Stop Frontin’, You’re Just a Puppet

I don’t want to shock anyone, but I am a giant flake.  I completely forgot to get part 1 of my Advisory Board feelings up.  So now I am at work with zero new photos to put in here, but in our 24 hour news cycle, the Advisory Board is already old news so I can’t wait any longer.  So since I will be in Nebraska all weekend and this is my only chance, I’m tossing it up reallyquick.  I apologize for the shoddiness, as well as my apparent inability to name a blog post something other than a random line in a song on my BLM playlist:

Someone, who may have been Benjamin Disraeli once said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

Before you think I am turning away from my Mathematical roots, let me explain. This quote comes from the same place as me pointing out the very true and well documented fact that 38% of all statistics are made up.

Numbers don’t lie. They are incapable of doing so. People, on the other hand, lie all the time. When it comes to Math, people will manipulate statistics and data as a way of making their lies seem more legitimate. The average citizen is less likely to question someone with numbers, because they immediately come across as having researched the subject and thus they must know more than you. Right?

But what does any of that have to do with horses? Horses cannot lie the way humans do, and last I checked, they hadn’t developed a passion for statistics. So why am I talking about liars? Because of the BLM’s most recent Wild Horse & Burro Advisory Board. For those of you who are not in the know about this event, you aren’t missing much and may I please swap bodies with you for a little while?

Divide Basin bachelor
Divide Basin bachelor


The Advisory Board is a panel of 9 individuals who the BLM elects to voluntarily serve by openly discussing and making recommendations on how to “improve” the Wild Horse & Burro program. Twice a year the Board meets in a hotel somewhere in the country and spends 2-3 days talking about issues facing the Wild Horse & Burro program in front of interested members of the public. It is also streamed online in real time so everyone can tune in, even if they can’t afford to go themselves.

The meeting itself is predictable and well, dull. The Board spends about 1/3 of the time patting themselves and the BLM on the collective back for all the “great work they’re doing” . The other 2/3 of the meeting is spent complaining about how the horses are above the appropriate management level (AML) or how wild horse adoptions are down or how they have too many horses in captivity that aretoo expensive to feed them all or how the BLM needs to forget following the proper research channels and start spaying mares in the field right now. On and on and on.  It doesn’t really go anywhere, and by the time it is over a typical well-meaning advocate feels ready to pound their head into a wall just to get them to shut up already.

Oh yeah, there’s also a few hours allotted for the public to submit comments to the Board, but they sleep through those so is it really worth mentioning?

This time around I was actually really excited to listen to the Advisory Board. Why? Because for the first time in goodness knows how long, the BLM had an approved budget. I wanted that budget. I wanted the numbers – all the numbers. GIVE THEM TO ME!!!! (You are all allowed to judge my weirdness. Some people get excited about babies or puppies, I get unreasonably excited about data)

Naturally, it wasn’t to be. Joan Guilfoyle, the Division Chief of the BLM’s Wild Horse & Burro Program, aka Liar Numero Uno, revealed that she did not have a PowerPoint presentation to share with the audience. She was not able to attend the meeting in person, you see, and had to speak with the Board via conference call fed through the speakers. This instantly made good sense to every single person, because I don’t see how she could have gotten such a thing all the way to California from Washington D.C. if she wasn’t flying out herself. Technology totally works that way.

Status Unknown but Most Likely Removed

I did write down every number I could hear, for all the good it did me. The only numbers actually spoken aloud were as follows:

–          Tax payers pay $128,500 every 6 months ($257,000 per year) for this Advisory Board. This amounts to $28,555 per person every year. I don’t know about you, but I could live off that kind of money!

–          In fiscal year 2016, the BLM will be given 3 million dollars that is specifically to be used to implement recommendations by the NAS. They got some amount for 2014 as well, but it was not specified

–          65% of the BLM’s Wild Horse & Burro budget is going to the captive horses in holding. Joan Guilfoyle remarked on that number by saying, “You know already that having to have those holding costs obviously reduces the amount of funding and energy and things we can do on the range which of course, we’d love to be doing. But we need to take care of the animals when they’re off the range.” As a side note, any time the board starts whining about horses in holding, what they are not saying is that they want the horses in holding to go to slaughter or be euthanized so they can make room for even more horses.

–          Adoptions are way down. In 2005, 5,701 horses adopted. In 2013 only 2,559 horses were adopted. The Board did not take the time to consider that the Burns Amendment aka Sale Authority aka Three Strikes Rule was in full effect from 2004 and only recently has been modified to not allow unrestricted sale of the horses. Nor did they stop to consider that their constant roundups over over 11,000 horses a year led to oversaturation in the market, that is, people who would like to adopt a Mustang had already adopted so many that they were ‘tapped out’ as it were.

