As an advocate for wild horses your understanding of how to use your voice is critical.
“This land is your land, this land is my land,” a great song to sing. But do you know how your voice works in the frame of public lands management?
For decades wild horse advocacy has been minimized, disregarded and, literally, laughed at. In many ways our interest becomes defined by how the human beings that represent that interest express, engage and conduct themselves. Your voice for our public horses is critical, how you use that voice is important.
In 1975 at the first capture of wild horses under the 1971 Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act that established federal jurisdiction (stopped mustanging; the free for all killing or sending horses to slaughter) the first litigation was also gathered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The litigation came from two sides; states and counties claiming the federal government had no authority to manage horses and the horses needed to go to slaughter and advocates claiming the horses should not be removed.
The court ruled that range degradation was evident and the roundup needed to occur to stop the horses from suffering. Yet the court also stated; the Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act was constitutional and jurisdiction was affirmed (the state could not take the horses to slaughter), that the federal government had not shown that the degradation was due to wild horses and not overuse by domestic livestock. The court ruled that any additional management or removal operations conducted by the BLM must follow the same protocol as any other action taken on public lands and comply with the analysis requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
This court ruling confirmed that free roaming horses on our public lands required that the federal government be responsible to that jurisdiction. That management of public land requires analysis and public input.
The Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burros Act was successful in establishing an intention of integration of public horses into public land management.
Creating the reality of what that management translates into was/is the job of advocacy that came after 1975.
Since 1975 there has been only one policy change for the benefit of the original intention of the law. In 2015, after years of litigation by WHE, BLM included the beginnings of a humane handling policy into all NEPA documents on wild horse and burro removals.
The rest of the changes in law have eroded the intention of the Act. The most well known blow to protection of public horses came in 2003. After BLM employees were caught siphoning wild horses off and sending them to slaughter, in a court case that went before Honorable Howard McKibben in Reno, political slight of hand created the "Burns Amendment." Conrad Burns (R- MT) created an amendment that was snuck into a massive omnibus spending bill and opened the door for legal slaughter of our public horses. The amendment was immediately faced with a bill to repeal it. The bill to repeal that amendment had to first face the Senate Committee of Agriculture, of which Burns was the chair. The bill never made it out of committee. (*note: our current Secretary of the Interior that runs the BLM is Ryan Zinke, also a former Republican Congressman from MT)
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was signed into law by President Nixon in 1970. NEPA was the first major environmental law in the United States. NEPA requires Federal Agencies to assess the environmental effects of their proposed actions prior to making decisions. To implement NEPA's policies, Congress prescribed a procedure, commonly referred to as "the NEPA process" or "the environmental impact assessment process."
The ultimate goal of the NEPA process is to foster excellent action that protects, restores, and enhances our environment. This is achieved through the utilization of environmental assessments (EAs) and environmental impact statements (EISs), which provide public officials with relevant information and allow a "hard look" at the potential environmental consequences of each proposed project.
NEPA is required for all land use management actions from long term land use planning intentions through to a removal of wild horses or burros off of public land.
This is where the "public comment period" that many advocates see in "click and send form letters" to comment on a wild horse removal. NEPA has multiple layers in public land management. For public horses the roundup is the very last step in land management; it is the removal that is analyzed at that juncture, not management.
It is critical that you understand the NEPA process. The entire NEPA process is now threatened.
In 2017 during Congressional Appropriations debates that could send wild horses to slaughter, or literally take a fast bullet in the head, it became apparent that many Americans are not familiar with the basics of how laws are made, enforced, and agendas moved forward in the political frame that creates the reality of our country.
In simplistic terms; Congress makes the law, the President, VP and cabinet enforce the law, the Judicial system interprets the law where it is not clear. We have three branches of government with distinct responsibilities outlined in the Constitution of the US. An example of this working as intended would be if Congress created a law that was not in compliance with our Constitution the President would use his veto power to stop it. If that failed our court system would stop it. Congress is heavily influenced by money from big lobby interests, our forefathers built safe gaps into the structure of government to try to balance that influence and protect the American public.
It is critical that you understand the platforms of those running for election in your states. These are the people that will create and enforce the laws we all must comply with.
In recent years it has come to light that our elections are being influenced through social media platforms and big money abroad and domestic is being spent to manipulate public opinion. It is critical that you read the platforms each candidate runs on, create an ongoing dialogue with your elected officials and vote.