BLM admits fault in wild-horse gather program

Sets out corrective actions following internal review
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Feb 01, 2012


Wild horse welfare: In light of a recent report of possible inappropriate practices, the Bureau of Land Management is taking actions to ensure the safe gathering and handling of horses in the wild.
National Report — The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued a new report vowing to work more closely with humane groups when it comes to the handling practices of horses during its wild horse gathers.

While the BLM report states that, overall, gather practices are safe and humane, a recent review found some cases of aggressive handling.

"Aggressive and rough handling of wild horses is not acceptable, and we are actively taking steps to ensure that such behavior is not repeated," says BLM Director Bob Abbey. "Guidance documents will be issued to ensure that all gather personnel are aware of appropriate handling techniques and related procedures."

Abbey ordered a review following the Triple B horse gather in Nevada on Sept. 23. The six-week gather, which ended Aug. 31, attracted much media attention, ending with a U.S. District Court judge granting a temporary restraining order in response to welfare concerns for the animals. More than 1,200 horses were removed during the gather to bring the herd down to more manageable and sustainable levels, according to BLM.

The four-person BLM review team, which included Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) veterinarian Owen Henderson, interviewed BLM staff, animal welfare experts and contractors who completed the gather and examined nearly a dozen videos taken by public observers during the gather.

The overall consensus, according to BLM, was that contractors "generally demonstrated appropriate, humane handling of wild horses." However, the review team also cited specific instances of inappropriate, aggressive practices, says BLM, including helicopters operating too closely to horses and pursuing small groups or single horses for too long.

The review team made a number of recommendations in its review, and BLM says it is taking several corrective actions as a result. These actions include establishing a helicopter gather contracts review team to determine what operational improvements are needed and to clarify management expectations as to what is appropriate and what is not; reviewing existing training courses and recommending supplemental curricula to help implement an incident command structure; and issuing guidelines to ensure that helicopters do not make contact with wild horses and burros, and to clarify decision-making regarding the movement of a small group of horses or single horses to the trap.

The full BLM review can be found online at http://blm.gov/.