Editorial Opinion: Wild Horse Advocacy - Not a Carnival Sideshow|
September 28, 2010
Imagine a United States Senator sitting in his office. This is a person who at some point has to decide whether to give in to some very polished special interests or side with some American citizens who want the commercial utilization of our public lands kept in balance with preserving elements of non-commercial value, in this instance our free-roaming horses and burros.
Then imagine the Senator's aide bringing in the daily clips that legislators or their aides often read, and among them are printouts from advocacy blogs that are overrun with sensational statements, un-provable allegations and in some instances some outright silly presentations.
When lawmakers in Washington read this kind of stuff, what impression does it leave with respect to the credibility of wild horse advocates? Do some of these blogs contain anything that would encourage legislative support or do they provide excuses for lawmakers to help out their corporate campaign contributors?
When we advocate for change in national policies, such as with the Wild Horse and Burro program, our opposition involves well financed special interests. The one "currency" that we bring to the table is our credibility. It takes a long time and a lot of work to earn it, and it doesn't take much to lose it.
Wild Horse Advocates must have lawmakers and other interest groups on their side in order to make any substantial changes in the way our horses are managed. When so-called Advocates (the "Hysteria Corps") misrepresent the facts, trespass, create false stories and place themselves as the characters in these stories and produce what some lawmakers would perceive as infantile diatribes, the credibility of all Advocates is compromised.
These diatribes can be and are screen captured and used against the wild horse camp by those who would like to eliminate the horses altogether. That is a given. After all, this is the same strategy that we use when someone on the other side does something foolish. People should know better than to pass out ammunition to the enemy.
It is not uncommon at public meetings for the opposition to try to put us on the defensive by citing the really dumb things that so-called advocates have said or done, and in doing so try to dismiss all of us as a bunch of misinformed idealists. This strategy is effective because at the very minimum, wild horse opponents can use up meeting time rolling out these wild and unsubstantiated claims. That tactic leaves less time for us to present and nail down arguments that could promote better management of free-roaming horses and burros. Increasingly these opponents are using such situations to generate skepticism regarding our credibility.
Immediately following the Calico roundup horse advocates were regarded as having the facts as to what was happening and what was going wrong. We were gaining support from lawmakers and other big organizations that have to be on our side to force needed changes. Some lawmakers even went as far as to go on record supporting a moratorium on roundups. We no longer have that edge and it is not because of BLM or the special interests.
More ominously, some agencies are reacting to "advocate" conduct by exercising their ability to limit advocate access where they can, such as closing the Indian Lakes facility to advocates and removing horses that have to be put down on the range before advocates can see them and concoct ludicrous stories about them. The New York Times video clearly exposed this issue and those horses should remain in the ecosystem for carnivorous wildlife.
There appears to be a trend to more narrowly define what constitutes an observer and a reporter. Even some of the advocates who originally lobbied hard to "open up" gather and facility operations are starting to discuss issues such as credentials and legitimacy.
Pulling stunts on agency property such as trespassing, creating dangerous situations for transport trucks and parking cars where helicopters expect to land can produce significant unintended consequences. Sheldon has revised its plans to include alternatives for removing all wild horses and burros from within the refuge. (Please read
Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge Reviewing Plans to Remove All Wild Horses and Burros.) Sheldon could remove all these animals and be done with all the headaches. This is serious stuff.
So what is real wild horse advocacy?
Advocacy is about the horses and convincing people in somewhat aloof and powerful positions that they need to affect some change so that our icons of the range can be more humanely managed and their status on our multiple use public lands isn't eroded further. It is about doing research, learning about range management, distilling real facts, maintaining a reputation that we actually have done the work and that our "facts" and concerns can withstand scrutiny.
Real advocacy is more than taking pictures and making up stories around them. It is also not about turning events into the drama of the day, weaving stories that extend far beyond what the facts can support, or the number of times someone can get his or her name inserted in a blog, or using the horse issue to sell books or other products.
Getting public policy changed is not glorious or dramatic. If anything it is tedious. You won't see the cadre of advocates who are out there in the "trenches" and who are actually gaining some yardage in this battle engaged in self glorification. They recognize that success is produced through teamwork and keeping the focus on the horses and real issues, not on themselves.
Unfortunately things have reached the point that a number of mainstream advocates have had to draw a distinction between those who have worked hard to develop credibility and those who have been more focused on sensation. This is a necessary step in order to prevent the advocates' legislative "team" in this game from getting kicked off the field. Regardless how anyone feels about the wild horse situation, until we can get some laws changed in Washington, DC, not much is going to change out on the wild horse ranges. There is no value in undermining that effort by engaging in dramatic stunts.
What real advocates do.
Real advocates are part of a team that is involved in the whole spectrum of protecting wild horses and burros. They share a collective knowledge accumulated over decades. Real advocates are part of a team that actually works with wild horses in the real world as well as engaging in activities designed to generate public and lawmaker support for practical wild horse reforms.
Here are some examples of what real horse advocates do.
Physically check on horses on the range.
Repair vandalized fencing that allows horses to drift into "illegal" areas.
Watch herds and interrupt illegal trapping operations.
Rescue horses trapped in human (cattle) equipment.
Return stranded "stray" foals to their dams.
Document and report illegal grazing on public lands.
Evaluate range forage conditions.
Locate and repair failing springs.
Build water stations for horses.
Haul water to prevent horse removals.
Mitigate horse-human conflicts.
Rescue orphans found on the range.
Investigate horse deaths.
Remove hazards from horse occupied ranges.
(Legally) release horses back onto the range.
Encourage international celebrities to support wild horse issues.
Rescue hundreds of horses that end up at the sale yard.
Transport horses out of harm's way.
Care for orphan foals.
Develop and manage horse sanctuaries.
Organize effective demonstrations.
Promote the value of horses through ecotourism.
Testify before legislative committees.
This is what real advocacy is about. Hard work. Real horses. Real issues. Real solutions. No need to manufacture drama, it's already there. No time for self promotion, it's all about teamwork. Long days. Not much credit. But then, it's about the horses isn't it? If it isn't, shouldn't it be?
We can either pursue drama or results. Which option will you pursue?
Note: This commentary reflects the views of the writer who is solely responsible for its content.