Catch 22, BLM Hiding Identity of Landowners

 

By Steven Long, Photo by Terry Fitch

HOUSTON, (Horseback) – The federal Bureau of Land Management is hiding the identity of landowners who are providing wild horse trap sites.

Journalist, author, and artist Laura Leigh won a major First Amendment victory in federal court when Reno’s Judge Larry Hicks ruled it unconstitutional for the BLM to bar observers and the press from observing wild horse “gathers.”

But she was barred by local deputies and threatened with if she pursued her recently won right to observe wild horse “gathers.” Why? Because the trap site used by the federal agency was located on privately owned land. Leigh was told the l andowner would not allow press

and public on his property.

BLM officials told her to get permission from the landowner if she wanted to see the horses.

“In the BLM response to my desire to observe Tuscarora (Owyhee specific) they claim that I should have independently contacted the landowner. How can I do that if they do not provide the trap site locations that are actually in use and the landowner’s information? Are we supposed to trespass and then ask the person listed on the summons?” she wrote to Horseback Magazine.

In a letter to BLM dated July 27th, the magazine asked for the names and contact information for the landowners. The agency response – a stone wall reminiscent of the classic Joseph Heller anti bureaucracy satire, Catch 22.

The bureau responded through Washington spokeswoman Melodie Lloyd saying “Because of FOIA rules, we are unable to supply the name and contact information of landowners for the Calico and Tuscarora gathers.”

FOIA is government shorthand for the federal Freedom of Information Act whose goal is government openness. BLM is using the law to shield its cozy relationship with local landowners and to prevent observation of its activities.

Leigh had run into a bureaucratic obstacle as stout as the Berlin Wall of bygone days.

To outsiders, that wall appears to have been erected for the same purpose as the original – to shield a government agency habitually accused of ham handed treatment of those outside its tight knit circle of ranchers, oil companies, and hunting interests.

Leigh was caught in a classic example of Orwellian doublespeak.

If the government won’t reveal who to ask regarding obtaining permission to step on private property, it’s impossible to step on the property without risking arrest, even though the government told Leigh to ask permission – Catch 22.

Lloyd also responded to another question posed by Horseback Magazine. How much is the government paying to lease the private property it uses

? The answer was surprising, and again demonstrated the cozy relationship wild horse activists charge is enjoyed by Nevada ranchers and the federal agency with whom they lease grazing land at the fire sale price of $1.35 per month per cow.

“The BLM, in all the years it has been conducting wild horse and burro gathers in Western states, has never leased private property for use as a trap site or for holding pens. Taxpayer dollars have not been used in the past, and are not used today,” Lloyd responded extolling the Nevada landowner’s generosity.

Despite Judge Hicks’ ruling, the BLM is continuing to make it difficult to observe its activities.

It appears determined to continue to take a hard line preventing unfettered press and public access to its secretive roundups according to today’s response from its Washington spokeswoman even though a federal judge has ruled that doing so is unconstitutional.

“When the gather site is located on private property, it is the landowner’s decision whether to allow anyone, including the BLM or contract gather personnel, access to his/her property. The BLM lacks jurisdiction over privately-owned lands and does not have the authority to grant access to the public to enter private lands. When the roundup site is located on public lands, the BLM will make arrangements to provide access to the public, keeping the safety and well-being of the horses and those performing the work as the top priority.”

Leigh has continued to file motions in her case against the government, a case in which government lawyers mislead the judge regarding the availability of easy access to water.

The site is chosen by the helicopter chase contractor, she said.

“When beginning preparations for a roundup, the BLM enters into an agreement with a gather contractor who consults with the Wild Horse and Burro Specialist to look at maps of the HMA and review the locations of previously used roundup sites. The gather contractor then scouts the herd management area by helicopter. Important factors taken into consideration when selecting a site are proximity to where the herds are located at the present time as well as where they normally travel within the HMA, the availability of water, the accessibility of roads and the topography of the land,” she said.

