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Horse report a 'PR nightmare' for federal agency

December 6, 2010

A report by observers of three wild horse musters has been branded by wild horse advocates as a public relations nightmare for the Bureau of Land Management.

BLM director Bob Abbey.
The Equine Welfare Alliance says the December 3 Observers' Report evaluating the bureau's handling of wild horse round-ups has left advocates and independent observers stunned.

It is impossible, to reconcile the positive, almost congratulatory findings with the mountain of negative evidence they have collected over the past year, the alliance says.

It says the disconnect appears to begin with bureau's appointment of Robin Lohnes to its Wild Horse Advisory Board. Lohnes in turn appointed the "independent observers".

Lohnes is the executive director of the American Horse Protection Association (AHPA). The AHPA has no website and maintains only a small, unoccupied office on the lower level of a Georgetown hotel, the alliance says.

"If the organisation has been involved in any activity (horse protection or otherwise) since the 1990s they have managed to conceal it both from Google and from the hotel's maid who told an Equine Welfare Alliance investigator that she had never observed anyone in the office."

The report's observers witnessed a three-to-four-day period from three round-ups over the summer: the Owyhee muster in Nevada, the Stinking Waters muster in Oregon, and the Twin Peaks muster in California.

"Typical of the findings were comments like, 'contractor and BLM personnel appeared to be gentle and knowledgeable, horses did not exhibit undue stress or show signs of extreme sweating or duress due to the helicopter portion of the gather ...'

"It is difficult to reconcile this with independent observations at round-ups like that in the Calico complex. There, the helicopter, that the report claims was no louder than a riding mower, literally ran hooves off of foals.

"There were at least 39 simultaneous abortions in pregnant mares and a reported death toll of 160. Dozens of videos and hundreds of photographs were released that tell a totally different story than the observer's report."

The alliance said virtually every round-up over the past year has had what it called inexcusable incidents "that would have no doubt gone unreported if independent observers were not present to capture the incidents on video and photographs".

"A recent round-up video documents a stallion that was literally lifted off the ground by a helicopter.

Suzanne Roy, director of American Wild Horse Preservation commented: "This biased report is an attempt to deflect increased scrutiny on and public opposition to the BLM's inhumane wild horse roundups."

The Equine Welfare Alliance and wild horse advocates across the country are calling for an independent commission appointed by Congress to oversee the Wild Horse and Burro Programme.

"Enough taxpayer dollars have been wasted on public relation firms to change the perception of a rogue government agency that has no intention of changing," the alliance says.

"For the BLM to regain any credibility, their claims of being transparent must be backed-up with actions. Allowing truly independent observers at all stages of round-ups and at holding facilities would be a good start."

Alliance president John Holland said: "The BLM needs to understand that this is the age of Wikileaks, cellphone cameras and YouTube.

"Attempting to hide a smouldering pile of misdeeds with a fanciful report, instead of trying to fix problems, only makes the agency look more dishonest and inept."

The alliance has more than 125 member organisations. It focuses its efforts on the welfare of all equines and the preservation of wild equids.



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