Buck Wild

Mustang advocates clash again with BLM

A mustang waits in holding at the Palomino Valley National Adoption Center.

A mustang waits in holding at the Palomino Valley National Adoption Center.


To see a video of Birnkrant's protest, visit bit.ly/15zHKUZ. For more about the BLM's work with wild horses and burros, go to blm.gov/nv/st/en/prog/wh_b.html.

As ever, the showdown continues between the Bureau of Land Management and animal advocates concerned with the plight of Nevada’s wild horses. This time, the activists hail from Connecticut, and if a recent BLM meeting in Minden was any indication, they’re not going out quietly. Edita Birnkrant and Nicole Rivard from the nonprofit Friends of Animals flew to Nevada to attend the Jan. 22 meeting at Carson Valley Inn Casino—a workshop and public information session about the proposed reduction of federal land for mustangs. The BLM says the controversial and long-running process is ecologically necessary, and opponents say it panders to ranching interests and degrades a living symbol of the West.

Birnkrant and Rivard planned to speak that day, but were escorted out by law enforcement.

There’s more to the story, of course. Birnkrant held up caution tape as Rivard’s camera rolled, and she unexpectedly grabbed a microphone. Someone cut the audio after she said the bureau is managing wild horses to extinction.

“It’s not a public hearing,” said BLM spokeswoman Lisa Ross, though public input was welcome in writing. And while such comments will appear in an environmental impact statement tied to the bureau’s final decision, Ross said, “It’s not a vote.”

The comment period lasts until March, and Ross said a public hearing may happen in the coming months. As drafted, the new plan decreases mustangs’ range by around 130,000 acres, and in turn requires roundups to move the horses and burros into holding areas and adoption facilities.

Author Terri Farley began attending such roundups more than a decade ago. She says she felt welcome, despite the obvious schism between mustang advocates and BLM officials. Then things changed.

At a 2010 event, “they had federal marshals with guns,” Farley said, “and they told us we had to go in a convoy to watch, and that we had to stay in our cars unless we were told we had permission to leave them. Every time we would stop, the federal marshals would get out and just kind of rest their hands on their gun belts.”

It’s a policy she likens to the pushback Birnkrant and Rivard encountered in Minden (though she wasn’t there, she said, and doesn’t know the women). “They’ve gone into this hunker-down mentality,” Farley said of the BLM, “so even if they’re not doing anything wrong, it creates the perception that they are.”

The bureau’s local horse and burro specialist, John Axtell, said roundup rules changed when an onlooker formally complained about a helicopter flying too near the crowd. Now visitors watch from at least 500 feet away.

“We’ve never had any big problems,” he added. “Most people are pretty cooperative, but it just takes one person [to cause a disruption].”

Meanwhile, Friends of Animals’ legal team has filed suit and stalled a planned roundup in the Pine Nut Herd Management area until at least mid-February. The group also opposes the BLM’s use of equine birth control, which comes in dart form and lasts about a year.

Birnkrant will return to Nevada soon, she promised, and come ready to protest. “They celebrate the wild horses, but then they’re treated like garbage,” she said, chuckling about all the mustang photography she saw at the Reno airport. “It’s a schizophrenic thing going on here.”