Wild horse advocates rein in protest plans -- for now

After a recent workshop with the Bureau of Land Management's National Wild Horse Advisory Board, one group of activists has decided to rein in plans for a protest.

Although discussion between wild horse advocates and BLM representatives ranged from cordial to markedly tense at that workshop -- with a BLM official at one point asking protesters to set aside their "slings, darts, and arrows" -- the Colorado Springs-based Cloud Foundation is going to try working with the BLM.

The Cloud Foundation had planned to hold a protest rally in front of the Magnolia Hotel where the BLM meetings were taking, but cancelled it for fear a demonstration would "undercut the sincere efforts of the BLM to work with multiple stakeholders in the community," according to the group.

Ginger Kathrens, head of the Cloud Foundation (read her 2009 interview with Alan Prendergast here), says that in her twelve years of attending BLM advisory meetings, the workshop was a "unique experience" in that it allowed the public "to ask questions and get answers in a public forum." Beyond that, she adds, the BLM (which is under the Department of the Interior, now headed by Colorado's Ken Salazar), seemed to express a "genuine willingness" to pay more attention to the "growing outrage" of the public.

Still, the Cloud Foundation remains wary of the BLM, which experience has taught the group can be opaque, unresponsive and often clueless. For example, says the group's Makendra Silverman, there was the time singer-songwriter Sheryl Crowe signed a letter to the BLM expressing outrage over horse removals. "Ken Salazar called her up himself and when she said that she wanted him to speak with Ginger Kathrens, he didn't know who she was," Silverman recalls. "She's the foremost person in this fight and they had no idea. The agency is just so disconnected from what's going on."

And there continues to be a huge gap between what the public sees as appropriate methods of managing wild horse populations and what Silverman calls the BLM's philosophy of "remove, remove, remove." Although the BLM is taking "little, teeny steps into the 21st century of government agencies," activists are still frustrated by the "coloring book simple" policies outlined by the organization, she notes.

The Cloud Foundation continues to press for an independently organized census and remains "unequivocally" opposed to Salazar's proposal to relocate thousands of wild horses to Eastern and Midwestern preserves, at a cost of $42.5 million. The group has also called for a moratorium on BLM roundups, Silverman says, charging that if the practice continues, it will not be long before the BLM "manages valued herds to extinction."

So while this week's workshop was a promising sign that the BLM is finally "starting to grasp that they need to be transparent and work with the public," Silverman says, the group isn't holding its horses altogether: "We're postponing our protest to see what the BLM does next," she notes.

The minute that wild horse advocates have a reason to doubt the BLM's sincerity, protesters will be "right there on the streets again," Kathrens adds. "Not just in Colorado, but from coast to coast."

"We are at a critical juncture," she continues. "There are so few horses left and there are so many that are being warehoused at huge expense to the public. This is the year we must make a change."

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Erin Bilir
Contact: Erin Bilir