I would like to compare the BLM to mules, but it hardly seems fair to besmirch the good name of such a fine species as the noble mule.
When I last updated this blog, I discussed the lack of wind breaks or adequate shelter at the BLM holding facility in Rock Springs. At the time, the Cloud Foundation offered to pay for and install wind breaks for the wild horses help in the facility. The BLM refused this offer saying the horses did not need such luxury. I had feelings about this decision, as winds can regularly gust in the 30-50 MPH range and temperatures in the winter month are consistently below zero. Still, nothing could be done without the BLM’s permission and they put their foot down. Rock, meet other BLM shaped rock.
The issue came up again at the BLM Wild Horse & Burro Advisory Board meeting on Monday, April 14th. Halleluiah! It was a pleasant surprise that quickly turned into an infuriating example of the bull headedness of the BLM. I wrote the conversation down to share with everyone.
To understand this conversation it helps to understand the players.
- Joan Guilfoyle is the current Division Chief of the BLM’s Wild Horse & Burro Program. Joan is known for such things as:
- Writing an internal memo calling for euthanasia (aka shooting) wild horses while they are still on the range due to the lack of space for captive horses
- Refusing to talk about the fact that her program sold thousands of horses to Tom Davis who then sold them to slaughter. This came after she had previously claimed that the BLM would prosecute individuals caught selling wild horses to slaughter. This never happened with the Tom Davis case, despite the fact that the man had purchased well over a thousand horses that were shipped to Mexico and became unaccounted for.
- Her dislike of keeping captive wild horses in long term holding pastures (aka why keep them if you can kill them?)
- Callie Hendrickson, or as I like to call her That Heifer, is an Advisory Board Member representing “Public Interest”. She is known for:
- Being the executive director of the White River and Douglas Creek Conservation Districts.
- Intervening in a lawsuit brought by The Cloud Foundation over the West Douglas horse herd in Colorado. The Cloud Foundation was trying to save the horses (and they won). That Heifer’s organization intervened in support of zeroing out all the horses in the area.
- Loudly and regularly calling for captive wild horses to either be slaughtered or euthanized en masse.
- Being a general annoyance who has to get the last word in on EVERY SINGLE TOPIC, regardless of whether or not her comments have anything to do with the topic that is being discussed at the time (Spoiler: 80% of the time they don’t)
- Tim Harvey is the Advisory Board Member representing Humane Advocacy. He is the good guy on the Advisory Board. You may not agree with everything he says, but he will always listen to the public and speak up in support of the wild horses.
Here’s the transcript:
Tim Harvey: When it’s cold and windy my horses seek out the area with the least amount of wind. Always. I don’t think it takes an academic expert in a situation like this. I think a lot of this is common sense. I think sometimes common sense needs to be used here. I am perplexed with the situation in Wyoming when there was donation money available and it would cost the BLM no money when it could create goodwill with people. On windy days when the horses are uncomfortable the horses deserve an option to get comfortable and get a little relief.
Joan Guilfoyle: There are a lot of opinions about it. If people want to work with us and offer their ideas and not demand that it is their way or nothing, then you do have horse experts in the BLM and horse experts outside the BLM who don’t agree, and I think that’s where some of the basis of let’s see what people who have actually studied these things. I think that’s something the local managers try to work with folks on and people in some cases are a little demanding on what they think they needed and the BLM managers felt they did not need what was suggested at that time. We are going to get some actual animal welfare experts in to look at it. I’ve heard other comments that the horse never goes under the tree or things like that.
Tim Harvey: For me one of the main things to consider in this is the fact that the BLM requires every adopter to have a three sided shelter for every horse and that’s a requirement you have as a minimum for an adopter. I understand there is that consideration, but this may be a place where some of these folks really want to help the horses and understand the BLM is strapped financially can donate some money and labor.
Callie Hendrickson: I have a different opinion than Tim. If we had all of our wants and we had all the money in the world we wouldn’t have an issue. We have priorities on how we spend our money. I would also say that goes for the adoptions. I know very personally of people who would have considered and done adoptions but those restrictions are so strict that they cannot adopt them. So I think that is a value to both of those.
Sidenote: Really, Heifer?! Sorry folks, but the BLM requirements ain’t that strict. It took me all of two hours and less than $100 to modify my corral to meet the BLM’s specifications. If you aren’t willing to put in that kind of time and money, you have no business bringing home a wild animal.
Anyway, it was a telling conversation. Joan went off script and was actually honest when she spelled out exactly why they will not let advocates put up windbreaks in Rock Springs: because they don’t like the people who made the offer.