And … that’s it. The BLM has a budget, but heck if I know how it breaks down. Nor were we given any clues as to how many roundups they are planning in the coming months. And yet, while I don’t have any information like that, they did take the time to give a presentation saying that if the wild horse herds are not managed on public lands, then we will see a projected number of 1 million horses by 2030. That is … a curious figure. To quote Joan Guilfoyle and her run on sentences again, the BLM’s land (which is really American citizens’ land) has a lot of horses “Like 50,000 of them. There are probably 240,000 animals out there including feral and estray. They’re all very charismatic. The people love them. There are no real predators who can control them. They double their population every four years, and they are very assertive foragers.” When you think about the fact that it isn’t just the BLM lands where we have the situation we have with no real means of controlling their population control across the western landscape on a massive scale. We need to think about that when we think about how we address and the situation and how we deal with them. Where do we want them such that they are healthy and the land is healthy.”

Now what Joan was getting at in this section is that when the BLM manages horses, it is okay for them to keep in mind that there are more wild horses than just those on BLM or Forest Service land. There are tribal lands with wild horses, and there are places where people just turn their geldings and mares loose when they can’t afford to keep them any longer. Because, y’know, geldings can totally reproduce and it’s 100% acceptable to imply that the American people can just go enjoy wild horses on what little land the feds “graciously” allowed the Native Americans to keep…

Hopefully by this point those of you who did not listen to the board meeting are realizing they are glad they didn’t waste their life listening to this drivel.

Three generations of bachelors. Though hopefully Chance (the red roan) will get his band back soon!

The ultimate disappointment from this board session (other than the fact that heifer Callie Hendrickson is still around) is the complete lack of information it gave. Normally I feel like I at least gleaned something that I can use from the Advisory Board sessions. But this time around? Nothing!

Because I do not have enough information to give any real insight, I’ll end this post with a quote from Callie Hendrickson, aka That Heifer. That Heifer went on a lovely tirade early in the day, presumably because she’s not used to not getting exactly what she wants, when she wants it:

“It seems like we’re here to give actual input, but it seems like it isn’t going anywhere. This board for years and years has made sound recommendations and we’re going the opposite direction here. That’s really frustrating. I vent my frustration at the overall program and how the board is being used.”

Welcome to EVERY SINGLE DAY for a wild horse advocate, Callie!  Except unlike you, wild horse advocates not only have no power within the BLM infrastructure, but we actually have negative power – the BLM will ignore any good ideas we may have and dismiss them offhand, purely because of the mouth those ideas came from.

I try to remember that through all the frustration that comes with listening to these asinine meetings or reading recaps such as mine, if that Heifer isn’t getting her way, then it is a victory for wild horse lovers. And we have to take our victories where we can get them, no matter how big or small.

SWB Bach

Published by Rachel Reeves

I am a photographer who currently lives in the great state of Colorado. I love going out and photographing wild horses in their natural habitat, and look forward to being able to share a glimpse their world with you.

6 thoughts on “Stop Frontin’, You’re Just a Puppet

  1. What I learned this time — members of the board need to do more research to understand not only the topics which they are discussing, but the paperwork which is used for BLM procedures. If they don’t realize the difference between an EA and EIS, and that they are used for more than just determining Wild Horse management, they are just wasting time, well MORE time, trying to explain to each other what everything means. And I doubt very much that they have all read the whole NAS report.

  2. BLM will also not bullied by advocates who rightfully sue. This is in relation to shelter. Apparently you can volunteer to work for BLM but you have to play by THEIR rules. Which doesn’t consist of common sense.

    Advocates have shelter, they people willing to donate time to put the shelter up. None of this would cost BLM a single solitary dime. But because it’s coming from advocates it’s a no go. Makes a lot of sense doesn’t it?!

    The really scary pie chart was the one that Joan said it costs BLM 46,000 dollars for holding for a horses entire life. There was a lot of discussion that people thought figures were lower than that. So did I. It actually came from Dean Bolstad who pointed out that that figure comes from if the horse is held in SHORT TERM holding not long term holding. Way to go Dean thank you for that!

    So much for transparency on that one Joan.

    1. Hi Margaret! You are 100% correct on that. Joan’s $46,000 number was not scary so much as it was a scare tactic.

      We know that horses in short-term holding costs 3-4 times as much as a horse kept in long-term holding. The BLM is not keeping all 50,000 horses in short-term holding at those rates. Mose horses go to long-term holding and a large percentage of those horses will go to long-term holding within a year or two of being removed.

      The goal of that was to “shock” the audience and the slower minded Board members (e.g. all of them) into thinking there is justification for mass euthanasia. No single horse is *ever* going to spend 25 straight years in short-term. It would be more accurate to say a weanling who is never adopted will cost around $15,000 during its lifespan. However, many of the wild horses that are removed these days & not adopted are much older – 7 years and up. So even then, it is not accurate to claim that every wild horse in holding will cost $15,000 in its lifetime, because few horses will spend 25 years in the care of the BLM. Though that $15,000 estimate is ignoring the biggest cost – the helicopter roundup that took the hose off the range.

    2. And as a second thought: if Joan was trying to imply every single horse would cost $46,000 (and let’s be real she was) then the 50,000 horses currently in holding would cost 23 billion dollars in their lifetime. If Joan really believes that, then I have some lovely beachfront property in Nebraska to sell her. She may have to wade through some cow pies to get to it, though.

  3. Love you posts, Rachel! So glad someone with common sense is there to help the beautiful wild horses. EVA

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