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Bureau told to answer allegations over helicopter incident

October 10, 2011

A judge has left open the option for injunctive relief in a case filed against the Bureau of Land Management over an incident in which the skids of a helicopter purportedly touched a wild horse.

Laura Leigh's footage (below) appears to show a helicopter touching a horse during a roundup.
Last week, Judge Howard McKibben ordered that the motion for injunctive relief in wild horse advocate Laura Leigh's case against Interior Secretary Ken Salazar addressing "humane treatment" be answered.

The case centres on alleged inhumane conduct at bureau roundups.

Late in August, the parties met in a federal courtroom in Reno Nevada.

Judge McKibben granted Leigh a temporary restraining order over pilot conduct at the Triple B roundup in Eastern Nevada on August 11.

Included in documentation shown to the court was video footage taken by Leigh that was purported to show a bureau-contracted helicopter pilot coming into contact with a horse with his aircraft.

At the hearing for the temporary restraining order, Judge McKibben left the matter for injunctive relief open, saying that the ruling would stand identical unless new information was presented to the Court.

The complaint itself is left active.

"At the Barren Valley Roundup in Oregon, the BLM did all they could to restrict the ability to assess pilot conduct," Leigh sadi. "Yet every indication was observed that identical conduct continued.

"There were finally two runs (one day) where I was restricted, yet was able to catch seconds of the push and I saw the pilot, again, come in close proximity to the ground, the trap and the horses."

Leigh returned to Reno, before heading out to the roundup again, and amended her complaint to include the documentation she had of pilot conduct, the conduct at holding facilities, the lack of an upcoming roundup schedule at that time (it has since been released), and the lack of a written humane handling protocol of consequence.

"It is amazing that an agency that will claim to care about the horses has no real standard for accountability for handling of animals," Leigh said.

"Instead, it is left up to arbitrary whim that has no consequence. That's not how you handle something you care about."

"Do we dare hope that the BLM will issue a handling protocol with accountability to avoid scrutiny of the Court?" asked R.T. Fitch, equine author and co-founder and president of the Wild Horse Freedom Federation.

"After all, it would seem to be standard operating procedure."

The case for relief could be heard before the court by the end of next month.

Late last month, the bureau's director, Bob Abbey, announced a review of the adequacy of existing operating procedures over the Triple B wild horse gather following the allegations of animal abuse.

More than 1200 wild horses were gathered and removed during the gather before Judge McKibben granted the temporary restraining order because of his concern that a helicopter was flying too close to a horse being rounded up.

The review, Abbey said, would be conducted by a team of bureau employees who will be able to consult with specific non-bureau experts.

He said the inquiry would look at several incidents, some of which have been videotaped by the public.

"The team will carefully review the incidents to determine what happened and to assess the gather operations.

"The review and findings will inform the bureau's development of a comprehensive animal welfare plan for the Wild Horse and Burro Program."

Abbey continued: "This fact-finding review is aimed at advancing the BLM's ongoing efforts to strengthen humane animal care and handling practices.

"Any resulting changes in bureau-wide standard operating procedures will apply to gather contractors, BLM employees, and volunteers."

The findings of the review will be posted on the internet, he said.



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