Public Lands, Public Horses

Department of Interior (DOI);  the zero accountability factor

The Offices of Inspector General (OIG) throughout the federal government serve as independent watchdogs of federal agencies. The Department of Interior has an Inspector General, the DOI OIG.  The OIG helps to prevent, and hold people accountable, to inefficient or illegal use of government funding, unethical conduct within the federal government and other infractions of law. President Trump has 13 Inspector General positions remaining vacant. This President is very slow to fill IG positions at agencies where questionable ethical activity has already occurred and his agenda of "deregulation," critical to his policy agenda, is running full steam. 

In addition to the lack of IG seats remaining vacant, the funding to investigate all of the infractions reported is simply not there.

“Funding and staffing shortfalls resulting from flat funding or small cuts have caused the Office of Inspector General in recent months to forgo investigations altogether. Investigation requests from Congress and from tips originating within the Department of the Interior have either been rejected or are awaiting resources to be freed up in order to address them,” said Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) on the floor of the House in debate over funding.

The DOI Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and the U.S. Office of Special Counsel have already opened 11 investigations of Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s actions, yet the 115th Congress has failed to hold a single hearing on possible ethical lapses by political appointees in Trump’s Interior Department.

The 11 active investigations referenced above do not include those turned over to land management agencies for internal revue, often putting those under investigation in charge of investigating themselves.

Other members of Zinke's DOI have also been placed as the hub of an investigation. An investigation into intimidation of employees, waste of tax payer funding, etc had John Ruhs (former NV BLM State lead) as a central figure. Ruhs was promoted to acting Deputy and handed the OIG investigation for internal review. Ruhs was later demoted to running fire in Idaho causing a stir in the camp of Congressman Mark Amodei (R-NV). At this time it is not clear if he was transferred to Idaho to keep him out of the limelight or as a consequence. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests have been denied as FOIA offices face incredible new memorandums on what can, and can not, be released to the public. 

The Center for American Progress has created an extraordinary report, "The Favor Factory," that focuses on the depth and breadth of the breaches in current oversight of an administration that is doing all it can to skirt accountability with many violations, some flagrant, of common ethical responsibility. 

Since his tenure at Interior began, Zinke has been subject to 14 separate investigations into his conduct alone, including those within the Office of Special Counsel, the House Oversight Committee, the Government Accountability Office, as well as OIG. This is not normal. This is not "politics, as usual."

As wild horse advocates this is really important to understand. The wild horse is the only animal legally defined by the land it stands, not what it is biologically. The land it stands is public lands. Protections for our wild horses came with federal jurisdiction. Prior to federal jurisdiction is when they were hunted down through "mustanging," a free for all killing horses for fertilizer, chicken feed and dog food. Wild horses were a fast cash crop. States still do not protect free roaming horses from slaughter and often use a "capture and sell" method for any management. Maintaining a system of federal management is what "Wild Horse Annie," Velma Johnston, devoted her life's work to achieving. 

Public land management must have mechanisms for accountability. Those mechanisms have always been subject to corruption and intimidation, now those mechanisms themselves are under assault. Instead of any progress to "drain the swamp," the swamp is now in charge and drowning out any avenue to stop it. 

A simplistic example of how Zinke runs his DOI lies in agency leadership positions.

At midterm there is still no BLM Director and the position has been wiped off the BLM website. The Deputy Director position was not appointed by the president, the deputy positions were filled by Ryan Zinke. Currently Brian Steed (R-Ut) sits as the Deputy Director of BLM. Steed is the former Chief of Staff of Chris Stewart (R-UT). Stewart was the author of the amendment that would kill tens of thousands of wild horses and the one pushing the amendment to forward the surgical, experimental, procedures on wild horses. The surgical procedure is part of an agenda forwarded by pro-slaughter factions that worked with Ryan Zinke when he was a Congressman in Montana. 

The Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 is a United States law that requires the executive branch departments and agencies to report to Congress and Government Accountability Office (GAO) information about the temporary filling of vacant executive agency positions that require presidential appointment with Senate confirmation. This is simply not happening. 

The BLM website identifies Mr. Steed, under the heading of deputy, as the official “exercising authority of the director.” Steed was given his position by Zinke, not the President. The authority of the Director (a position missing from the website) was placed into an acting/or not acting (even his designation is not clear) by someone violating ethical, legal, responsibility. 