To the BLM, you see, it is not about the horses. It is about them. The humans.
The reality is that The Cloud Foundation was not “demanding” anything. The Cloud Foundation was not calling the Rock Springs BLM and screaming at them. They were not standing outside the super posh Rock Springs Field Office and burning BLM apparel and horse manure in effigy. They were not making threats and saying “you will do this or else”. They contacted the BLM, said they were concerned about the horses and made an offer. That offer was almost immediately rejected, because the BLM would rather play power games over the horses in their care and the American public they are supposed to be serving.
Earlier in the day, Joan Guilfoyle had said, “Our transparency is already pretty high and the effect on the public trust seems unchanged. There seems a certain percentage that don’t want to trust us no matter how we share information.”
The contrast between two statements made hours apart that is nothing short of insane. What Joan fails to understand is that she is openly and intentionally burning bridges between herself and folks like me. When the BLM rejects offers of help from wild horse advocates just because of who they are, then which side is the real problem here? Who is unwilling to work with whom?
I could take Joan and all 9 members of the Advisory Board to the Rock Springs holding corral’s overlook. At least nine of those ten people would look out over those horses and see numbers. This facility can hold 1,000 horses total. There are 150 mares in that pen and 100 mare foal pairs over there. What a pretty colored yearling. I bet that animal would make a good riding horse.
Some of those board members wouldn’t see the animals at all. They’d see a price per pound. They’d see how much money they are spending to keep that animal. They would consider how much better it is that the horses are in there so the livestock can have control over the land they once occupied.
I would not see any of those things, because in matters such as these I cease to be the “numbers girl”. I see the horses. I see particular horses and remember where they used to live, who their band stallion was, who they were friends with, who their babies and sisters and aunties were. That distinction makes all the difference.
Knowing these horses makes the issue personal. When you spend time in a wild horse herd and begin to recognize familiar faces, it becomes impossible not to empathize with those horses. You cheer for them, cry for them, sit back in confusion at their antics, and marvel in awe at their spirit. The feeling of watching those same horses getting rounded up is hard to describe, but I guess the closest I could come would be to say that it feels like having a limb ripped away from you. It hurts.
When you know a horse you learn to care about that horse. When you care about that horse, you want that horse to be as happy and as comfortable as possible. That is simple logic, right? Joan Guilfoyle does not know the Salt Wells and Adobe Town horses currently located in the Rock Springs corrals. She does not care to know them. I would lay good money down she has probably never been in Salt Wells or Adobe Town, much less inspected the holding corrals themselves. I know the Heifer certainly has not. They sit back and make judgments about horses they have never met who are trapped in a facility they have never been to. They judge the people who do know these horses and complain that they are the ones who do not know what they are talking about.
The BLM head honcho herself is saying that little old me and people like me are being unreasonable. That Carol Walker and Ginger and all the other Wyoming wild horse lovers are being argumentative and bossy for offering the time and money to give these horses a better quality of life. We must have some nerve for making suggestions on how they could do their job better!
Yet in the same breath she complains, Joan Guilfoyle claims she wants trust. Well, trust is a two-way street, sweetheart. Think of it as though you were gentling a wild horse:
If Bandit sniffed my hand during the gentling process and I smacked him, would he trust me? If Bandit tried to go in his shed at the start of a snow storm and I smacked him and told him to stand outside, would he trust me? If Bandit politely asked me to scratch him behind the ears and in response I smacked him, would he trust me? If Bandit stopped in the middle of a trail ride because a rattle snake slithers in front of him and I smacked him, would he trust me? I would not have a partner and a friend if I treated him that way. I would have an aggressive, dangerous animal who has learned that no matter what he does, he is going to be hit. How do you think such an animal would react when I came into his pen?
No, I’m not going to kick Joan Guilfoyle anymore than she would physically hit me. But the concept is the same. Joan is striking down every single gesture of goodwill that advocates put forward, punching all our ideas in the face. Every olive branch we hold out is not only burnt, but the ashes are rubbed in our faces to boot! Yet still wild horse advocates suck it up and take the licks day after day, because the horses are far more important than any personal pride.
This isn’t rocket science. I want wind breaks for the horses that are kept in the Rock Springs holding corrals. I care about them. If Joan wants me to throw myself on my hands and knees and kiss her feet, begging her to let me install them myself in the middle of a white out blizzard, I will do it. How complicated is this? As Tim said, it’s basic common sense.
Too bad common sense and the BLM are mutually exclusive.