You learn many interesting things traveling on public lands following the wild horse issue in the American West.
You learn that after standing in sub-zero temperatures, attempting to document winter roundups, that returning to the relative warmth of your parked vehicle can make your glasses crack. You learn that chemical toe warmers are good as wrist, neck and “slip into your coveralls attach to your underwear” warmers as well. You learn that rattlesnakes don’t always rattle.
You learn the maneuvers the federal government will attempt to hide their actions when “managing” America’s wild herds: Maneuvers that range from lying about facility contracts to a roadblock on a remote dirt road operated by armed men who stop three woman from seeing the wild horses being captured.
On June 19, 1971 both houses of Congress passed the Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro, act without a single dissenting vote. That act read:
§ 1331. Congressional findings and declaration of policy
Congress finds and declares that wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West; that they contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people; and that these horses and burros are fast disappearing from the American scene. It is the policy of Congress that wild free-roaming horses and burros shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment, or death; and to accomplish this they are to be considered in the area where presently found, as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands.
Somehow though, somewhere in the implementation of the Act, something went terribly wrong. In its findings, Congress declared, “These horses and burros are fast disappearing from the American scene.” However the agency tasked by Congress to protect and preserve these disappearing horses became transformed into a machine that removes more horses from public lands than any other force or man or nature in modern history.
As a journalist and photojournalist, this issue has become my life’s passion. Yet the pursuit of the story has now taken me to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to protect my First Amendment right to document and report the actions of our government in this issue of great public interest.
If there is nothing to hide, why go through such lengths to hide what is being done? This is hardly a matter of national security, after all.
This doomed wild horse, stampeded for miles by BLM helicopter "cowboys," has literally lost its hooves (photo by Laura Leigh)