These temporary positions, and positions that have a power greater than intended, blatantly violate the law.  These questionable positions extend into National Parks, Fish and Wildlife and the BLM. Essentially every action discussed, planned, approved in land management agencies violates this essential process of legal leadership. 

It is legally arguable that almost every plan or action created within each land management agency, and approved through this "leadership" during these time periods, is invalid. A broad case that addresses these appointments within the DOI was brought by PEER earlier this year. WHE is watching the case and included this concept in our challenge to BLM spaying wild horses (and it's connection to Brian Steed's former boss and political agenda, not sound judgement).

We don't just need to simply "Stop the roundups." we need to shut down Zinke's personal playground, the DOI. This is not how public land management is intended to operate. This is chaos rule intended to destabilize from within. When you add that fact that oversight is deficient, underfunded and selective, there is no venue for the public to hold public land managers accountable but the courts.

"They mean well but do not understand" is another illusory truth perpetuated by decades of lies and solidified in a meme. Advocacy does understand, we understand far too well.  There is a lot of money to be made in the exploitation of public lands. Removing regulations, personnel and oversight simply facilitate rapid exploitation without consequence or responsibility to the public. 

There are several hearings that must make it into the House and Senate. These hearings are currently being stonewalled by the leadership of House and Senate that have ingrained ties to Rob Bishop (R-UT), Chris Stewart (R-UT), Mark Amodei (R-NV) and Ryan Zinke. 

The most important thing you can do to help bring these hearings to the floor is vote. If leadership of the committees does not change hands the stonewall intent on hiding this corruption will hold. 

We are doing our part, addressing available oversight and crafting litigation. We need you to do yours. Please vote at midterm. 


There are many tools that can be used to manage our western landscapes and our wild horses. One tool is temporary fertility control or PZP. None of these tools will bring long term success unless they are founded on a valid and honest equation of range data. That data will require, in order to preserve wild horses and the habitat they need to survive, that we address issues that impact that habitat, livestock and mining. The large equation for sustained management can only be built on honest dialogue in a sound system.

Accountability has quickly moved to zero. Help us fight back. 

Continue down page to read a personal editorial on Oversight engagement by our founder

Oversight; Is Anyone Watching?



Oversight refers to the agencies whose job it is to investigate illegal and unethical behavior inside the federal government. 

Another avenue for oversight are Congressional hearings. 




Where are the Watchdogs?

(personal editoral, L.Leigh) 

It does get personal

Many of our readers will hear us use the term "oversight." When we are engaging oversight agencies we are providing testimony, documents or other requested product to the Government Accounting Office (GAO), Office of the Inspector General (OIG) or someone that works with a Congressional Investigative team. Even though a courtroom is a great venue to create oversight and accountability, we reference that as judicial; legal or litigation. 

You need to understand what has been happening with "oversight." We tried to explain some of this in 2017. In the wild horse community this did not get much attention under an advocacy that is very vulnerable to exploitation through social media competition.

Social media has been exploited and many times orgs will create a list of litigation that has no place or plaintiffs listed, no updated on what was won or lost, or misrepresent what was won. Even the area of advocacy that should be portrayed as accurately as possible, only after a legal approval of wording, is word smithed for a desired response, not an educated public. 

One example is that litigation against temporary fertility control never happened, a win against lazy paperwork that messed up on numbers did. The power of social media presentation even had BLM employees thinking that was what happened in that case. We had to spend our own money and time, go search and download the case, to prove to BLM that their impression of the case was wrong! It is absurd that those making a tax payer salary and work for the BLM are so poorly educated.  It is not just the public that is susceptible to a good public relations stunt on a fundraiser or meme, it's federal employees and Congressmen. 

When both sides of an argument engage in this behavior very rarely do we see an accurate debate by lawmakers; they are getting their info from lobbyists often paid by these groups, bills authored by these groups, talking points provided by these groups. It has created a reality built on politics in our western states; a lousy reality if you are a wild animal that does not posses a bank account to pay a campaign contribution. It also creates a lousy reality for an advocacy org attempting to present a fact based conversation and range data. 

When we address Congress in conversations, as they make laws that will have far reaching consequence to our wild horses on public lands (habitat loss, slaughter), we have to first dig through all the layers of propaganda to even get to a place where we can have a simplistic, truthful, conversation on the core of any issue. Most of the time we barely get an opportunity to scratch the surface.