“Oftentimes private land roads, over which heavy vehicles must travel during a roundup, are superior to the BLM roads

which can be more primitive. Ultimately, the selected site must be conducive to protecting the health and welfare of the animals being gathered and the safety of those conducting the gather. When the gather contractor identifies a suitable site, he must obtain concurrence from the BLM and then coordinate with the private landowner to secure authorization before beginning any preparations. For the recent Calico and Tuscarora gathers in Nevada, the gather sites used were “historical” sites that the BLM has used for the past 10 – 20 years.”

Finally, Horseback questioned recent reports from local landowners of horses leaving BLM pens in the dead of night. We asked if the agency would request the Justice Department to investigate whether animals were being stolen by department employees.

The BLM animal counts are historically inaccurate and activists have repeatedly called for independent investigations.

Again, BLM threw up its impenetrable stone wall.

“Since the BLM has provided information in answer to the allegations raised, we do not plan to involve the Department of Justice,”

When 54 members of Congress are petitioning for BLM roundups to stop, perhaps agency officials won’t have to ask the FBI to look into matters.

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10 comments for “Catch 22, BLM Hiding Identity of Landowners

  1. August 6, 2010 at 9:43 pm

    It is obvious to me that the actions of the agencies BLM and DOI fall clearly under federal racketeering charges- the consistent,deliberate and willfull attempt to knowingly defraud the American people over a long period of time. The semantics and rhetoric of the BLM has clearly gotten old. The more they invoke these ridiculous arguments, they raise flags higher as to their guilt of very serious crimes. Keep the articles and the pressure coming.

  2. August 6, 2010 at 12:19 am

    Well, see, the roundup was being conducted on public land until Laura won that 1st Amendment victory. Suddenly, before she could even get there, the trap site was MOVED onto private property. Even though the BLM told Laura that the owner said public and press couldn’t come on, the actual written instructions from owner said that BLM vets could come on – not a word about refusing anyone. Not only that, the owner actually gave her permission, but somehow no one told HER that.

    Disgusting, to say the LEAST!

  3. Jules
    August 6, 2010 at 12:07 am

    You an be quite sure that money is changing hands, and at significantly higher rates than what it costs for grazing cattle on public lands. Perhaps these are “land impact fees” or “livestock handling fees” or “scientific agricultural study fees”…there could be any number of payment designations. The one thing you can be SURE of, is that there ARE payments – handsome enough to create a conspiracy of silence.

  4. jean
    August 5, 2010 at 5:03 pm

    You’re absolutely right, Debbie! Everyone should be fired for their consistent failure in being open to the American people, in which they’re suppose to represent. Justice for whom?! Certainly not for our wild horses, nor for the American people! Enough is Enough!

  5. Jeannie
    August 5, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    Those 54 members want to STOP THE ROUNDUPS

  6. Far away eyes
    August 5, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    I think the issue is all about “liability.” BLM accepts liability for the pieces that it wants to. It seems to leave out the pieces it dosen’t, like the public in Owyhee.

  7. Morgan Griffith
    August 5, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    I’m assuming that these ranchers have some sort of liability insurance on their ranches. Do I really believe that they allow hundreds of horses brought in at break neck speed (pun intended) and their liability carrier says “all right by us”?! That’s another sneaky little trick blm plays, make the contractor pick the sight and do the negotiations so they avoid answering a FOIA on the arrangements. Or at least that’s what they are claiming. Once again, if you do know wrong why do all this “no wrong” under cover? Bet the judge is thinking “what did I do to get this case”

  8. August 5, 2010 at 12:16 pm

    So much for “by the people, for the people, of the people”. Every BLM employee involved in this cover up ought to be fired immediately. Those leases are for OUR land, and We want to know who’s holding them.

  9. August 5, 2010 at 11:19 am

    Thank you Steven for these articles. Thanks to Laura and Katie and all who are out in the field for the horses.

  10. undisclosed
    August 5, 2010 at 7:24 am

    Those 54 members of Congress probably own the private lands…

Comments are closed.