of illegal activities, Congress sends a letter to BLM requesting a moratorium on the roundups and urges the initiation of a study by the National Academy of Science (NAS) to review the Program. Secretary Salazar and BLM Director Bob Abbey ignore the request and the roundups continue. While BLM did agree to a review of the program by NAS, signs are already becoming visible that the study will have strict controls on what it will be allowed to review and just last month, BLM refused to upload the prior NAS studies online for public access. (That's assuming NAS will actually be awarded the contract as it is currently up for Solicitation of Bid and may be awarded to another contractor based on a "viable response".)

> On December 3, 2010, the BLM releases what it hails as an "Independent Observers Report" on the methods and procedures used to remove wild horses from public lands. Questions surface as to the allegiance of the observers and their "independent status" due to long-standing ties to the BLM's National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board and pro-horse slaughter industry supporters comprising the team.

> On December 13, 2010, the DOI Office of the Inspector General (OIG) releases a report extolling the virtues of Secretary Salazar's initiative and asserts that roundups are humane and necessary. Though OIG inspections are generally conducted at the request of officials, the OIG reports they initiated the inspection themselves due to public concerns. Evidence of a whitewash surfaces one month later and suggests the large scale cover ups of the 1990's attributed to the DOI's OIG are ongoing. At the same time, a collaborative effort by advocates release an alternative report based largely on BLM published information and data that outlines the potential fraud and abuse of the Program and urges for the Defunding of Roundups through 2012. In response, the BLM ignores the report.

> In January/February 2011, a coalition of advocates document and film multiple abuses of helicopter techniques used to drive wild horses to trapsites in the Antelope Complex in Nevada. ("Antelope Roundup a Disaster for Wild Horses" by The Cloud Foundation, "Pictorial Essay of Obama's Wild Horse Stampede at Antelope Complex" by R.T. Fitch/Straight From The Horses Heart, "Antelope Complex Wild Horse Roundup's Final Days - Heavily Pregnant Mares and More Horse Abuse by Contractor" by Herd Watch/Grass Roots Horse, "Antelope Complex Ends With 1,368 Mustangs Captured" by American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign).

> The BLM reviews the Antelope Complex roundups, contractors, methods and treatment exposed by citizens to address allegations of impropriety. The BLM clears itself and the contractors of any significant wrong-doing.

> Less than a month later, the BLM unveils its new plan and strategy for the future of America's Wild Horses and Burros filled with the same old rhetoric, misleading statements and craftily presented alternative "solutions". Promises of BLM's proposed reforms supported by well-heeled government lackeys ring hollow, both to America's wild horses and burros, as well as within every page of the strategy itself.