This reality is extremely exhausting, frustrating and unnecessary. A lie repeated enough appears to be the truth. It is called the "illusory truth effect," a glitch in the human brain. If the truth is not introduced to the brain immediately, a lie repeated with conviction, we end up engaging a constant false narrative. (I digress a bit because this challenge has effected me both as and advocate and a human being. There are so many lies out there it is like walking through someones mental disorder addressing it over and over. No, I am not a wanted felon, nor did I fake cancer, nor did I inherit money... numbers with wild horses is nothing but a game particularly after BLM changed inventory methods, the pics of Navajo horses are not BLM, large scale temporary fertility control is possible, no fertility control was not shut down by advocates in litigation, etc. So much time gets wasted.).

When it comes to the work we do with oversight agencies the conversation does change. Oversight is usually extremely issue specific; trespass livestock, tax payer money wasted or used illegally, intimidation, abuse of power.

Many of the conversations we have with an oversight agency (or Congressional investigation team) are filled with acronyms and backstory that would take an incredible effort to explain in an 800 word article for public consumption. This creates another layer of frustration as an advocacy org that, just like any other org, needs support to keep our work active.

Are you going to pay attention to a detailed article that points to the depth of an issue or are you going to respond to a screaming meme?

When we try to explain what we are doing we have actually gotten mail from "advocates" that get angry at the length of an article and want us to give them a paragraph and a sign on letter.

I have sat in stakeholder meetings where petitions have made it into the room from wild horse advocacy that present two different perspectives on a issue. In one instance I looked at the boxes of petition signatures on fertility control; one for and one against. The petitions had the same signatures on them... "save the mustangs!" is a great desire we share, but if you do not know what you just added your name to you may have, not only negated your name on the last petition you signed, but it adds to the propaganda that advocates "do not understand" and therefore should not be part of larger discussion in land use planning. 

A personal example of an Oversight Investigation

One example is the 2016 Government Accounting Office (GAO) report on trespass livestock. That investigation took months. There were a lot of people from inside the government, and outside, that were contacted by the GAO. We were asked for very specific information, documentation. After an interview the agency determines what documentation they need, reschedules an interview and the process repeats. You are asked not to discuss any ongoing investigation with the public.

When these types of investigations complete you can chose to disclose that you participated or keep your identity secret. Many of these investigations come with the potential for ramifications, many people chose not to disclose they participated.

When the GAO report on livestock trespass was finally released; many people shared that report and put it in mailers or included it in what they termed "white papers." 

WHE actually participated. Often the opposition to our wild horses knows that WHE did, others did not. It gets really stressful to do that kind of work; the long field hours, crafting the requested documents, the threats that go with it. The public seems to really want the "ground grunt watchdogs" but support the public relations firms that do not disclose that they did not participate. Then WHE receives a nasty email, or 12, asking "You are doing nothing and I am going to support orgX because they do so much!"

There are days I wake up and ask myself "are you really going to put yourself through this again?"

This has repeated with our humane handling litigation (WHE is the only org in history to address this in court), our First Amendment litigation (that brought daily access that is once again in jeopardy due to undermining of solid case law), fertility control planning, Congressional engagement, OIG investigations, and on an on. 

Progress is made one step at a time within the appropriate parts of process. When we fail to reinforce steps, no matter who makes those steps, we risk being dragged backwards. The greatest threats to progress come from addiction to the crisis of the past, a comfort zone of sorts. Land management is crisis management. Crisis management is easy to exploit. The exploitation of wild horses, "blame games," have created a baseline of illusory truths (lies repeated often enough) not a fact based conversation that takes steps to dispel profitable chaos.

The chaos is creating a storm washing away your public lands, your wild horses and your voice. 

The ability to engage oversight venues (courts, oversight agencies) is also being washed away.

Under Zinke's DOI the BLM is nothing but memo repeaters staying under the radar to keep a job. We wish they would remember even rats leave a sinking ship. 

What is happening today in land management? Zinke has taken chaos management to a whole new level. Structural integrity is even gone. Where once we had at least a way to slow destruction, our public lands are on a fast track to being unrecognizable within a decade. 

In these chaotic times with a failing OIG, and investigations stalled in Congress by corruption, you have become the watchdog. In essence the first and last vestige of the integrity of our democracy falls to you. 

Vote at midterm. It really is the only hope. If you do not stand up Zinke will continue unfettered. Your public lands and wild horses will pay the price.